“tai jimenez eating disorder”

In case you are unfamiliar with blogging, there is a menu that you can click on for your own blog that reveals internet search-words people used to find their way to your blog. This may happen by accident. For instance, if someone is doing a search for “tides” the entry I wrote called “Queen of Tides” might show up. There are ways to manipulate the search engine so that your blog shows up near the top of the queue for the purpose of increasing your readership. I have no idea how to do that, technology boob that I am. I just write the stuff.

Anyway, lately there have been a lot of searches for “tai jimenez eating disorder.” I haven’t tackled this subject in-depth here, but someone or some people want to know this story. This is a big subject and I pray that I can write about it in a way that is useful to others.

[Ooh chile, wait a minute. I gotta light a candle first.]

Here goes…

I was very fond of Oreos. When I had a little change, I would go to the cafeteria at the School of American Ballet where I was studying, and buy a six-pack of Oreos from the snack machine. I looked forward to this ritual without question. Then, a couple of years into my training there, I was skipped a level. I suddenly found myself in class with girls several years older than me. They talked about dieting. For the first time I heard words like anorexia and bulimia. I wondered, licking the icing from my Oreos, why anyone on earth would entertain such things.

After my fourth year, I felt lost at SAB. I left and went to study in a small, now defunct school that gave more personal attention to its students.  The summer I left SAB, before freshman year at high school, I remember putting on a pair of shorts. My mother shot me a withering look. I was not allowed out in those shorts anymore. My body had started its change. I filled out and continued dancing with my new curves. My new teachers did not emphasize thinness. There were dancers of all body types at this school. There was one severely anorexic girl and the director of the school made her eat under her watchful gaze if she wanted to continue to take class there. It was tough, motherly love. It was understood that you had to be healthy to dance, not too fat, of course, but not too skinny either.

When I was sixteen, I started auditioning. I wasn’t quite ready for a professional company but was encouraged to go to auditions to get the feel for it. I asked my teacher if she thought I needed to lose weight. She said I needed to drop about six or seven pounds which I did by cutting out red meat and the oversized muffins that were popular in New York City coffee shops at the time. Oreos and soda were history. A year later, an audition was arranged for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and I danced with the junior ensemble for a few months before joining the main company.

Company life was very different from the small homey school I had attended. There was no tough motherly love. It was just tough. I won’t get into all the gory details here–

“The word Hitchcock suddenly comes to mind,” says Mr. Octopus.

What I mean is, ballet is supposed to be tough. I loved the challenge! I did it for the challenge, but that challenge is built-in. In a lot of ballet companies however, well, it is tough for the wrong reasons but I don’t want to get into all that here. I’ll save that for the inevitable ballet company reality show. I want to make it clear that I take full blame and responsibility for what I did to myself and will admit also that I was less than a ray of sunshine all those years to my fellow dancers. I don’t think I was an asshole, exactly. I was just…neutral. I adopted a stance of neutrality in order to survive. In order to keep dancing, which was sacred to me. I am still struggling with my default-into-neutrality setting. Teaching has helped with this somewhat because to be a good teacher, baby, you gotta fight.

Some dancers who were not the waify type were chastised about their weight. They were shamed publicly before their peers. I suspected that roles were withheld from those on the weight-list, not based on ability, but based on size. I didn’t want to suffer that fate. I wanted to be a principal dancer and most of the ones I idolized were tiny.

I started dieting with renewed force. It wasn’t even conscious. I was hungry and tired all the time. One day on the way home from work, I bought a pint of ice-cream. I ate the whole thing and, in a sort of trance, I purged. A few days later I did it again. I told myself I could stop whenever I wanted but it quickly became a nightly routine.

One evening, my mother heard me vomiting in the bathroom. (I was still living at home). She confronted me but I denied it. I felt terrible for lying to her and finally worked up the courage to confess. I could barely get the words out through my tears. She got angry at me. She said I was taking the easy way out. I thought she was right and felt humiliated and weak. She abruptly left the couch where we were sitting and came back with a piece of paper that had a phone number on it. It was the number for a therapist.

I went to therapy. For years. My therapist was somewhat impressed with the elaborate and unusual ritual of my disorder: I would stuff myself secretly, until I achieved a kind of numbness. Then I would sit on the toilet and sing my guts out, sometimes for hours. I would sing and sing and sing. By the time I purged, a lot of the food was digested, but I did it anyway. Looking back now, I think it was my soul trying to sing itself free…free from the pressure and constant criticism I received as a dancer, free from my debilitating sense of isolation and feeling unimportant, unrecognized, and unwanted in a mean cut-throat world that I nevertheless wanted to succeed in. I liked my therapist very much, but my “symptom” persisted, unabated.

I lived this way for thirteen years.

Somewhere along the way, I left therapy. I remember one day having the epiphany that mine was a spiritual problem and could not be solved this way. Truth be told, I do not “know” how I healed myself, or that it was all me that did the healing. I do know that I wanted to heal even though it was hard for me to imagine being free.

I started going to yoga. In my first yoga class, there was a lot of chanting. I just let myself cry openly. I realized in my first attempts at yoga that in spite of years of dancing, I was actually very weak. There was a spiritual bookstore at the yoga studio. I started reading spiritual texts and going on retreats. I spent time with like-minded people. I made friends. I enjoyed spending time with my friends so much in fact that I found myself sticking around, hanging out, instead of going home to my secret shame. I guess you can say that I “needed a whole community of people to pull me out of the water I was drowning in,” as the great teacher, Martin Prechtel says. There are certain things, like recovering from an eating disorder, that are too big to do alone.

In the beginning of my healing journey, I still thought about food a lot. Every once in a while, I would binge, but those times became fewer and farther between. I sometimes woke up in a sweat from a dream that I’d started bingeing and purging again. I didn’t consciously work on curing myself. After years of therapy, my will had proven itself impotent in the face of this monster. Rather, I just allowed myself to be pulled out of the water. I turned my attention in another direction. My friends that pulled me out of the water didn’t know that they were doing that. I need to find a way to thank them.

I am close to my mother now as well. Having a daughter who wanted to be a ballerina was the furthest thing from her mind when she gave birth to me. I was a hellion of a teenager. We were both in over our heads. I love her more than I can say. This blog entry is just a little part of the story. There is so much she gave, so much she sacrificed, and I am grateful to her.

It has been over a decade now that I’ve been on the other side of this thing. It is hard to believe with all the love I am blessed with, that I ever lived in such utter despair. There were times when I wanted to die.

I remember at some point opening up to the idea that I could actually love myself. It was just an idea at first, but a seed was planted. However, that hope came at a price. I had to openly look at the time and relationships I’d wasted obsessing over food. I realized that my best dancing years were squandered in a haze of self-loathing. I imagined, regretfully, what I might have achieved with a healthy body. I coulda been a contenda! I knew that in order to move forward, I would have to take all parts of myself, meaning that I had to forgive myself. Now, that was work.

I also had to do a lot of work with holistic medicine, especially acupuncture, to help with the healing process. One practitioner described me as having pushed myself so hard that I’d split myself in two. I still have painfully sensitive gums from all the years of bingeing and purging and for a long time, I had these weird stomach convulsions. But I feel healthy now. There was certainly a lot of grace involved but I am ok.

And if you are struggling with your relationship to food, I hope this story will help you find your way out. I am not a doctor, but I would suggest in the beginning, that you do not try to fix it. It will resist you. It’s very presence is your soul speaking to you. Try to be still. Listen. Turn your energy to what you love and to whom you love. That love will light your way.

A student recently asked me if it (my career) was worth it, and my answer was yes, but not for the obvious reasons. It was worth it because the struggle made me who I am today. And I am starting to really like her.





4 responses to ““tai jimenez eating disorder”

  • Elisha Silvera

    BRAVO…I am very proud of you!

  • Nancy Allen

    Hi Tai,

    It’s been a while.
    Very, very interesting post.
    When I was at SAB, during Balanchine’s heyday in the early – mid-’60s, I’d throw away my lunch every day. My mother would make these big sandwiches and I’d toss them. I was at the School from ages 13 – 17, when I tore my knee and had to quit. I was in “C” class and would’ve joined a Company the next year. Not NYCB. My thighs weren’t skinny enough. I was. It was just the shape of them. There wasn’t anything I could do about it. I had visions of just taking a knife and just cutting away my inner thighs so they’d be the “right” shape. (I never seriously intended to do this, of course. It was just an idea in my little head.)

    I intended to join the National Ballet in Washington, as Frederic Franklin loved Balanchine rejects, ’cause we were so well-trained. I’d been in a regional Company when I was 14 and 15 and got lead parts and was told I had great stage presence. I was good. I coulda been a contenda too! Except it was all over in a minute in Eglevsky’s class on Feb. 5, 1965 when we were doing grand jetes with the same arm and leg, which threw off your center of gravity. I tried too hard to turn out as I landed and tore my knee. I heard it rip. I was on the floor, with Eglevsky yelling at me that I was holding up his class. He had no compassion for injuries as he’d had to quit performing before his time due to a heart attack.

    I remember all of us starving ourselves. On Saturdays we’d go to Schrafft’s, downstairs from the School, which was on 82nd and B’way back then (it’s a Barnes and Noble now) and we’d have our one treat for the week – an ice cream soda.

    My life-long eating disorder has nothing to do with ballet or Balanchine, however. It has to do with my mother. She was a horrible mother. She had a horrible mother. These people knew nothing about love. They hated themselves. She did everything she could think of to destroy me psychologically. It took me many years, once I moved out, when I was 19, to overcome a lot of the damage she did to me.

    But I never overcame what she did to me about food. She made it a traumatic experience. And, she was a dietician. But, she was also psychotic. If I liked it I wasn’t allowed to eat it. If I hated it, I was forced to eat it.

    I was ordered to eat a carrot or apple when I came home from school. She wasn’t there. She was out teaching piano. I didn’t want the carrot or apple. I’d usually cut them up and throw them down the toilet. Once I threw the apple away down the street. She harrassed me and forced me to show her where I’d thrown the apple.

    (My father, who was the kindest man who ever lived, hated her, so he was never home and didn’t know what she was doing to me. Later, when I finally told him, he felt so guilty that for the rest of his life he couldn’t do enough to help me in any way I needed, which was mainly financially.)

    I remember once I was home sick. I was throwing up every couple of hours. In between puking, she’d make me get up and try on clothes she’s bought at Bloomingdale’s. She’d buy all these clothes at Bloomies, return everything and then go buy the equivalent of the ones she liked at Loehmann’s, which was much cheaper. She made me wear very uncomfortable clothes. She always said, “You have to suffer to be beautiful”. When I finally moved out, I moved into my jeans and that’s what I’ve been wearing ever since (except when I’ve worked in animal hospital where I wasn’t allowed to wear them.) And I wear Bob Dylan tee shirts that I got from his website. They’re very light and comfy. And I love Bob. I want to be his recording/mixing engineer, something I used to be excellent at in the late ’60s, early ’70s, years before vet school. His recording engineers just aren’t good enough. I am. If I can push myself to go into the city and go see the people who have the recordings I made back then, I’ll go through them and make copies of the ones I want to submit and send them to whomever hires his engineers.

    Anyway, back to the food issue. My mother made food such a traumatic experience for me, from as early as I can remember, and I did get sick to my stomach a lot as a kid, that I have never been able to correct it. I’ve tried and tried to think of food as fuel for my body and eat correctly, but hard as I’ve tried over the years, it doesn’t last. And when I’m upset I CANNOT eat! Anything. The idea of eating makes me gag to this day and I’m not 63. The only time I’m able to force myself to eat properly is when I’ve had surgery as I need to return to function as quickly as possible, so I simply force myself to be disciplined about it and I eat correctly and often enough so I recover in minimal time.

    I know I’ll never overcome this disorder. If I haven’t been able to do it by now, I never will. I’ve researched supplements. I know a lot about them. I can’t force myself to take them with any regularity. I should be shot!

    By the way, I think Andrew Lessman, who owns ProCaps Labs in Henderson, Nevada, makes the best supplements. They’re pure, they’re powder or liquid inside capsules and they don’t make your stomach sick. And they work. He’s constantly redesigning his supplements. He’s a former food and drug lawyer who’s also a biochemist. He started the company in 1979 because he was a runner and wanted supplements and couldn’t find any to his satisfaction. So he started making his own. I’m waiting for him to come out with a line of supplements for the animals. I know you can give them the human stuff, but that really only applies to dogs, who’ll eat anything. He needs to make them for cats, who are so fussy. He’s working on it, but it’s taking time. They need to be palatable for the kitties.

    Loving myself is not the issue. Therapy is not the answer. What that woman did to me damaged me permanently. I’ve been through the meditation, East Indian philosophy thing. Nothing has worked. I can’t imagine that anything ever will. I try. I’m good for a while, but, as I said, it doesn’t last. There have been times when I was so upset I didn’t eat for two weeks. Then I’d gradually start eating again by starting with really good Italian bread.

    I wish I were a vegetarian. It’s the right way to go – eating lower on the food chain. But I’m stuck with a mind where I have to think and think and think about what I could possibly stand eating right now and when I finally figure it out, then I eat whatever I decided I can stomach. I don’t eat a lot of crap. I just don’t eat as often as I should and I don’t eat enough fruits and veggies. I’m really bad. But I try as best I can. I don’t eat that many different things.

    If I had money I’d live on Thai and Japanese food. And Indian food. But only a certain few things. Like peanut sauce and rice. And cilantro. Sushi. I love garam masala with rice, yogurt, and cucumber, but I rarely make it anymore. I get the garam masala at an Indian grocery store. Simple foods.

    But most of the time I prefer not to eat at all. It’s all dependent on my state of mind, unfortunately. I have absolutely no idea how to fix this and I really don’t think I’ll ever be able to. I’ve tried so hard for so long, unsuccessfully. And when I say food, I really mean fuel for your body, so I don’t mean just food. I mean supplements too.

    I can’t even remember to take glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate/MSM every day, which I need for my arthritic hip and mildly arthritic affected knee! If I take NOTHING else on a daily basis I should be taking that, ’cause it works and I really, really feel it when I stop taking it for a few weeks. I’m hopeless.

    Weird, huh?


  • Nancy Allen

    One correction, two actually. It should say “animal hospitals” and “I am 63”.

  • one of eleven

    Wisdom and growth always have their byproducts, no matter how much we don’t want them. Thank you for your bravery.

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