"There will always be people telling you that you are too this or too that, but you have to know that there is a place in this world for everyone. Never try and fit into a cookie cutter mold. Different is amazing."
Alison Roberts began dancing not long after she began walking and ever since she's been hooked. But when she entered her teenage years, the pressure to be a certain body type began to consume her and eventually led to an eating disorder. Sadly, Alison's love for dance faded as the reflection in the mirror became more important than her performance. After 3 years in and out of treatment, we are happy to share that Alison is back to loving dance AND the beautiful body that allows her to do it.
You made the right move, Alison. We are so proud of you!
Every Ella: Tell us about yourself.
Alison Roberts: Hello! My name is Alison Roberts. I am 24 years old and grew up in Victoria British Columbia, Canada. When I was 2 my parents put me into dance classes and I got bit by the bug. I became obsessed with being on stage and performing so naturally I decided to make it my career! I trained intensively all through my youth and even more throughout high school. Immediately after graduation I went to The Canadian College of Performing Arts, and after 1 year I landed my first job and began to work professionally. I have had the chance to work across Canada in some pretty incredible theatres and am currently working in Edmonton doing West Side Story! My life has been pretty much all theatre for as long as I can remember.
As a young teen, you found yourself struggling with body image issues. What was that like?
I remember never really even giving my body a second thought when I was really young. It was just my body. It let me dance, run, play games and be the crazy kid I was. I was super confident as a child and just loved life! It wasn't until I was 14 that things started to shift. I began to despise my body and blame it for everything. I thought if only I were skinnier life would be great and I would be successful. I hated looking in the mirrors at dance and became a very miserable girl. I just wanted to be perfect. If I was perfect, I couldn't fail. If I was perfect, I would be the best. Every rejection, mistake, or failure was because of my body. I was convinced that if I had the perfect dancer body, I would be taken more seriously as an performer, book more work and overall just be more happy and beautiful. As I got older, my issues with food grew stronger. I went through years of going in and out of what I thought were crash diets, each time progressively getting worse. I would go through various periods of restricting and purging, followed by weeks of heavy binging and then eating totally normal. My weight was a constant roller coaster, as were my emotions. I kept it mostly under control for many years until I moved to Vancouver BC for dance in 2012 and things turned really ugly. I was told by a cruise ship company that it was my body holding me back from being hired and that was when it became a full fledged eating disorder that consumed my entire life.
Did you feel like you were losing your love of dance due to body image issues?
Yes. There were times when I hated dance and theatre because I couldn't stand the thought of spending all that time looking in a mirror. It became my enemy. I was constantly comparing myself to everyone and became even more perfectionistic. It fed my eating disorder fully because every time I didn't book something or do well in class it was a prime opportunity to engage in my symptoms. I started to only go to class to burn calories or if I liked what the scale said that day. My illness was stealing the most important thing in my life. The weird part was, in my mind I was trying to lose weight to be a better dancer but in reality, by starving myself I was doing the complete opposite.
What was your lowest of lows during that period of your life?
After coming to terms with the fact that I did indeed have a problem, I began to get help. I started doing casual outpatient treatment and things were slowly getting better. After a few months I did an audition and was told again I didn't book the show because I didn't have the right body type. I spiraled out of control. My only mission in life was to lose as much weight as possible and within a matter of 3 months I had lost 22% of my body weight. I was so incredibly sick but I was still so driven to lose more. From there, my life became one big mess of treatment, doctors, hospital visits, support groups, and therapy sessions. I had lost Alison. I was a shell of a person. I was slipping away and for the first time ever, I was scared that one day I might not wake up. The eating disorder had taken over every aspect of my life and I wanted to give up on it all. I remember one day calling my mom and just crying and crying. I just wanted it all to go away.
What made you change the way you were living and make a fresh start?
I got to a point where I was sick of being sick. I was sick of lying to everyone around me. I was sick of hospitals and doctors. I was sick of going to treatment. I was sick of missing out on the best years of my life. I was sick of being consumed by this self destructive voice in my head. I just wanted to be healthy again and more importantly, I just wanted to be happy. I also realized that if I wanted to actually pursue a career on the stage that I was going to have to get well.
What was your healing process like?
My healing process had many different chapters. I went in and out of various forms of treatments for 3 years. I would ‘recover’ only to relapse shortly after. It was exhausting. However, while I was away on contract last summer I was starting to struggle again and a light bulb went off. I was living my dream and I was not about to let my eating disorder steal any more moments from my life. I clued in that I was there because of my talent, not the number on the scale. I finally started to acknowledge the damage I was doing and knew it had to stop. I also realized that if a company was going to tell me I needed to change the way I looked, then clearly that was not the company for me. Now, I am not saying it was an overnight miracle but things definitely began to get better. I started to really look at why I developed this disease in the first place and realized my eating disorder was just a cover up for some very deep down issues. It was never about the weight but instead of actually dealing with these issues, I took them out on my body.
Do you still struggle with eating disorders?
I think my eating disorder is something that will always be a part of my life to some extent as I do work in an industry that puts a lot of focus on your outward appearance, but as long as I remind myself that being healthy, strong and happy are the most important things, I feel like I will be able to sustain an eating disorder free life!
Did you find your love of dance again?
Yes!!! I most certainly did. I remembered why I fell in love with dance in the first place. It makes me feel strong and allows me to express myself in most incredible way. The fact is it really doesn't matter what you weigh, all that matters is that you dance because you love it. Whenever I am having a bad day, I love to go in a studio and just dance and move. I also now have really started to appreciate what my body can do and not take it for granted. I am blessed to have a body that allows me to dance and I would never want to risk that again! There is room for every body type in this industry and I know that I would much rather be healthy and true to myself than fix my body to fit an unrealistic standard. I have curves and muscles, big deal! I am powerful, and have a new found confidence in myself which has made my artistry better than it has ever been.
What are your goals for the future?
I would love, love, love to continue doing theatre for as long as I can! Any aspect of it really. Performing, teaching, anything! Broadway is on my bucket list for sure. However I also have a goal to start a program that gives talks to young aspiring dancers and theatre performers about eating disorders. I think it is so crucial to educate people about this illness especially in an industry that focuses so much on body image. It is such a stigmatized subject and I really think it needs to be talked about in an open and honest way.
What is your favorite play or musical?
I would have to say A Chorus Line. I am in love with that show! My dream role is Cassie for sure.
Name one woman who has inspired you.
I would say my Mom. She is a strong, incredible, smart, beautiful and caring woman. She is always looking out for the family even when she has her own personal stresses going on. We have become really close over the past few years and I know things were not easy but she never stopped loving me through my struggles. Of course we have our moments but I hope when I have a family, I am half the mom she is. She accomplishes everything she puts her mind too and it is truly inspiring.
What advice do you have for girls today?
My advice is to just go for it! Whatever dreams you have, don’t ever let anyone stop you from reaching them. There will always be people telling you that you are too this or too that, but you have to know that there is a place in this world for everyone. Never try and fit into a cookie cutter mold. Different is amazing. Also if you are struggling with disordered eating, get help now! Talk to someone. Don’t let it take over your entire life. The earlier you can stop it in its tracks the better. Never be ashamed of your struggle.