Vol. 3, No. 2: Today’s Baseball Fans photo

ReclamationShannon Frost Greenstein

Mia adjusted her pasties again, paranoid she was showing areola despite the assurance on the adhesive label that their sticky backing superseded all sticky backings.

“Fifteen minutes.”

The tinny voice from the intercom quickly started to fade, but Mia kept staring at the speaker above the mirror, half expecting the stage manager to add an addendum about her inexperience for everyone to hear.

“I’m loving this new corset. It’s custom-made. It was so expensive.

The chatter of the other performers came and went like waves, giggles and confessions and proclamations of love crashing onto Mia’s consciousness and then receding as her nerves grew too loud to ignore.

The Green Room was cold, the space heater in the corner doing practically nothing to warm the January air gusting in through the ill-fitting window. The theatre was a mainstay in the scene, an Art Deco showpiece of local history, drafty and cavernous with a dramatically-raked proscenium stage.

Mia shivered in her thong, but she was no stranger to cold; she rubbed the gooseflesh off her arms and remembered the years when being cold was all there was.

Except that’s not true, she reflected.

Those years, there had also been shame and isolation and self-loathing. There had been deprivation and ideation and psychic pain. There had been hopelessness; there had been entropy. There had been other things, too, of course; college and boyfriends and ballet classes, discipline and ascetism and unrelenting pressure, the omnipresent voice of her mother reminding her to only drink lattes with nonfat milk. Those years, that had all been white noise, and the white noise did not change; it simply morphed from day to day, a malevolent force from which there was no respite, constantly demanding perfection.

Those years were not so far gone.

Unhappy with her ribbons, Mia leaned over to retie her pointe shoes, careful not to dislodge the feathers attached to her wrists, hyperaware of the folds that appeared in her stomach when she bent. Finally satisfied, she rose once again, catching sight of her reflection in the full-length mirror. She ran her hands lightly over her ribcage and sacrum, remembering a time when she venerated her own bones, when she was addicted to becoming less.

“Curtain in five! Packed house, folks!”

The sequins on her thong were digging into her hips. The weight of the beaded headdress was making her neck ache. Mia wouldn’t have thought any of the performing arts could be more painful than ballet, but her burlesque debut was giving Vaganova a run for its money.

Attempting to ignore this discomfort, Mia was saved from any other remembrances of her former body by another surge of nerves so caustic she feared she would be sick. Vivid images began to bounce around her amygdala, calamitous scenes featuring her turning an ankle or losing a tassel or falling flat on the floor.

This was a mistake, she thought.

I look so fat, she thought. 

This series of thoughts was firmly entrenched in her brain, a deep rut made of synapses and habit, the comfort that is familiarity with even that which is uncomfortable. It ran its course like a runaway train – Mia recalling every failure, every second-place finish, every poor decision and unfortunate consequence, all of them her own fault and all of which would never have happened if she could’ve lost more weight – until she felt almost as bad as she had before all the therapy, until she started to doubt she was making any progress with recovery whatsoever.

Clutching the window frame as a makeshift barre, Mia kept warming up, for lack of anything better to do; she listened to the 30-second-warning chime echo through the theatre.

Let’s bail, her brain suggested.

This was your idea, she shot back.

Her brain had no response for that, because it was very much the truth.

This night had been months in the making.

After venturing too close to death to ever use starvation as a coping mechanism again, Mia had sought out new reasons to stay alive; it was faraway thoughts of glitter and curves and stilettos and sex appeal that had empowered her through the nightmare of early recovery. What followed was research and rehearsal and repetition and tears, something nonlinear and inscrutable, something that looked absolutely nothing like healing…but something that was slowly helping her to heal nonetheless.

“Mia, you’re on deck.”

It was easier to take ownership of a body, she was discovering, when the body was doing burlesque. Thus she did burlesque, her most effective weapon against the unrelenting noise of her brain’s desire to descend back into Anorexia.

“I’m coming,” Mia told the stage manager, hurrying out of the Green Room and down the hall, towards the delicate cacophony of hisses and mutters that is universally recognizable as a large group of people attempting to quiet down. Approaching the auditorium, she felt a bass line begin before she heard it, a primal rhythm vibrating deep in her molars.

Backstage was an uncanny valley, a sense memory of ballet performances past, a mirror image of actual life, everything exactly as it should be but also backwards. Mia pressed rosin into her pointe shoes and rolled out her ankles; she adjusted the waistband of her thong and went to wait in the wings.

On stage, a dancer tossed off her bustier to the roar of the audience and wrapped up her number with a flurry of tassels. The emcee began Mia’s introduction while, behind the curtain, she rose en pointe and flexed her fingers to flutter the feathers at her wrists. The nerves were dissipating this close to the pull of the stage and the draw of the crowd. Rhinestones refracting the stage lights, she felt alluring like a siren; she felt ethereal like a swan. The opening notes of her music drifted across the theatre, and Mia made a resolute decision.

It wasn’t Anorexia’s body any longer; it was her own. And she was going to take it back.