As a dancer, I grew up seeing my body as a “piece of art”. I was tagged an ‘Amazon Woman’ for my long limbs, and therefore, put in the back of formations. On my college dance team, gaining too much weight would result in being benched from games. The placement of my fingers, my pointed toes, the length of my hair always mentioned and criticized as to not distract from the “art of the performance”. Don’t get me wrong, dance did INCREDIBLE things for me–dance taught me confidence, professionalism–you always know who the dancers are when they show up to wedding rehearsals with suitcases full of hair spray, sewing needles, 10 different shades of lipstick, bun holders, etc. But, as I enter into my mid-twenties, I’m finding myself having to re-configure my image of my body.
1.Notice people’s beauty: As dancers, we get competitive with other dancers. While the goal on a team is to look the same, you are still trying to find other ways to make yourself stand out as an individual. Perhaps you dye your hair a unique color, you make sure you twist a little further than everyone else, give a wink to the crowd. What inevitably happens in this environment is that you start looking at everyone else’s flaws in order to build yours up; she has crooked eye brows, her legs are disproportional, her abs a little too flabby–and then compare to my own–my eyebrows are straight, my legs long, my abs tight. So, when I’m at the gym or in dance class, I train myself to pay attention to other people’s beauty–not their flaws. Maybe she has really nice calf muscles, a unique shade of red hair, really beautiful arches. What this actually did was show me how many variations of beauty there are–before, I kind of just thought we were all rushing to reach one ideal image, but that isn’t necessarily true, because we ALL have opportunities to be beautiful.
2.Change my mindset about why I work out: It used to be that I worked out so that I wasn’t flabby, my muscles had tone, and I could effectively execute certain dance skills (like, stronger thighs mean higher jumps, tighter abs mean faster turns, bigger biceps means sharper motions). So, when I stopped dancing, I still carried this same mentality with me, even though that mentality no longer fit my ‘goals’. Some people need to get on a scale and look at the amount of weight they lost, which can be an excellent motivator to lose weight. Some people need to use calorie counters in order to track their calories. Being on the other end of the spectrum, I had change my mindset about why I worked out; I wasn’t working out to have that ideal body anymore, but rather, just to be healthy. I had to stop weighing myself, looking at myself in the mirror post-work out in order to change my mindset about why I was working out. I wasn’t working out to have a hot body; I was working out because I sleep better, my moods are more regulated, my digestion on track. So, anytime I step into the gym, I keep those motivators in mind (not the ones about stepping onto the scale).
3. Set realistic expectations: There was a time when I danced around in a half top in front of 65,000 people, and it was really important to be in shape–to have cut abs, bulging biceps, and rock hard thigh muscles, long hair, luscious eyelashes, tan skin. But, I’m no longer strutting in front of and whipping my hair for a crowd, so I don’t necessarily need to kill myself at the gym for that kind of body. I need some abs so I can go into handstand in yoga, and if I wind up with a six-pack, that’s always an added bonus, but I have to forgive myself for not having that body anymore, because it no longer fits my agenda (because my new agenda is better sleep, better mood, better quality of life). It’s no longer a competition to who has the longest hair, I don’t need long eyelashes to flirt with the crowd, and the more I tan, the higher my chances of cancer are. It’s unrealistic for me to expect myself to be what I was at 18, 19, 20 years old, because I’m now 25, and I just have to accept that.
4. Go out in public looking like crap: Our fears often stem from unrealistic fantasies and insecurities we create for ourselves. Like, the girl who wears a full face of makeup to the pool is obviously insecure, and uses the makeup as a mask (this never makes sense to me, because we wear makeup in order to cover up our blemishes, but then wearing the makeup clogs our pores and causes more blemishes?). I’ve heard dancers say they have never gone out in public in sweats because they can’t get away from that performance-image. Of course, the best way to conquer our fears is to expose ourselves to them; so, if my fear is going out in public, because I don’t want people to see “what I really look like”, then I have to go out in public looking like crap. And actually, nothing bad actually happens when I do; and, if people see me and want to make fun of me, I hope they do it behind my back where I can’t hear it so I don’t know about it. Ignorance is bliss.
6. Stop presenting myself as an object: I think one of the hardest things for me to accept when my long-term boyfriend and I broke up was that he didn’t see me as anything more than an object. I was the cute dancer girlfriend he could flaunt around and everyone could talk about how lucky he was. And, when he moved, I could no longer fill that object-role, and therefore, he no longer needed me. But, I can’t necessarily fault him for that, because I also saw myself as an object. I actually really despise going to the bar to scope out guys, because the whole scene breeds objectivity. The idea is to look cuter than all of my friends so that I stand out, and more guys talk to me. But, actually, the only reason the guy probably notices me is because he thinks I’m cute, and that’s objectifying (also why I’m against the strip club). Everyone eventually gets old, wrinkly, their hair greys, muscle turns to fat, and someday, this superficiality will no longer be available. In order to prevent this, I have to stop displaying myself as an object, which means I don’t need to be wearing stilettos and short skirts out, caking my face with make up and arriving in the “hottest” car. When I display myself in these ways, that’s when I get treated and viewed as an object. And instead, I have to sell myself on my intellectual traits, my charming personality, and my credit score.
7. People are innately selfish: And, when I find myself especially self-conscious about my body, I remind myself that people are innately selfish, which means while I’m sitting here, worrying about what everyone ELSE is thinking of me, they are doing the same thing, and actually, they aren’t noticing the one extra pound or gray hair that just popped up.
My friend, Sarabeth, has an AMAZING body image story. She lost about 150 lbs by simply eating and working out. And yet, she will still tell you that everyday, she wakes up, and sees herself as “the fat girl”, and everyday, she has to fight those mentalities. The same is true on my end–everyday, I have to wake up, and remind myself that I am no longer an object, I no longer need to win the beauty contest, I am allowed to indulge in chocolate every once in a while. I don’t need to restrict my eating, I can’t work out for three hours a day, and there’s no point in me being super bronze. As women, we are constantly bombarded with body image issues, but like anything, I think we can shift our mindsets to make those issues a little more realistic.