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Transcend Collection

Next Story: Renée


Helping everyone realize their beauty

photograph of Julie sitting down in front of words that read 'all you need is art'.

I am a creator. I’ve been electrified by the sight of a blank canvas or an empty dance floor since I was a child. Nothing could ever keep my attention like a pile of old wood scraps or a lump of clay. I’ve always had the knack for never quite being able to see things at their market price. Even trash could be assembled somehow into jewels. I saw art in everything. I saw value in everything. Except for myself. 

Not much was more grotesque to me than my own reflection, actually. My body was the one piece of trash I could never seem to make any better. Disgusting. Hopeless. Shameful. Worthless.

It was natural to make fun of fat people, mercilessly, because they deserved it. Especially if the fat person was you

My mom was born in the fifties. She and many women in her generation were born thinking their major purpose in life was to be thin. That if they were fat, it was a problem to be solved. That fatness was the worst possible thing that could happen to anyone. It was natural to make fun of fat people, mercilessly, because they deserved it. Especially if the fat person was you. You were made to hide your shameful fat body until such a time you could make it smaller, more presentable to society. And if you never got thin enough? Well, that’s your fault, and your failure makes you a bad person deserving of less respect than thin people. That’s just the way it was. The way it is.

My mom died four years ago, when I was 26. She didn’t have a will to live the last five years of her life. Maybe more. She told me she didn’t think she deserved a good life. She died hating her body.

My generation drank that same sad poison. I remember being 7 years old and trying to figure out how to diet. I tried to get my hands on SlimFast. There were years I just never ate at family parties. Somebody like me didn’t deserve to eat. Of course not. Not in front of people. In high school I expertly disguised the shame I felt eating anything at all as simply - diets. I was a cheerleader and a dancer and had coaches who told us to eat only 1,200 calories a day to lose weight. For our health, of course. Around this time I became particularly fascinated by calorie counting. Improving my life was simple math! Input, output. If I avoided a certain number of calories per day, I could finally be thin. I tried not eating past 7pm. I bought Lean Cuisines. I counted almonds before I ate them. I weighed spinach. I weighed myself. I pretended I hated breakfast so I didn’t have to eat it. I would say I was too busy to pack a lunch for school. I’d beg, borrow and steal at lunch break because of course, I’d be hungry. Very hungry. But hunger was the ultimate sign of success. When I was hungry, I was worthy. When nobody was watching though, especially at night, food would go missing. In large amounts. It felt like I could only eat what I actually wanted in the dark.

And when I lost weight, everybody was so proud of me. We didn’t know I had an eating disorder.

Nobody questioned my tactics. I don’t remember one adult, caretaker, or doctor saying anything remotely negative about my weight loss. Only my weight gain. Family, friends, strangers, children, every single person I interacted with was much nicer to me when I was thin. It was intoxicating to be congratulated by the people I knew, and it felt incredible when doors were suddenly held open for me by people I didn’t know at all.

When I lost weight, everybody was so proud of me. We didn’t know I had an eating disorder.

I chased that feeling for years. I wondered how people would treat me if I gained weight again. The compulsion to restrict calories crossed my mind every time I passed a mirror or window. In college I was introduced to alcohol. I felt just as out of control with it as I did with food. Both were socially acceptable to abuse. I was constantly stressed out and anxious. Going to the gym made my anxiety worse. But I always went back. I could not get fat. I picked up a dance minor. The professors said we could try drinking water if we were hungry. All the other dancers were thinner than me. I couldn’t break into their secret thin/blonde/ballet-trained-perfect-technician’s club even after 3 years. They didn’t even seem to like the club that much even if they were in it. The only thing dancers hated more than each other were their bodies. Our bodies. I always thought about my weight. Some days I thought as much about my weight as I did about how everyone would probably be fine if I just wasn’t alive anymore. 

She waits and waits for you to put your pieces back into a shape only barely passing for your old self and then, miraculously, acts as a kind of glue to keep you all together

A few years after I graduated college is when my mom died. It felt like my body had run out of electricity. The entire world didn’t have color anymore. I quit dancing. My boyfriend of three years broke up with me. My grieving made me unlovable. I developed OCD and had panic attacks where my brain was convinced I was dying. I couldn’t fall asleep. My psychiatrist slut shamed me for not being able to remember the names of the many guys I dated. I restricted more calories than ever before. I isolated myself from my friends and family so I didn’t have to burden them with the byproducts of my grief. I became better at lying each time they’d ask me the hardest question of all, “How are you doing?” 

The twisted thing about grief is that she never quite leaves you. She breaks you like a glass vase thrown against a wall. She lights the broken pieces of you on fire and pounds your unrecognizable bits into the ground. But she stays there on the ground with you when she’s done. She waits and waits for you to put your pieces back into a shape only barely passing for your old self and then, miraculously, acts as a kind of glue to keep you all together.

My grief changed me forever. She simultaneously is the heaviest and lightest thing I have ever carried. Today, I cannot imagine myself without her. Although I wish, desperately, that nobody on earth would ever have to feel the pain of losing their mother ever again for the rest of human history, the loss shifted my perspective about not only myself and my body, but everyone’s bodies in a big way. It took years after we lost mom, but, get this, I love myself now. If mom were here today, I’d tell her she walked so I could run. My body is worthy because her body was worthy, as is every single person’s body that ever was. Every single day I live in this body and thrive is for her. I'm a big girl, I always was, and I always will be. I'm so proud of this big fat body. I will shout about my love for this vessel no matter how it changes (and it will), because every corner of it is dazzling no matter what the fuck it looks like. Why? Because I am alive.

I’ve never been happier than I am now that I can look in the mirror and love what I see. I am so beautiful. It’s sometimes overwhelming how powerful and gorgeous I feel. It hasn’t been easy to get here, and fighting diet culture is a job I’ll dutifully have to perform, on purpose, aggressively, for the rest of my life. But I am glad to no longer question that the rest of my life should be a pretty long time. There are days, of course, when my guards are down and an Instagram ad for appetite suppressing lollipops  breaks me for a second. Or days like today, as I sit here and write this on Mother’s Day and I’m feeling low, so it crosses my mind to restrict calories to make myself feel better, more in control of an outcome. But luckily, these days those fleeting thoughts are just that - fleeting. Shooting stars in a vast sky full of significantly more incredible, stable burning balls of light. And me? I’m the sun.

And dance? It’s actually my weapon against body hatred. Not just for myself, either. I teach dance now! I know, I can’t believe it either. My dancers won’t hear me tell them to lose weight. Not even to fit into a costume. Not implicitly, not explicitly, not ever. I try to create a room where we can move and celebrate our bodies, and where there isn’t a hierarchy based on who has had the most ballet training. Whether the kids in my class continue on to become professional dancers or not, if they leave my class feeling better and not worse about themselves, I have done my job. I don’t care if they can do a quadruple pirouette. I want them to do a quadruple-take at themselves when they see how stunning they are inside and out. Therein lies the change I want to see in the world. The revolution against diet culture is achieved through just a few tiny paradigm shifts in the minds of teenagers each day.

There's tons of women, tons of people, who at this moment are sitting in their corner of the world and not doing the things they love because they think they're too this, too that, too big, too short, whatever. Life is literally, and not figuratively, too short to not do what you want, and to not believe that you’re fabulous. If there's anything I know for sure it's that the good times don't last forever, but the bad times don’t last forever either. You’ll lose and gain people and weight in your life. If there’s anything that I know for sure remains constant, it’s the fact that you’re beautiful no matter what happens. You. I mean you. This is the objective truth. Every single body is a good body, but especially yours.

We are all works of art. What they told us before, about needing to look a certain way to be beautiful? Respected? Employed? Honored? Loved? About what carbs to cut to turn our trash bodies into a pile of jewels? It was all make-believe. We’ve always been the pile of jewels in the first place.

Thank you for reading this story from the Transcend Collection.

We donate 10% of revenues from our Transcend affirmation candle to The Loveland Foundation, an organization committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls.

About Julie

Julie is an avid creator who is passionate about teaching dance as a means to empower her students.


Empowered by Dance in Whittier, CA
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