You will be hard-pressed to find a ballerina who has never worried about her body. Culture, mirrors, teacher comments, social media and peer pressure all play into the dancer’s fears of looking a certain way or conforming to some perceived “ideal”.
As a holistic health, nutrition and lifestyle coach, I work with many aspiring and professional dancers through individual or group coaching and other correspondence. They often tell me about their experiences and their difficulties with body image. Even the ones you might assume never worry about how they look, having trouble with body image from time to time.
I have always believed that dancers have the potential to be body positive, which encourages them to love their bodies in all shapes and sizes. However, in the wellness space, some practitioners consider body neutrality—which emphasizes that you need to appreciate what your body can do, not how it looks – this should be the goal. I recently made a shift that has helped dancers a lot: instead of trying to have a positive or even just a neutral body image, dancers can feel stronger by developing what is called “body image resilience.”.This shift in my own approach was influenced by the research of Lindsey Kite, Ph.D., and Lexi Kite, Ph.D., experts in body image studies.
“It’s not about believing that your body looks goodbetter knowing that your body is goodwhatever it looks like.”
Body image resilience recognizes that, in all likelihood, at some point you will encounter body comments, shame, or feedback. How you deal with them can help you return to a healthier mindset faster and become more resilient. It’s not about believing that your body looks goodbetter knowing that your body Goodhowever it looks.
The body image resilience journey can truly enhance and uplift not only your dance experience, but your life. Just as taking care of yourself, developing a healthy lifestyle, and eating a balanced diet takes time and attention, so does building a sustainable self-image. Here are some helpful strategies.
Name your thoughts
Thought marking is a mindfulness technique that you can easily use in any circumstance. If you’re in class and you start having negative thoughts about your body or dancing, label each thought as “helpful” or “unhelpful.” Thinking about fixing while dancing can be helpful. If you add body analysis to the thought process of fixing, you will be in useless territory. For example, if you’re thinking, “I should have straightened my hips more in an arabesque, but my line would look much better if my legs were smaller,” the second part of the thought process is useless.
If you work with a toxic teacher or are in a company where bad feedback makes you question your worth or self-worth, you can also mark this type of criticism as helpful or not helpful. Labeling allows you to quickly let go of the thought before your mind takes off with it and refocus your attention on the dance.
The next time you’re in class and find yourself obsessed with your body or a particular body part, close your eyes. (I always emphasize that this should be done safely, so take a second first to make sure you’re not going to cause a class collision!) travel.
When you close your eyes, focus on how you feel. in your body. What does it feel like to use the muscles? Pay attention to the strength and control you feel. When you open your eyes again, keep your intention on these physical sensations.
While yoga may be something you’ve been considering for cross-training, it also offers huge potential for body image transformation. Find a yoga studio without mirrors or start practicing at home. The yoga instructors who have made the biggest impact on my clients’ body image are constantly reminding them to go inward. Yoga can allow you to truly become aware of what your body is capable of without sparing thoughts about how it looks or how you compare yourself to others.
Promise yourself to look at your body with amazement
Instead of looking for flaws, look at your body through a lens of awe and wonder. Let yourself be truly impressed by the incredible physical feats you accomplish every day in class. While you face common but false messages that your body is wrong or that there is only one acceptable body type in ballet, body image stability will allow you to respond to stressors feeling stronger.
As with most mindset work, building resilience is a process. Once you’ve committed to addressing your body image issues, choose one proactive response. Start with one small action and you will begin to build an arsenal of more productive responses to negative thoughts. There will be comments, but perseverance will help you overcome them. It can also help you through casting frustrations, audition rejections, and any problems you may have with ballet.