Anorexia Nervosa, or Anorexia, is a type of eating disorder. Its symptoms revolve around self-starvation and losing weight. A person suffering from anorexia would consider themselves to be overweight and, hence, would restrict themselves from consuming a sufficient amount of food. If left untreated, this could turn into a life-threatening disease.
The girl in the centre stood with her back arched, and her one hand stretched upwards and the other one on her waist. Her face looked gloomy as if she was in pain. Slowly the music stopped, and all the lights went off. It was pitch dark, and all of a sudden, there was a spotlight on her. She broke free from the position, and her eyes were filled with rage. She took a step forward and started pirouetting. Each turn was faster yet more graceful than the previous one. She electrified the air with her wrath as she spun around in circles. One final whirl and she stopped with her one foot outstretched on the right, and her right hand slowly followed the trail. The red curtains slowly folded, and the audience started roaring.
Viviana stayed in her position and smiled positively— slowly feeling the audience. She takes a huge breath and stands up.
“Viv, you were so good!” Charolette hugged her best friend.
“You killed it!” Kyla joined the duo.
“Viviana, you were really good”, Mrs Eaton adjusted her glasses.
“Thank you so much, Mrs Eaton”, Viviana took a graceful bow.
“You better be at the studio tomorrow; I’ll be assigning the main roles for Swan Lake”, Mrs Eaton smiled and left.
“Holy shit!” Charolette started jumping.
“Viviana is our Odette”, Kyla smiled.
“Don’t jinx it!” Viviana crossed her fingers.
“You’re early”, Lia commented.
“So are you”, Viviana smirked.
“Do you think being early is going to win you the role?”
“Lia, I think I’ve already won the role.”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you see my performance last night, I nailed it to the T.”
“But I have more experience than you, you started in Year 7. I’ve been dancing since Year 3.”
“Doesn’t make you a better dancer than me.”
“Yes, we will.”
Within fifteen minutes, the studio started filling up. Everyone was on their toes, curious to know about Swan Lake. This was going to be their most significant event of the year, and everybody wanted to shine.
“Alright, everyone! Attention”, Mrs Eaton clapped.
“I’m announcing the roles for our next act, which is two months from now, Swan Lake. Brianna, you’re Queen Mother; Peter is Wolfgang; Mark is Benno; Von Rothbart will be played by James. Congratulations Warren you’re our Prince Siegfried.”
“And now, for the two big roles. Lia is Odile and Viviana is Odette.give the cast a round of applause.”
All the students clapped while murmuring slowly. Viviana had a huge grin, and she couldn’t stop smiling. On the other hand, although Lia didn’t get what she wanted, she wore a confident smile.
Mrs Eaton dismissed the class with a wave and gestured to Viviana to stay back while the rest of the students congratulated her and left the room. She followed her mentor to her office, settled down on one of the plush chairs and glanced at the women in front of her.
“Viv, your mother and I had a talk yesterday,” Mrs Eaton started. “She has been noticing you skipping dinners lately. She thinks it is because of the audition for Swan Lake. Now, I know Odette is a huge role, and I chose you because of your hard work and performance over the years, but if you think that the role will stress you and affect your health, perhaps, we can give the role to Lia.”
“No!” exclaimed Viviana hastily. “It is an honour to have a lead role in one of the greatest works of Tchaikovsky, Mrs Eaton. I assure you, my health is perfectly fine. You have given me this opportunity, and I don’t want to let you down at all.”
“You are a very hardworking lady, Viviana. I knew your mother was worried about nothing. Your passion will drive you to a greater stage someday. I promise you that.” Mrs Eaton smiled at her. “Besides, you look absolutely perfect for the role of Odette. The Royal Ballet will love your performance.”
Viviana perked up at her words. Mrs Eaton’s choreographer friend had asked to see the latest dance performance. He worked with the Royal Ballet, one of the biggest ballet companies in the world. All she wanted was to perform and take her art to these top-notch dance companies. She knew this play would be a stepping stone for the same.
She couldn’t stop thinking about Mrs Eaton’s words, despite her mother’s nagging voice asking her to finish her meals. She shoved a little food in her mouth and dashed to her room so that she could practice her daily dance routines.
Viviana looked in the mirror, her posture graceful and stern at the same time. As the tempo of the music surged, she began to dance, using her toes to rotate in circles, with her hands outstretched in the air. As the music came to its final verse, Viviana balanced herself for the last dance move. She launched herself into the air and landed on the ground, immediately moving to do multiple pirouettes. As she spun, she could feel the familiar blurred sight accompanied by something she couldn’t identify. On her second turn, the world tilted abnormally, and she came to a halt, almost falling to the ground. Her vision was dotted black, and her head couldn’t stop spinning.
Viviana was shocked at her situation. It was something that had never happened to her. Confusion and frustration clouded her feelings. What if she were performing in front of thousands of people and something similar would have occurred? She’d lose everything she had worked hard for. Shaking her head, she switched off the music and decided to sleep before her anger could turn into grief.
The morning breakfast was a glass of orange juice which Viviana could find her hands on. She had read about this new diet based solely on fruits which could keep her healthy and not cause any kind of weight gain. School had been rough in her sophomore year when she had put on some extra fat on her body. Amidst the concerns from her parents and sniggers from her classmates, she had worked out hard in the summer before the final year to achieve her ideal body. She knew, if not maintained, she’d fall back to her older habits.
“Oof, look at that figure,” somebody whistled on the school hallway. Viv rolled her eyes at Kyla’s voice.
“Please, the flared skirt is just to hide my stomach,” she replied.
Her best friend looked at her like she had lost her mind. “You literally have the flattest stomach amongst all the girls I know!” she exclaimed. Viviana giggled, feeling happy yet sceptical at her comment. Kyla had already moved on from the topic. She was talking about trying out this new restaurant for lunch that day with Charlotte. On being asked to join, Viv smoothly refused, saying she didn’t have money for lunch.
“I had a good breakfast today, I’ll be fine. Besides, I need to really work on my body. Odette is known to be this beautiful swan and woman. I am one heck of a potato right now.”
Her best friends shared a look she did not recognize, but she was suddenly feeling sick and decided to part ways with them and moved to sit down in the park outside her school building. Looking around, she unzips her bag and pulls out one of the pills she had bought online. It was said to contain all the nutritional elements of a meal. She popped two of the pills, hoping it’d give her the energy to finish the rest of the day.
Viviana made her way to her Chemistry class. It was the only class she shared with Lia. She felt uneasy while walking to her class, but she knew if she missed this class, her mom would suspect something fishy.
Mrs Bishop’s class was very monotonous, and for Viviana, it seemed like forever. She never understood Carbons and ions and potassium permanganate. She took a deep breath as she reopened the textbook, trying to listen intently to what Mrs Bishop was saying. Her head was starting to get heavier, and her eyes were slowly drooping. The sharp voice that belonged to Mrs Bishop slowly faded as Viviana’s breathing got slower, and the world faded into darkness. Suddenly, she felt a sharp nudge on her right foot that startled her awake.
Viviana managed not to make a sound, and fortunately, Mrs Bishop was drawing hexagons on the whiteboard when she was harshly shaken awake. She looked under her bench to see a foot slightly stretched ahead. She turned around to see Lia calmly looking ahead.
Seeing Lia acting as if nothing happened Viviana slowly huffed and went back to the book. She grabbed her pen to take notes on what Mrs Bishop was writing on the whiteboard. But her brain started to give up on keeping her awake. She felt herself falling deeper and deeper into slumber.
Until she felt a stream of cold water trickling down her body and Viviana sprang up.
“Oh shit! I’m so sorry!” Lia covered her mouth with her hands.
“Are you insane?” Viviana tried to dry her uniform.
“What is going on there?” Mrs Bishop sounded annoyed.
“Ma’am I think I spilt water on Viviana. I think she needs to change, can you please excuse us?”
“Sure, get lost!”
“What was that?” Viviana whispered as Lia grabbed her hand.
“I think the words you’re looking for are ‘thank’ and ‘you’.”
“Oh, kiss my ass! You just embarrassed me in front of the entire Chemistry class.”
“Which was going to happen anyway, since you wouldn’t stop falling asleep.”
“This is none of your business.”
“Look at your face Viviana, you look so pale. Are you fine?”
“Drop your act. I’m fine.”
“Fine? God, you look like you’re going to pass out.”
“I am-” Viviana bent to take some support from the basin.
“Are you okay?” Lia held Viviana.
“Water, water, water.” Viviana fainted.
“What just happened?” Viviana said after observing her surroundings.
“You passed out”, Lia stood up from her chair.
“Where are you going?”
“To call your mom, obviously.”
“No! You can’t.”
“Viviana, I’m not an idiot, you fainting is not ordinary. Your mom has to know.”
“This doesn’t concern you.”
“You’re right, it doesn’t, but I’m not letting you do something stupid just because of a rivalry.”
“Lia, please. This is the first, and the last time I’m asking you for something.”
“Fine, I won’t tell your mom on one condition— you tell me what is up with you.”
“Lia, I’m taking pills goddamnit. I need to cut out on my food intake so that I can reduce weight.”
“Are you crazy? Do you know that’s stupid?”
“Lia, you won’t understand.”
“And I’m not going to. Viviana, gaining 2 or 3 kilograms is fine and natural. You can’t always stay 45 kilograms. Doing this is only going to make you tired, and you won’t be able to perform.”
“Lia, ballet is my everything. You don’t understand my life flipped the day I decided to join Mrs Eaton. Unlike you, middle school wasn’t easy for me. I didn’t have any friends. I was made fun of, I had to eat alone in the washroom. The day I decided to choose ballet, I was so determined to lose weight. And everything changed. Lia, I cannot lose ballet.”
“Fine, I won’t tell anyone, but you should know that this is what will make you lose ballet.”
Viviana stared at a disappearing figure of Lia.
“Good job everyone, Viviana your body has become really stiff, you have to learn to let it go as well. You are almost there, but I don’t want an ‘almost’ I want you to be there. Peter and Mark, I can see that you’re improving, but I don’t want a better, I want the best. James get your head in the performance, or else I’ll drop you. Lia, you’re doing great. I know you’ll make me proud. Brianna, impressive weight loss.”
Viviana looked at Brianna. She never saw the redhead ever as a competition. But she took a glance at her posture, she looked perfect. She looked so much thinner. Viviana was jealous.
“Everybody quick. We’ll be taking your measurements for the dance costume by next week. I want you all to be eating right, I don’t want any unnecessary weight gain before the performance”, Mrs Eaton yelled. Viviana had an uneasy look on her face as Mrs Eaton approached her.
“Viviana I’ll drop you home today after the classes.”
The practices went on and on. Mrs Eaton was very hard with the students, a minute mistake and she’d make them do it from the start. Towards the end of the class, everyone was sweating profusely. Mrs Eaton dismissed the class, and Viviana followed her to her car.
“Viviana, are you excited about Swan Lake?”
“Yes ma’am, absolutely. I will give it my best shot.”
“Viviana, I want you to put all your efforts into this performance. Everything you’ve got.”
“Viviana, do you know I have a daughter your age?”
“No ma’am. Is she into ballet as well?”
“It’s a sad story. I put her in ballet as a parent because I wanted her to follow my footsteps. She did enjoy it as a child, but as she grew up she didn’t think it was her type. Ballet made her really flexible, she got into gymnastics. She’s good at it, I’m happy for her.”
“That’s great. Does she go to our school?”
“Viviana, I couldn’t get my daughter to follow my footsteps. But I still have to leave a legacy behind. I want you to be my daughter. I want you to take my place. Viviana, I have placed all my bets on you.”
Viviana felt a little suffocated. It was too much pressure on her. A little too much given that the only meal she had that day was a vegetable sandwich.
“I don’t want to pressurize you. But all I’m saying is I know you haven’t been in your best position these days, and I can see that you’re struggling. One small mistake and you’ll kiss your dance career goodbye. I don’t want you to do that, so I have a backup plan in place.”
“Your house is here, goodnight Viviana. Think about what I said.”
“You’re back. I made your favourite chicken steak for dinner, go freshen up I’ll arrange the plates.”
Viviana kept thinking about her conversation with Mrs Eaton. A picture of Briana came into her head. A hundred thoughts running across her mind.
“Watch while you walk, fatass”, a girl yelled as she bumped into a younger Viviana.
“I’m really sorry”, Viviana stared at her feet.
“If you’re really sorry, just stop eating for the love of god!”
“I am sorry”, Viviana kept repeating tears forming in her eyes.
“God, start running an extra lap or join a gym.” The girl quickly picked up her stuff and pushed Viviana with her shoulder and walked away.
“Mom, Mrs Eaton dropped me. We had dinner on our way.”
“Oh, but you like steak, right?”
“Mom, I’m really full. I’ll have it tomorrow.
Viviana ran upstairs to her room. She quietly locked her room and took out the weighing machine. She crossed her fingers as she got on the machine.
“50 kilograms, I only lost 1 kilogram!” Viviana cried.
She threw herself on her bed and stared at the ceiling. The only thing she could see right now is Brianna and her slender waist and limbs. She grabbed her phone and took a deep breath. She tapped on the Instagram app and searched for Brianna’s profile. Brianna recently posted a photo in a white dress that accentuated her figure. Viviana kept staring at her, and for a minute she imagined Briana as Odette in her white costume, she felt uneasy. She quickly locked her phone and threw it away from her.
“You’ve become so busy with your ballet practice that we barely see you anymore”, Kyla hugged Viviana.
“Kyla is right, let’s go get pizzas today”, Charolette clapped her hands.
Viviana scanned through the entire cafeteria to look for a place. Every group was laughing, stealing food from one another. Viviana wished if she could be part of one of the group. She felt invisible.
Viviana felt a push, and she fell face-first on the ground. As she raised her face, she saw somebody’s boots walking through her pizza.
“Sorry darling, but you don’t deserve a pizza. Eat your veggies”, the girl smirked.
“I don’t deserve a pizza”, Viviana muttered.
“What?” Kyla asked.
“I’d love to, but I have practice tonight”, Viviana passed a sorry smile.
“Maybe some other time?” Viviana secretly hoped they’d buy it.
“Okay. Umm, can we at least eat in school together?” Charolette suggested.
Viviana looked at the lunch they were serving today. It was a hamburger with a salad and a chicken roll. That was a lot of calories.
“We should, but I’m actually full. Mom made a really heavy breakfast. Oh, and I have to go check up on my Literature paper. See you around”, Viviana ran to the washroom.
“But you never do see us around”, Kyla muttered, but Viviana had already left.
“She seems different”, Charolette muttered.
“Must be the stress.”
“Viviana is never stressed when it comes to ballet.”
“Let’s give her time.”
Viviana was busy adjusting her uniform’s shirt in the school washroom as Lia entered.
“Are you following me?” Viviana narrowed her eyes.
“My mission in life”, Lia smiled. “How was the ride back home?”
“Viviana, you do realize whatever you’re doing right now is actually harmful.”
“And what is it that I’m doing?”
“Skipping dinners and lunches?”
“How do you know that?”
“Your mom called me last night. She noticed you stopped eating at your house, so she called me to ask if you actually ate out yesterday. She thought we were friends because we’re in the same dance. Also saw your cute little act in the cafeteria.”
“What did you say?”
“Viviana, I lied. But I’m not planning to anymore.”
“Good, because my mom won’t be contacting you anymore.”
“Do you know I really admire Mrs Eaton. She’s the best ballet performer I have ever seen. But she’s not the best person.”
“What do you mean?”
“Anorexia nervosa, that is what you have right now. It is an eating disorder, and yes it is serious. Viviana, do you know when I was 6 years old Mrs. Eaton took me out to eat. She was really impressed with my pirouettes and body stance. She asked me what I thought of ballet. I was 6 years old, I didn’t know what I wanted. I said it was just a hobby. She didn’t take it really well. The next day in class she told me about her daughter. I’m assuming she told you the same story. Did she also say ‘Viviana, I have placed all my bets on you?”
“How do you know?”
“Because I’ve been there. She also told me if I was not going to take it seriously she’ll find a-”
“-a backup plan.”
“Exactly. Mrs Eaton doesn’t care about you. She cares about her legacy. You might as well reach there with a broken leg, and she still won’t care about you.”
Lia rolled down her knee-high socks to reveal bruise marks.
“Lia, what is that?”
“Mrs. Eaton is trying to make me her legacy. I want to be the best, yes but I don’t want to be her. Swan Lake is my last performance.”
“What, I don’t understand?”
“It’s high time. When you came she got her backup plan, she understood I was a rod that couldn’t be twisted. But she will try to coerce anyone she thinks can fill her shoes. I’m done being a part of her game. She is using me as a bait for you.”
Lia rolled up her socks and smiled at Viviana. “You’re a good dancer. But I don’t want you to end up as a victim. Check your mailbox, I’ve sent you some therapy sessions you can enrol in. You’re sick, but my role here ends now. It’s up to you Viviana.”
“Ma’am, can we talk about something?” Viviana approached Mrs Eaton as the rest of the class were busy packing up.
“Sure, my darling!” Mrs Eaton patted her cheeks.
Viviana smiled at Lia. The latter quickly grabbed her water bottle and exited the studio.
“Lia, you have a visitor!” Lia’s mom yelled.
“Who is it?” Lia ran down her staircase.
“She says she’s a friend from your ballet class. I’ll get you a glass of water.” her mom said and walked towards the kitchen.
“Hi”, Viviana smiled.
“I’m a bit busy”, Lia rolled her eyes.
“Too busy for a friend?”
“What do you want? Make it quick, I have homework to do.”
“Tomorrow is Sunday.”
“If you’ve come here to act like a smartass then, you should really go back.”
“Lia, you’re right.”
“About a lot of things, be more specific.”
“I am not fine. I was never like this. I never felt jealous of anyone, not even you. I never skipped meals or took those weird pills. I am just not myself. I want to be the best, but I have trauma from my childhood. I always fear I’ll go back to being my old self. That and the pressure of this performance is not helping.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I am going to go in for therapy. You’re right, I might lose everything if I continue like this.”
Lia smiled, “do you want to come inside?”
“Darling, do you want to have dinner?” Lia’s mom came with a glass of water.
Viviana remained quiet as she looked at Lia.
“Yes mom, she’s been hungry since like forever”, Lia gave Vivianna a reassuring smile.
“This will take a while, but I’m glad you took the step.”
Written by Aakanksha Mantri and Anushka Shrivastava for MTTN
Edited by Cynthia Maria Dsouza for MTTN
Featured image by Suditi Jha and Naman Ohri for MTTN