Meiqi Liang (photo courtesy of Meiqi Liang)

Meiqi Liang (photo courtesy of Meiqi Liang)

DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: A year of transformation — in place

The post stopped me in the middle of my scrolling.

Here was Meiqi Liang, a young woman who had impressed me with her grace — whether perched on her chair in the Port Angeles Symphony’s violin section or dancing across the stage in a Ballet Workshop production.

In her Facebook post, Liang, 19, wasn’t going with the curated “my fabulous life” tone. Nope, she was bravely stepping out there on a sensitive topic.

“I’ve always considered eating disorders as something extreme,” personified in that skeletal person who scarcely eats.

“But there’s a fine line between this and the disordered eating patterns that’ve become normalized in our daily lives,” she wrote.

“In the ballet community, I don’t think I’ve ever met another dancer who wasn’t obsessed with how their body looks. I distinctly remember days when I would skip meals so I could feel lighter, meticulously enter calories into my tracker, or avoid eating to ‘reward’ myself after working out.

“It was always a comparison between the mirror and my mind. The scariest thing — I thought that’s what everyone did.”

This is a reminder, Liang wrote, to support our friends for whom we have any concern.

“It’s time to give your body the fuel it deserves.”

I asked Liang for an interview, and she immediately consented. It would have to be after she finished her calculus II final exam, though, it being finals week at the University of Washington.

This has been a year when Liang stayed put while everything changed. Back in early 2020, she was planning to major in political science; she’d set her sights on Stanford or the University of California at Berkeley.

Then came the pandemic.

Though undeclared at this point in her freshman year at UW, she aims to study for a public health degree, with emphasis in epidemiology.

The events of last year “got me thinking about what I want to do with my life,” Liang told me.

Yet living at home in Port Angeles — no dorm, no campus life — has been hard. Liang made a decision to focus on caring for herself. This includes unlearning her habits of not eating enough.

“A lot of that comes from being a dancer. The other girls are so tiny,” she said, adding it was not the ballet masters who made her want to be super-thin. It’s standing in front of that rehearsal-room mirror for hours on end.

Liang has found a couple of things that bolster her health.

“I find a lot of joy in cooking,” she said, “and I absolutely love playing music,” on her violin and, more recently, on the piano.

“I feel a lot of connection to classical music, and popular music. It’s an incredible outlet for your emotions,” whether the music was composed by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Debussy, Chopin or the four lads from Liverpool.

“I’m a huge Beatles fanatic,” she told me, so I had to ask: Did your parents or grandparents introduce you to their music?

Liang laughed. No. Her folks are immigrants from China, having come to Seattle about a year before she was born. They moved to Port Angeles when their daughter was 3.

At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis last year, she noticed people avoiding eye contact and steering clear of conversations at the grocery store. But that’s not happening anymore, she said.

Lately, Liang has been reconnecting with friends she’d lost touch with, planning hikes and outings for spring break at the end of March.

“It feels really good,” she said.

At the same time, she’s focusing on school and looking forward to this fall, when she hopes to move to Seattle, live on campus and get involved in public health research.

Me, I had one more burning question: Who’s your favorite Beatle?

“Definitely Paul,” she answered. He’s got that charming mix of innocence and brilliance.


Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

Her column runs the first and third Wednesday of the month. The next one will appear April 7.

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