Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I'm dreaming of an anorexic Christmas...

How did she do it?  Vera Ellen, I mean.  How could she even stand, let alone DANCE, in White Christmas?  We watched it the other night, the girls and I.

Yeah, we sang along.  Yeah, we rolled our eyes at some of the nostalgic schtick.  Yeah, we got teary-eyed when  General Waverly came into the dining hall.   And yes, watching the horses pull that frickin' sleigh around the road as the set flew out leaving the open barn door to show everyone that there was a true Christmas miracle of fluffy falling snow, made us all go "Awwwwwwwwwwww..."

And yet every time Vera Ellen danced, all we could focus on was how she was doing it, given that she had the Body Mass Index of a cadaver.  I'm remiss - the first real dance, (not in the Sisters floor show) the one with Danny Kaye out on the pier, when she was in a longer skirt, didn't freak us out.  But from the time she appeared in that yellow outfit in the train scene - with her seemingly CGI'd waist - we winced.  I swear to God, that I, with my large peasant hands, could have spanned her middle.

At one point you see her ribs through that top. From then on - the movie became bitter-sweet for me. This beautiful, graceful, accomplished dancer, wearing high-necked costumes in every single shot - her legs so thin that you could see the tendons...  it was like seeing a car crash on the highway, I couldn't look away.

She hadn't always been this emaciated.  If you look at her just a few years earlier - her face was rounder, the waist not quite so wasp thin.  She looked fit.  She looked strong.  She had muscle.

From On The Town

From Wonder Man

circa 1950

Once you've been up close and personal with someone suffering from anorexia, you recognize the signs.  For me it was seeing a girlfriend from high school about 6 months after graduation.  There'd been rumors of her having an eating disorder in school, but until I saw her, with her shoulders bare, I hadn't believed it.  We were at a movie theatre, she was sitting behind me.  I turned around to say "Hi" and could see immediately that something wasn't right.  Her shoulders and collar bones stuck out, seemingly misplaced on her torso.  I stuttered, desperate not to blurt out something inappropriate.  In my head, all I thought was, "Why?!?"  Why did she do this to herself?  Why?  She didn't have extra weight.  Not that I could see.  She'd been sporty - been on teams.  She always looked healthy and fit.  But there, in that movie theatre, she looked frail.  She looked brittle.  I was afraid that I'd break her.

I saw that girl in 1987 - almost 30 years gone now, and the image of her, with her bones protruding, has kept with me.  I kick myself for keeping quiet.

Seeing Vera Ellen dance took my breath away, but not for the reasons it should have, not because she could do things with her feet that I couldn't fathom, not because she made her movement seem effortless, not because she was a spectacular dancer.  And she was.  God, she was talented!

I wish that I could have been there to tell her that.  I wish that someone had told her that.  That someone had let her know that she was perfect, just as she was.  I wish she could have seen herself through someone else's eyes - could see her talent and ability and beauty and believed in it.  I wish that her disease hadn't skewed her perception to the point that she looked like this:

White Christmas has become a cautionary tale for me.  I know, not very Christmassy, right?  It just got me thinking is all. Hold your girls tight - let them know they're perfect as they are. If they can't see it, if their mind is playing tricks on them, set them straight - get them help.  You want to have them around for always, not just at Christmas time. 

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