‘Body image’ are two words left unspoken in the dance world, though they constantly pick at every dancer’s brain. We, as dancers, cannot help but compare our bodies to other dancers in the room—no matter at what age.
The mirrors that span the entire length of the wall don’t help either. They open the abyss of constant critique, self-loathing and depreciation for one’s body. These mirrors condemn any notion of body positivity because even the skinniest of dancers don’t think they are skinny enough.
In the nineteen years of my dance training thus far, I can honestly say I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the words ‘body image’ does to the dancer.
I remember tenth grade being a particularly high-strung year for body image among the other tenth grade dancers in my studio. One girl, in particular, a role model for many younger dancers at the studio, starting shaming anyone who came into the studio with fast food.
One time, she was asked if she wanted a bite of someone’s burger and she accepted the offer, only to chew the tiny bite in her mouth and then spit it out in the garbage. ‘I just do it for the taste,’ she said, ‘That way I don’t get all those calories.’
It wasn’t even a week after this when I stopped seeing other dancers bring unhealthy foods in the studio. I question if this is because they wanted to eat healthier, like the said ‘role model,’ or if it was because they didn’t want to be humiliated for their own preference of food.
This same ‘role model’ started the trend of walking straight up to the mirror at the beginning of class, lifting her shirt up and eyeing the width of her torso moving slightly from side to side.
It is worth noting here that not everyone followed in these habits of hers. Some of my friends along with myself found her habits disgusting and uncalled for.
We were tenth graders! We danced for nearly fifteen hours each week! No one in that studio needed to worry or be self-conscious about their body image.
In those younger years of my dancing, I never really watched what I ate. I knew with the hours put into my dance training that whatever I ate would be burned off just like that. However, I realized these eating habits wouldn’t last forever.
Currently, I am an MFA candidate at The College at Brockport on track to receive my master’s degree in Choreography/Performance. Although my course schedule allows me to dance every day and teach at a dance studio at night, I’ve learned it is not enough to burn my calories off my body.
As a result, I make more healthy choices in my diet. This is not to say I have a problem with my body image, but it does show my efforts to maintain the healthy body image I have now.
I say this, but then my mind jumps to the media and what we see on social media, on commercials and billboards, and I question this healthy body image I have now.
There seems to be this constant push for either super skinny, thigh-gap, fragile, delicate women or women who have super toned muscles, tan bodies and could model workout clothes for a living. So, what happens if you fall in-between these two categories like me? Or, what if you don’t fall into any category at all?
I think the best advice I can give myself or anyone who may struggle to embrace their body is to avoid the temptation to compare ourselves to others. No two people are ever going to look the same, so why chase an image that can’t be reached?
I think it is important to look at other bodies for goals and motivation, but at the end of the day, your body is your body. You need to do what’s best for you, not for the media, your family or your significant other. No one else gets to live in your skin except you.
It kills me to witness people who have mentally been sucked into the stream of media that tells them their body isn’t good enough. You being positive about your body image is enough.
When you look at yourself in the mirror and value your uniqueness as an individual and not as a victim of fitness propaganda, you will realize YOU are enough.