Body image is a funny thing, isn’t it? We all see our bodies in such different ways and, sadly, most of the time it’s negative. Whether we are strong and lean, soft and dumpy or super duper thin, there’s always something that we aren’t happy with. I’m no exception to this and I’ve struggled, in my own way, with how I feel about my body and my relationship with food since I was a teenager. There’s nothing special or unique about that, and it’s not what I want to talk about here. Instead I want to focus on something that has helped me be proud of my body, and see it more positively. What is that thing?
(My feet. Note: my ballet shoes are no longer this pristine. They are now a lot more grey and scuffed. Yum.)
You wouldn’t think that ballet could help a size 14/16, 5’8″ woman with size 8 feet embrace her body. Ballet conjures up images of short, slim, muscular ladies who all have to look identical on stage, right? But when we think like that, we forget about the things they can do with their bodies. The precision, the elegance and the strength they have is staggering. Learning a mere fraction of what they do has shown me what my own body can do, and whilst it is nowhere near what they are capable of, it is still something to be proud of.
(Obviously, this is not me, this is a ballerina from the Canadian National Ballet. Image copyright Sian Richards, courtesy of Pointe magazine.)
Dancing has been a part of my life since I was 3 years old, but this January I started ballet again after a break of almost 9 years. Just standing in the right positions felt alien to my body, and for days after my first lesson I was a stiff, achey mess. But do you know what? It felt great. I had used my body and pushed it to its limits and I could feel it recovering. I felt alive. In the months since I have rediscovered my love of ballet, pushed myself harder and every week I learn something new.
But the best thing that has come out of it is this: I can look in the mirror and watch myself dance and for a split second I think “Is that me? Really?” Because I think I look good. Yes, my tummy could be firmer and I could do without the back boobs or the bingo wings but I am becoming strong and graceful and my body can do things I never thought myself capable of. When I walk out of my ballet classes, tired and hungry and drenched in sweat, I walk tall and my body image issues are gone, even if just for that evening. I have lost weight since I started the classes, but my new mindset isn’t because of that. This mindset is an appreciation of what I have, not what is gone.
Isn’t that a wonderful thing, something to be celebrated? If we could all just find something that we find invigorating and focuses us on what we are capable of we might be able to accept ourselves better. Because I might be the heaviest person in my class, but when I manage to sail around in a perfect double pirouette I feel as light as air and I wish it was possible to high five my own legs without looking like a nutter.
So go forth beautiful people and find the thing that makes you want to high five yourself. Try ballet, try martial arts, go for a swim. Whatever it is, I promise it will help. You can thank me later.