For the past two years, we have partnered with St. Paul Ballet during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Going into our third year with them is such a pleasure. This year’s theme, See Beyond Beautiful stemmed from their recent re-brand and focuses on each person’s perspective, looking past what is on the outside and focusing on who they are on the inside and what shapes their perception. We hope you enjoy reading some varying perspectives on what beauty is to the company members at St. Paul Ballet.
Each statement about beauty is representative of that person’s unique perspective. Some statements include descriptive language about body types, body shapes, or relationships with food. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
Beauty is limitless. It cannot be defined or contained. As humans, we often try to label what is appealing to the eye as beautiful. Yet in reality, this perspective often is molded by the culture and influences around you. When you put aside your preconceived notions beauty can be found in everything and everyone around you. Looking beyond beauty is liberating. It allows you to look at the world through a new set of eyes.
Over the last nine years, I have experienced many health challenges. Growing up, I was a very happy and healthy child, but everything changed when I was thirteen. All of a sudden I started having digestive problems, severe stomach pains, weight gain, and headaches. After a few years and several doctors, I decided to try a natural approach. I found out that I was having food reactions. When I cut out my trigger foods, my symptoms lessened (but never went away) and I started losing weight. Unfortunately, it never stopped.
I hear comments all of the time about how skinny I am and how I just need to eat more. The problem is that I keep developing reactions to more and more foods. Maintaining my health through my nutrition is complicated. I’m constantly modifying my meals to maintain my overall health. When I was thirteen, I didn’t like looking in the mirror because I thought I was heavy. I still don’t like looking in the mirror, but now it’s for the opposite reason. I try to wear clothes that cover my upper body so people can’t see how bony I am. The mirror just reminds me of how other people see me. Most of them have a sincere concern for my wellbeing, but there is still a sting of criticism in their comments.
I don’t always feel very beautiful, but I try to keep in mind that what I look like doesn’t ultimately matter. Society has this idea that to be beautiful you must fit a perfect mold. You must have a nice figure, defined features, and perfect hair. These attributes are beautiful, but they don’t define true beauty. True beauty comes from the radiance of being content with who you are and where you are in your life. My life is far from perfect, but I get to spend every day with the people I love and doing what I love. When I keep this in mind and am content, I truly do feel beautiful.
There are many ways that people access dance these days, from TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” to live performances at Lincoln Center. But a lot of them (audiences) only accept what they are seeing as nothing more than a beautiful phenomenon happening before their eyes, when there is so much more to it than that. There were hundreds of bad fouettes before those 32 beautiful ones. There’s an extremely intricate and unique process of preparation for every single pointe shoe. Yes, as dancers, it is important that we look great on stage, but it is also important that we simultaneously convey our perseverance, our power, and our passion. It is important that we make our audience look beyond the beauty of our bodies as we move through space, and see into our very own souls.
Growing up, beauty was always a reflection. A superficial, two-dimensional image of what, at the time, I believed would bring me ultimate happiness: acceptance, success, and security. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. What I found was that reflections can be very tricky things and what we give power to will have power over us. At best, reflections are warped representations of who we are, at worst, they are the fastest way to drain our gifts as individuals and dancers. Over the years, I adopted behaviors of negativity and “tough love,” disguised (to myself) as impeccable work ethic and passion, fueling my road to “happiness.” This lack of compassion towards myself along with unrealistic expectations and perfectionism produced interesting results: some successes but many failures, fleeting moments of joy shadowed by disappointment, fake friendships, a lot of injuries and so much “character building” that I was simply exhausted. Never satisfied with my work and on the verge of burnout, a great mentor reminded me that dance was so much deeper than beauty and perfection. Dance is communication. The extreme ideals of dance were irrelevant to the real duty of a dancer; resonating life through movement in the most authentic, efficient way possible. I began to realize my unique power wasn’t a reflection or an aesthetic. My gifts came from complete transparency. The result of life experiences, triumphs, failures, knowledge, opinion, compassion, and much more. All things, beyond beautiful.
There’s an amazing thing that happens when one looks past the limitations placed upon them. They find something new, something organic; something unscripted. For me personally, to see beyond beautiful means so much more than what it simply insinuates. It involves the good, the bad, the ugly, and combines them into something unmistakably individualistic yet complimentary. In order for me to see beyond beautiful, I have to see the whole, unapologetic picture. Within that picture lies a reflection of everything, yet something so simple. You are beautiful. I am beautiful. We are all beautiful. In order to find that, my intentions are to go beyond the boundaries set and to bring everything I know I have as a human being right to the forefront. Raw, unapologetic honesty. That is my beauty.
You can find more from Saint Paul Ballet this week via their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. All images are by Caroline Yang. See more from Caroline on her Instagram.
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