Developing a Positive Body Image
Advice for Aspiring Young Dancers by Alisha Coon
DanceLife’s continuing series on pursuing a career in dance
“I hate my body”
I can’t hear another student say this … It just breaks my heart!!
Quite often I see students with low self-confidence and poor body image who are lacking self-love and self-acceptance. With the rise of social media, I feel like it is becoming more and more of an issue and sadly I see it affecting children at younger ages than ever before.
“Oh I wish my thighs were smaller…”
“Yuk I can’t look at myself in a leotard today…”
I think comments like these affect me so much because it wasn’t that long ago that I also had similar thoughts about myself.
“Why don’t I have abs like her?”
“If only I didn’t have that bit of fat then I’d feel good about myself wearing that costume”
People told me all the time how beautiful I was and what a great body I had, but not for one second could I accept how I looked, or believe that I was good enough.
Here is a picture of what I looked like when I was having those negative thoughts about myself. I remember cringing when I first saw these pictures of myself in a skin-coloured leotard. I then dreaded wearing it for every performance afterwards.
Crazy, I know! How could I think about myself in this way and put myself down for so many years?
Yes, there are all of the societal pressures that social media feeds to us every day of photo-shopped pictures and images of ‘perfect’ bodies, but I feel like living the life of a dancer puts so much extra pressure on body image.
Every day we are judged on how we dance, whether that is performing in competitions, how well we performed in a routine or show, or even how well we did an exercise in class. The fact that we put so much of ourselves into our dancing makes it hard not to take criticism to heart. It can also lead to feeling judged by others and it is especially easy to fall into the trap of judging ourselves. Our minds can easily turn comments like “That performance wasn’t good enough” into “You’re not good enough.”
It doesn’t help when you have to dance in front of mirrors in a studio all day. It can be so detrimental when we use the mirror to judge ourselves. That was a huge part of my low self-confidence. I would look in the mirror and focus on my flaws every day. I also chose to believe the ‘constructive’ feedback from people I looked up to (which is still so prevalent in the dance industry).
After the premiere of my skin-coloured leotard performance, my director told me how disappointed he was when he saw me in the leotard, that he wanted to see a more muscular and toned body. Not the first time (or the last) that a comment was made about my body.
I placed too much importance on what other people thought of me, and not enough on accepting and loving myself for who I am.
It is easy to see how being a dancer and being judged and critiqued, can have a negative effect on your self-esteem and body image. Here are some of the things that really helped change my thought patterns around body image and self-confidence.
Put a stop to the negative self-talk and judgement as soon as you catch it! Change the way you talk to yourself. There is a wonderful woman named Louise Hay who is famous for her work with positive affirmations. She says that you should talk to yourself as you would a small child – you would never use a harsh tone and tell them they are fat and ugly or not good enough. You would soothe them when they are upset and encourage them when they are feeling defeated. It takes practice to catch the negative talk and change it to positive – but it’s well worth it for a happier, more accepting you.
Use social media to benefit your positive body image. Keep your news feed full of positive affirmations, inspirational quotes, and health & well-being tips. Follow only on Instagram inspirational people who post pictures that make you smile and keep you motivated. Keep an inspiration board on Pinterest of people, pictures and quotes you love. Subscribe to email lists like The Positivity Blog so you wake up to an inbox full of great emails. I receive beautiful monthly emails from a yoga teacher who is so inspirational and all about self-love and self-care – I look forward to her emails every month!
Celebrate your strengths and achievements. Allow yourself to be proud of your accomplishments and try not to dwell on your weakness and losses. I like to put reminders and quotes up around the house to help me focus on my positive aspects.
Surround yourself with positive, loving people who remind you every day how wonderful you are and make you feel good to be you!
*Please remember that you are never alone and there is ALWAYS someone to talk to if you need help*
Where are you at with all of this?
How often do you have negative thoughts about your body or yourself in general?
How do you see yourself, feel about yourself and treat yourself?
One of the first exercises that made me realise how I felt about myself and that I really needed to make some changes was a very simple mirror exercise from Louise Hay.
Look into the mirror, really look into your eyes and say “I love you.” Repeat it saying your name as well.
It only takes a second, so give it a go!
Notice how you feel and notice the things you are saying to yourself in your head.
Are you judging your imperfections?
Do you wince when you look in the mirror?
Are you flooded with ugly thoughts, self-judgment or self-doubt?
Do you find it hard to say “I love you” and really mean it?
The first time I tried this exercise I cried as soon as I met my own eyes in the mirror. I couldn’t even look at myself with the intent of saying something nice because I was so used to saying mean things to myself! Before you start feeling too sorry for me, I have come a long way from when I first tried this exercise a couple of years ago. I no longer hate myself and try hard to focus on my good points not my flaws. Sometimes I feel like I am on a never ending journey towards self-love and acceptance but I read something recently that gave me hope
Self-love is a decision and a practice, not a destination.
So today I am choosing to love myself and I will practice being kind to myself.
What will you choose to do today?
Lots of love, Alisha xxx