Building a Healthy Body Positivity

Wednesday, August 2, 2017



Honest truth, I was the chubby kid in ballet class.

No one called me that, but like most kids I was observant enough to notice.

I was too tall to be in the front of the class, and muscular enough that I often partnered in the guy's role. Dance school uniforms meant that I could not hide the fact that my leotard and skirt looked very different on me than on my classmates.

Going through puberty in front of a mirror was a struggle. I could not ignore what was staring me in the face many days of the week.

The dance world had woken up to the idea that the need to conform to one ideal of a "ballerina body" was driving out talented dancers. There was less pressure to eat a certain way or look a certain way. However, there was a cone of silence around navigating normally fluctuating weight - especially during the puberty years. After years of getting it wrong, everyone was trying so hard to do right, they did nothing.

So I plodded along, unsure of my strengths, and clueless for how to address the weaknesses in my dancing and in my body. I started to think maybe the problem was ballet. Maybe I just did not have the body for ballet and I should find a dance style that would be a better fit.

I did ballet-modern and learned a number of other styles, in addition to the tap and jazz my dance school offered.
I went vegetarian for a few years to see if that would help.
I generally flailed around trying to figure out where I fit. Kind of how puberty goes down for a lot of people.

Now, as an adult, I aim for a healthy body positivity. This means largely accepting the realities of my body while working towards strengthening my weak points.

Ballet will not let you be in denial about the realities of your body, it's true. I think that's a good thing.

Even the most perfect ballerina does not have a "perfect body". We all have unique quirks and struggles.

I have hyperextension all over the place. Which is a genetic gift when I need to make a pretty picture pose, but it makes it physically impossible to close my legs in fifth position. I need to use fifth position a lot.

I have very flexible feet. It's great for pointe work, but it also makes me just as able to sickle my foot (bad) as much as I can wing my foot (good).

I am not a tiny person. I build muscle fast, and I will never have the ballerina look. It is a fact of my physiology.

Accepting my bodily reality is not saying I cannot improve or that I cannot dance. It merely means I am accepting the truth of my body and am choosing to work with that reality. Choosing to work with an impossible ideal in mind is not only an unhealthy choice, it would make me a bad dancer.

What I wished had happened during puberty was someone taking the chubby dancer in the back under their wing. She needed someone to walk with her to learn how to see how these strengths and weaknesses were interconnected.

Your mainstream "body positivity" does not work well for kids who are growing up in front of a mirror. It reeks of hypocrisy. Telling a kid just to love the body they have and to not try to change it is in direct conflict with the message that if they work hard they can achieve their dreams.
Kids are smart. They notice these things.

A healthy body positivity discerns the difference between working with the body you have and being resigned to your body. Working with your bodily reality is empowering. It acknowledges that I have agency over my body. Being resigned to my body would mean letting the body control me. It would be disordered and fundamentally unhealthy.

What are your thoughts on building a healthy body positivity? Has this been a struggle in your life?

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