There has been a ton of talk about Black Swan in the Eating Disorder community. The movie doesn’t address Eating Disorders directly, but definitely alludes to them. This isn’t a movie review ; It is a ‘life review’ on Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman. Like an Eating Disorder, Black Swan is bottled terror that explodes leaving you with a lot of pain and questions.
The growth process is a tricky, icky, sticky one. I’ve been around for 20 some odd years now and I’m still towel drying off gobs of growth. A few years ago I met a little boy who had a severe form of Autism. His condition bothered me so much that I did some research on it. I found that Autism is predominantly found in boys over girls. One of the theories is that at conception the fetus is female for 8 weeks, then the Y chromosome develops distinguishing the fetus as a male. The transformation process is so dramatic that birth defects occur during this stage. This particular theory believes that autism takes root during this transformation.
I thought about this theory as I watched Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman. Portman plays an innocent, sheltered, ballerina with one passion: attaining perfection in her art form. The movie follows Portman as she strives for perfection in her craft and also parallels the imperfection of her human character that reveals itself as she cheats, lies, steals and purges in order to get to the top of her game. Quite the dichotomy eh?
My friends weren’t fans of this movie. I thought the hot and heavy lesbian scenes would at least have made my male counterpart put a 9 on the scoreboard, but even his reaction was, “I’m sorry I suggested we see this and by the way chicks are still crazy.” Personally, I thought it was brilliant. Mostly because it reminded me of myself. [Cue eye rolls.]
I found it captivating because it felt like watching one of the deep, dark secrets of humanity be revealed to a wide eyed teenager. The secret being, not one of us is pure and perfect. Not one. Call me crazy (most people do) but I don’t remember anyone ever telling me this as a child. I remember the world being painted as a grand place with possibility and I was a princess that reigned in it. I remember being encouraged to maintain the perfection of the world. Certain phrases encouraged me:
“Practice make’s perfect”
“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.”
“You can do anything you put your mind to.”
“You are the best and you deserve the best.”
But, I don’t remember anyone ever sitting me down and telling me.
“There will be a day that you’re so frustrated that you’ll cheat.”
“There will be a time when you want something so bad you’ll steal it.”
“There will be a day that you are so angry you’ll hit someone.”
“There will be a time you will be so disappointed in someone that you’ll gossip.”
“There will be a day that you’ll feel so ugly that you will starve.”
I pretty much figured that stuff out on my own. Well, I was told that lying, cheating, hitting and stealing were bad and not to do them. But, I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that just as much as I am good, I am equally bad and that’s a normal part of being human. It seems to me that as a society we believe it makes more sense to push our youth toward excellence and perfection than educate them on the dark side of humanity. I think that this leaves the entire human race ignorant because we start to hate ourselves for the dark parts of ourselves instead of learning from them.
So what does one do when the dark side starts to show? Like Portman, we try to ignore it so we dance and we dance exceptionally well. To humor you, we’ll just pretend that the crazy ballerina and I are the only people in the world who have ever danced the tango of a double life. Since you haven’t I’ll tell you one thing about it, as the cute British boys say, “It’s bloody hard.” The stark contrast between being pure, white and on the pedestal of perfection and the chaos of hunting, stealing and killing while trying not to get caught is mind rattling. Sometimes the dance between two worlds is so thrilling and fast that one forgets they are dancing at all. But, there is one thing we all know about every performance. Eventually the artist must stop and take a bow. Hopefully that artist can accept the applause with dignity of a job well done. Some (like me) turn around and say, “What did I do? Who are you? And where the hell am I?”
For many years of my life I danced this tango between party-hearty-rock and roll and good girl who goes on mission trips with church. I quite arrogantly thought that I had everyone fooled until the dancing of the these two performances collided and left me with only pieces of each one left. Isn’t that what transformation is though? You take what you have; both good and bad, the black and the white and you make something new with them – you make something gray.
I have spent the last few years of my life trying to paint my life with gray. What I have discovered though is in spite of our affection for heather gray v-necks from American Apparel, our society does not like “gray”. We live in a culture of excellence and it doesn’t have the patience to watch a transformation and it certainly is not pleased with imperfection. If you say you’re going to do something, you better do it and you better do it well or dammit I’ll find someone else to dance, employ, date, make my coffee or walk my dog.
While painting the gray swan in me has realized that the applause from the audience only lasts for a few moments. Afterward some will send you flowers and some will tell you, “Beautiful girl, your form – sucks.” I could spend hours improving my form and living off the applause of others or I could accept that I am gray. I could accept that I am awkward, weird, confusing, but also funny, smart and pretty brave, I could applaud myself for that and call it a night. I have learned that being able to accept yourself with all of the slime that goes with it, is a painful transformation, but it can be even more thrilling than perfection. To be gray is to live with freedom.