Dance and Body Image

This post is part of the Pole Dance Bloggers’ June blog hop. Better late than never!

I have had the great fortunes of being naturally thin and growing up in a family where it was more important what your brain and heart were like than your body.

Never once growing up did I worry about my body shape or size, and while some of that was due to me being genetically lucky, a large part of it was my parents NEVER, not even once in my memory, say anything about not only what me, but anyone else, looked like physically. My mom has struggled with her weight for years, but she never said anything disparaging about her looks. Neither parent ever mentioned anyone else’s weight or body shape to me, whether it was another family member, friend, or stranger. It didn’t matter to my parents what our bodies looked like, as long as they were healthy and our minds and hearts were in the right place. I am very thankful that there was no pressure on me, from ANY angle, at home for my body to look a certain way (other than modestly clothed!)

But I was involved in ballet and swimming for my entire childhood, two activities in which you wear very form-fitting clothing and one of which places a great amount of emphasis on what your body looks like. I never thought twice about my body until freshman year of high school, when I hit puberty. In comparison to a lot of teenagers, I had a pretty easy time of puberty, though like all teens I was a bit weirded out by the changes going on. I hit puberty at the same time I started weight-lifting for my high school swim team, so it seemed like in just a few weeks I’d gained 20 pounds. I went from a training bra to a B-cup, and got some hips as well. It wasn’t a huge physical change, but enough to make me start thinking about what my body looked like in various stages of undress.firstandlast

middleAgain, I am very thankful that none of the places where I took ballet placed an emphasis on our bodies. I did take classes for a while at a ballet school in a larger city than the one where I lived, and there was more of an emphasis on training future professional dancers. After a year there, my parents decided for various reasons that it was better that I didn’t continue there. I did have some classmates very concerned with daily calories, though that was a completely foreign concept to me.

swimteamI was quite happy with my body and its abilities all throughout high school. I wasn’t the best at anything, but neither was I anywhere near the worst. I was above average, and comfortable there. Then I went to college and stopped all physical activities. I wasn’t dancing anymore, and I wasn’t on a swim team. I was hanging out with new friends and taking full advantage of the amazing food my university serves. (Seriously, the best food ever!) My freshman year of college I gained 15 pounds and grew to a C/D cup bra.

I had a pretty awful summer after my freshman year of college and ended up losing a fair amount of weight by eating very little. It was not a healthy thing to do, but I looked great! I gained all that weight back and more my sophomore year by eating TONS of junk food during what has been the worst year of my life thus far. Just in case you don’t already know this, don’t try to fix your emotional state with food, either by eating too much or not enough. It’s not a good idea.

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I ended up at a happy comfortable weight for the rest of college and beyond, and was generally pleased with my body and thought about it very little until about 3 years after I graduated from college. I was taking a ballet class because I’d really missed dancing. It’s hard to find adult ballet classes that aren’t for total beginners, so I was in a class with a bunch of teenaged girls. They were built like teenaged girls, and I was built like a 24 year old. We’d stand in a line facing the mirror, and I couldn’t help but notice that my hips stuck out further than everyone else’s, that my thighs had more meat on them than the beautiful thin 15 year old legs beside me. I got discouraged with my body’s looks and abilities (6 years off from ballet takes a major toll on your flexibility), and drove home from almost every single class in tears.

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A couple months before the ballet school year ended, I took a pole fitness class with a friend who had been going and convinced me and another friend to join her. I was so giggly and unsure, because I’d been raised so conservatively: what was I doing twirling around a pole?! But I took one introductory class and was hooked: I went home that very night and bought the unlimited membership to the studio. I’d go to my ballet classes on Monday and Thursday afternoons, change in the dressing room and race to the pole studio. I felt SO comfortable there. I found out my body could do amazing things, and it didn’t matter so much what it looked like. No one at the pole studio cared if my butt stuck out while standing (something I was constantly being corrected on in ballet), or if my thighs were muscular (on the contrary: even better in pole!)

This is mortifying and I cringe watching it, but here’s the video of my very first ever pole performance, almost 13 weeks to the day after my first class. The studio I went to at the time was heavily focused on the sexy side of pole, and I loved it. I hadn’t gained too much muscle at this point.

I went to pole class four days a week and was obsessed with it. On Monday nights, the same day my ballet class used to be, I would still drive home crying though: that night was the tricks class and I felt like I was never going to be strong enough to get those moves. I would get so frustrated with myself for not learning as fast as I wanted to. Eventually though, I got those tricks, and I drove home in euphoria instead of tears.

Since I’ve started pole, there have been so many INCREDIBLE things I’ve found out my body is capable of. Yes, I’ve gained about 10 to 15 pounds since starting pole, but the vast majority of that has been muscle, and I’m proud of my muscle.

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Pole has opened up my eyes to what the true definition of having a great body is: it’s not having a body that looks nice sitting around posed in clothes. It’s having a body that can hold itself upside down with two hands, it’s having a body that can hold a split in the air, it’s having a body that can flip in the air. It’s not what your body looks like, it’s what your body can do that makes it great. And even if your body is not like Marlo Fisken (whose is?!) or Anastasia Skukhtorova or whoever you’re comparing it to, if you can walk and dance and swim and run, you have a great body. Enjoy it!

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