I don't know oppression. I don't know true discrimination. I can not even pretend to relate to any of the things people of color, gay people, people with disabilities, homeless people, etc. experience on an everyday basis in this country and world. With that being said, I have had MY OWN experience of being other. I know that feeling of being so other, so different, so "not right" in a group of all the same that I literally felt like a flashing, bright red light constantly; and all I wanted to do was turn off and disappear. I wish I could say all of this was in my head, but it wasn't. It was real. I grew early. I had to wear bras in fourth grade, pads in 5th, and baggy clothes in 6th to hide all of my otherness. It wasn't too weird at school because there were two or three other girls in the same boat. But when I stepped in the ice rink, especially at competitions, I was (I wish this was more of a figurative statement than it is) the elephant in a group of delicate fairies. And I knew it. Everyone knew it. I was told I was big a couple of times, but more often the comment came in the form of: "How old ARE you?". I would look down and around at all the girls who were either not much younger than me, my age, or even older than me and try to figure out why no one looked like me. In skating it's really admirable to be younger in your level and older ones were viewed similarly to students who were held back in school. People looked at me like I'd been held back 7 times when really I was probably the same age as they were. I was around ten at this time, and the comparison game was just starting.
Then I started ice dancing and the comparison game now involved more levels. The girls in my group were now not only short, boob-less, and had yet to learn the words "pimple" and "period", but they were also concerningly thin. Either they just hadn't even heard of puberty yet, or they were already being fed the sickly rules of how their bodies "had to look". Anytime I was in proximity with those girls, I would wrap my arms around my midsection in hopes that it would just shrink if I squeezed tight enough or at least no one would see it. I changed in the bathroom stalls instead of locker rooms with everyone else because 1) I was scared of exposing these girls to body parts I wasn't sure they knew existed and 2) I hated my body. I cannot explain to you the amount of rage, disappointment, discontentment, and just utter disgust I felt for my own body -- this horrible, squishy, curvy, strong, powerful body that made me a freak among all my peers. This body that made me wrong, different, not good enough.
So I did what I thought I had to do. I did what the skating world told me, I did what society told me and I did what my inner critic told me. I changed myself to fit the perfect mold everyone wanted to see. I changed so I could walk into a group of girls and not feel eyes fixated on me for being a little different. At annual combines, we were given score sheets with our weigh-in number at the bottom, and I had always gone from station to station with knots in my stomach for fear that each trainer would see that my weight was so much higher than my competitors or, even worse, one of my fellow athletes would see my larger number. I would press the paper firmly against my stomach and flip it over at each station. Eventually, I forced myself into a smaller body which came also with losing so many of my best personality traits (especially my happiness). However, I finally looked the part of an ice dancer. I could finally stand among my peers and no one would stare, point, or giggle. I weighed in at my lowest weight at the next year's conditioning test. I still held the paper firmly to my chest because I would never be small enough. But at least I wasn't big anymore. The part of my brain ruled by my eating disorder was so pleased with this number, but I knew it was significantly underweight and unsafe. I hid the paper from my mother because I knew she would be horrified. I was sick, I was shrinking, I had lost myself, but I fit in. My eating disorder voice was not the only one proud of this weight. After the testing session, I stepped on the ice for critiques with the judges. This was my least favorite part about skating, usually ending in me feeling like I should just quit or crying to my mom. I stood across from the panel of judges, and one of them looked me in the eyes and congratulated me for losing all the weight. She congratulated me for abiding by the screwed-up standards and going through hell in the process.
This was in 2016. I had done it. I was finally an ice dancer. I enjoyed fitting into the dresses, being one of the smaller ones in the room and not having to endure the weight-loss comments from coaches and parents that many of my peers faced now. Luke and I improved and moved away and worked as hard as we could. We enjoyed our time together, adored our coaches in Michigan, met some wonderful people and traveled to competitions where we made great memories. I had also spent a lot of time working on myself; mentally and emotionally. I journaled, meditated, went to therapy, tried anything I could to reverse the emotional trauma I had been through regarding my self-worth. One day, I stepped back and asked myself if I actually enjoyed competing and being an ice-dancer or if I just enjoyed making memories and performing. I realized I really did not want to be an ice-dancer at all. I wanted to travel, I wanted to meet people, I wanted to have the freedom to do new things, I wanted to be happy and enjoy living again. I realized that I could never be me while trying to fit the very narrow ice dancer mold (figuratively and literally) at the same time.
I quit skating about six months ago. I left about 90% of all my insecurities behind as well. I thought I was just an insecure person and that a lot of girls feel this way. But in the real world, I don't think most people feel as insecure as skating made me feel. So many days, I would leave practice feeling like no matter how hard I tried, I did not try enough. I ended all competitions with the heart-shattering feeling that I will never EVER be good enough. I will never matter. I am wasting my life. I thought it was just my depression making me feel worthless, but it was skating. I saw the way other girls looked disgustedly at their bodies. I listened to one of my best friends talk about her new detox diet every week. I heard coaches tell girls not to eat, to lose this much weight, to "stand next to a tree to get energy". We all hated ourselves; we were programmed to. One day I did have a glimpse of a realization that this wasn't normal. I had a coach I looked up to and wanted to impress so badly tell us, "You will never be at the top. You look like a recreational skater on public ice". I left that lesson, came home to change for my college classes; and I sat in the bathroom and slit my wrists to punish myself for never being good enough. I drove to class, with a baggy sweater covering my throbbing arm. I sat in the classroom and my teacher handed me my test. I got one of the highest scores in the class. I spent so much time trying to be an ice dancer that I never acknowledged my other talents or unique traits that made me worthy. I wanted to be this specific thing and when I failed, I saw this as failing at existing. Finally, I got the hint...I was failing at this existence as an ice-dancer because I was meant for something different. I was meant to fulfill my own existence, and this path wasn't mine to follow. I was never supposed to fit in.
I can finally say that I can now walk into any room, any setting, any group and feel confident. Maybe everyone is looking or maybe people don't notice I am even there. It doesn't matter because I am comfortable in my own skin, and I am proud to take up space. I'm not the same as everyone else in the room, and I never want to be because THAT is what makes the world so beautiful and interesting. Variety is beautiful. Comparison is ugly. Judgment is ugly. I think the reason we feel so insecure is because we are constantly comparing ourselves. Now that I am confident in who I am, I don't need to compare myself. I can walk into a room and feel strength in my uniqueness while admiring other people's beauty and otherness. I am confident in knowing the only mold I ever need to fit into is the one I create for myself.