Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Behold on the left, the proud-headed, skinny Em -- when that picture was taken, I was on tour with Mark Ryder, doing those 88 one-night-stands that are described on the right side of this blog.

I was eating cottage cheese. Cottage cheese with fresh fruit, if I could find fruit in a local supermarket, or cottage cheese with vegetables -- brussel sprouts, cabbage or carrots. Occasionally I'd buy a small size can of fruit, borrow our stage manager's s can opener, and enjoy cottage with canned fruit.

I had a calorie book and a carbohydrate book. I had a ledger and marked down everything I ate as well as my tax deductible expenses for food, hotel, tips, and miscellaneous (paperback novels I read when I wasn't typing notes on the previous night's war with Mark during "Romeo and Juliet.")

I weighed somewhere between 110 and 112. I was 5.4. In high school, when I weighed 116, it didn't occur to me that I would need to lose weight. But as I achieved my goal as a dancer, observing other dancers (competing with them), I knew I needed to slim down.

Modern dancers weren't usually skinny -- they were fairly normal looking. In technique classes, like most of the students, I wore a leotard top, and a half circle, knee-length skirt with slit so that glimpses of my naked legs could be seen, but NOT the entire leg.

Of course I went to the ballet. Balanchine's ballet girls were generally will-o-wisps -- gorgeous nymphs, sylphs with "key-hole crotches" (my term for what it looked like when their thighs were so thin that the sides of the thighs never touched).

Nevertheless, my eyes told me (like they tell fashion designers) that curves, cleavage were for attracting the opposite sex -- that a thin body, childlike slenderness, was perfection.

Why was I, a ballet-trained, modern dancer so concerned? Because John Martin, the New York Times critic told us in a face-to-face discussion, (Mark and I were talking to him about our future and he was giving us father-like advice ) -- "You are young and good-looking -- take off your clothes, show your bodies."

And that's what I did. I began wearing chiffons, not silk jersey like Martha Graham. And shorter, then shorter skirts -- then no skirt, just body suits with gauze, transparent little frills here and there.

I never ate desserts. I didn't eat sandwiches. The first time, and only time I had a McDonald's hamburger was in Phoenix, Arizona. (Everything was closed, and I was starving. I didn't think it was wonderful, and couldn't understand why people loved them.)

When I was bloated, I took a diuretic. I tried fasting, but it made me too weak. I tried diet pills -- if the pill contained caffeine, it helped me eat less. I weighed myself every day at least once, sucking in my stomach whenever I glimpsed myself in a mirror. I had a much better day when my weight was below 110.

A car crash on the Indianapolis highway broke my back, and gave me a new body. I am now 5.3 (lost an inch of spine). My drastically shortened small intestine (you have 36 feet, I have 3 feet), means that I can eat all I want -- 3000 to 4000 calories a day, and still be hungry, still not gain weight. I weigh between 103 and 105.

Early on, my lack of energy was incapacitating. (I was in and out of the bathroom many times a day.) After a year of therapy, when I got back to taking classes, I brought a thermos of Ginseng tea, and needed to take a sip a few times during a 90 minute class. People with a short bowel are often on pep pills, mostly lead sedentary lives.

My energy problem was a problem. I consulted Dr. Robert Atkins (yes, the famous diet doctor). He helped me with vitamins (and got too fascinated with my case and my legs), but the Atkins diet made me weaker. And he himself admitted, that in order for his diet to work, you had to eat no more than 1500 calories a day.

I think I've learned to get energy from my mental processes (plus coffee and a peanut butter cup). I think in many respects my accident was lucky, not a disaster -- imagine being able to eat everything you want. (I've tried apple pies and cakes with ice cream; banana splits, cheeseburgers, French fries -- (I love French fries). I can't absorb fats, so I don't gain weight.

So what's this story about ? How dare I write about dieting?

It's about being brain-washed. It's a confession telling anyone who reads this, that I'm caught, like many of us are caught, with an image of feminine beauty, which defeats strength.

I look at that picture of skinny me, and am aware that my focusing on my weight was an enormously ridiculous, time-wasting, emotionally-defeating focus.

Since I'm happy being skinny, even though it makes me less attractive, I'm letting you weigh me (like the scale) and see what a silly, sad, thing this is. And realize that wise Dr. Em, for all her life experience is ...

Not smart, just plain dumb about this.

P.S. I still eat an awful lot of cottage cheese

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