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The Spectrum: Building confidence after overcoming an eating disorder

Isabel Sturla, Guest Columnist

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This essay is part of The Spectrum, a weekly forum in our Opinion section for marginalized voices to share their perspectives. To submit a piece for The Spectrum or discuss story ideas, please email spectrum@dailynorthwestern.com.

I have not been on a stage since middle school. I am so inflexible that I cannot touch my toes. The closest I get to dance is moving my limbs awkwardly at a party with terrible music on. I genuinely feel bad for those in a 20-foot radius of me when I sing in the shower.

In other words, I am not well versed in performance art.

However, after seeing the NU Burlesque Show last year, I knew from the moment I walked out of the Jones Great Room that I absolutely had to perform in it.

I realize this makes no sense, but burlesque is much more to me than standing on stage with very little clothing on. Let me explain.

Flashback four years — I am panting, hovering over the water fountain at the gym, trying not to faint. I pushed myself so hard to burn the 300 calories I had consumed so far that day, and deep down, I know my diet can’t sustain the kind of exercise I was doing. But I pack my things, call for a ride and think about how I’ll get around eating dinner that night.

I lived with anorexia for two long, awful years. It started with small things — no dessert, nothing fried, no juice and other restrictions. It then turned into skipping as many meals as I could and feeling guilty for every calorie I consumed.

What makes me the most upset about the stigma surrounding this disorder is that many believe anorexia and other eating disorders are about vanity and selfishness. Vanity doesn’t push you to live in a dichotomy in which you experience the intense mental and physical effects of starvation, yet feel like you have to deprive yourself more and more and continue to suffer them. What makes anorexia so powerful is its ability to latch on to your declining mental stability brought on by the starvation and, most ironically, continue it. I can tell you that you don’t put yourself through that kind of hell based solely on being selfish or concerned about your appearance.

When my parents realized how much I was suffering, they got me into the best treatment program they could find. Over the next six months, I gained a lot of weight, I began to face my problems with perfectionism and self-esteem and most of all, I found myself again.

Four years later I am proud to say that I’m doing really well. I’ve learned to love food again. I don’t feel like I have to drown myself in baggy shirts because I am not so ashamed of my body anymore. I’ve learned how to deal with my problems in much healthier ways.

The only thing I haven’t done is develop true confidence in my body. I still feel on edge walking around in a bikini on the beach in the summer. I still stall too long in front of the mirror trying not to focus on my every flaw. I still face some insecurity that I am trying to unlearn.

I’m ready to put every last part of my eating disorder — including my negative perceptions of my body — in the past. I want to challenge myself and do what I am most afraid to do: dance in very little clothing in front of an audience with the impression that I feel incredibly sexy and confident.

That’s why my inflexible, tone-deaf, awkward self will be dancing in NU Burlesque this spring.

Isabel Sturla is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at isabelsturla2017@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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