Pole is for all shapes and sizes! But … are we practicing what we preach?
Fitspo has been on the rise for years. It’s nothing new. And in and of themselves, the statements above might not be problematic. But it seems they are always accompanied by pictures of super-fit women — women with physiques that are simply unattainable for many of us in the world.
Those pictures imply that those of us who don’t have six-packs are somehow not trying hard enough, or we stopped before we were “proud,” or some such nonsense. In fact, it’s been made pretty clear that strong isn’t the new skinny.
Skinny is the new skinny. Fitspo memes don’t feature “everyday” fit women.
I’m fortunate to belong to a pole studio that puts a very solid emphasis on support, encouragement, being non-competitive, and working out safely in all regards. Really, most (I won’t say all) pole studios espouse the idea that pole is for everybody, for all shapes/sizes/ages of women, for women of all fitness levels who want to have some fun, challenge themselves, and increase their fitness levels in the process. And that is just how it should be, in my opinion.
That’s why I cringe when I see pole studios using fitness memes with the obligatory accompanying pictures of rock-hard-abs and high perfectly round butts.
So … what happens if my thighs don’t gap? If I don’t have a six-pack? Does it make me less worthy of being a pole dancer? Does it mean I’m less interested in being healthy and fit?
Am I the dreaded BEFORE instead of the esteemed and desired AFTER???
My thighs don’t gap, by the way. And I don’t have a six-pack. I do think I have a great butt. 😉 I’m no fitness model, but I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’m capable of doing some pretty amazing things on the pole, and I am a damn sexy dancer when I strap on my heels and groove.
In thinking about this blog post I did some research on eating disorders and body image in dancers and gymnastics (two activities very closely tied to pole) … and what I found was alarming. The National Eating Disorders Association surveyed Division 1 NCAA athletes and found that more than ONE-THIRD of female athletes reported attitudes or symptoms consistent with anorexia nervosa. (http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/athletes-and-eating-disorders)
High risk factors included the following:
- sports that emphasize appeance, weight requirements or muscularity
- sports that focus on an individual rather than a team
- overvalued belief that lower body weight will improve performance
- negative self-appraisal of athletic achievement
See anything that could relate to pole in there? I sure do.
Then I started reading articles and blogs by dancers and gymnasts in particular. One woman, a ballet dancer, writes that as she hit puberty and began to develop some curve to her body, she became “a child soldier walking through a body-image minefield.” (huffingtonpost.ca/kathleen-rea/eating-disorder-ballet_b_2235176.html) She was told she would lose a role unless she lost more weight — at 5’6″ her required performance weight was 105 pounds. Her ballet company’s artistic director told her she was an embarrassment, that she was too fat to appear onstage.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders notes that in comparing psychological profiles of athletes and people with anorexia found several common factors: perfectionism, high self-expectations, competitiveness, repetitive exercise routines, drive, body image distortion, preoccupation with dieting and weight.
In the world of pole dance, it’s easy to see that the elite competitors tend to be very thin, very fit individuals. And I’m seeing a growing emphasis on competition. Frequently, I’m asked when I plan to start competing (my answer: I’m not.). That emphasis on competing and competition amongst our fellow polers, combined with fitspo inundation, means that the world of pole dancing is inundated with images of dancers who have extremely low body fat percentages, who train like the professional athletes they are, and who simply often have a genetic predisposition toward the bodies they have. Do I admire them? OH YES. They are amazing men and women, and as I said, they are elite athletes! I find them inspiring but at the same time I frequently need to check myself to make sure I’m not taking that inspiration to an unhealthy place psychologically or physically.
Some dancers are naturally thin. Some dancers are naturally not-thin. If loving pole is about loving ourselves, then thin or not, self-love should be the focus… not the perfectly round butts that dreams are supposedly made of.
Nothing I wrote above is going to change the fact that many moves are easier for thinner, very flexible dancers. But to my fellow dancers, instructors, studios, I ask that you please consider what you’re telling your dancers when you post fitspo — are they really all that inspirational?
Note: any opinions expressed above are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the views of UPA or its employees.