I have seen a few posts recently with people lamenting some of the issues around body image that the pole industry may be struggling with. One such story involved some nasty comments that a pole instructor’s students received backstage at a competition. Another pole dancer pointed out some of the conflicting messages that are communicated by our industry – on the one hand we are overwhelmingly supportive of different body types, but simultaneously, we chase after six pack abs and lean muscle, and our top athletes become increasingly homogenised body types. So, how can we improve our body positive stance? What are some things you, your pole school or instructor may be doing that is actually pretty damaging to body positivity?
Here are some top tips for pole dancers, instructors and hobbyists on how to be body positive within the pole and associated fitness industries.
Body Positive Marketing
✘ “Over indulged over Christmas? Lose the post-holiday weight at our beginner’s course”
✘ “Drop a dress size with pole dance for the perfect summer body”
✘ “Get rid of post-baby weight fast and tone up in pole fitness”
Whilst pole dancing can help you lose weight and increase muscle, marketing classes specifically based on this premise is not the most positive way to sell the benefits of pole dancing. I know it is SO tempting to market in this way – fear sells and the promise of a quick fix sells even more, and of course you want your pole classes to be a success, so why not follow the lead of all other health and fitness marketing?! Well, because it feeds into the notion that celebratory holidays and milestones should be equally balanced with a feeling of shame and anxiety in how you are going to ‘fix’ your body now you gone f*cked it up with babies and turkeys and being human.
Feel free to list the health (physical and mental!) benefits of pole dancing:
✓ “Improve your fitness – feel stronger and healthier”
✓ “Feel happier, improve your confidence, and make new friends!”
You can even market with the possible weight loss benefits of pole dancing, but try to avoid connecting this to a sense of shame or punishment, and don’t pair it with photos of girls with 14% body fat, as that is a standard that most women will never achieve, and they shouldn’t feel obligated to either.
Don’t assume that people want to lose weight
Further to the above point, don’t assume that the people in your class, either your students or fellow classmates, want to lose weight. A lot of people are happy with their weight, or aren’t in a place where they want to change it right now. So, talking about which move is going to ‘get rid of that muffin top’ or ‘tone up those bingo wings’ isn’t body positive, it is communicating the message that there is something wrong with that body part and therefore it needs to be ‘fixed’ with XYZ workout or move.
If someone asks you about moves to target a certain area that is a different matter, you can answer those questions with very little value judgement, such as “If you want to build muscles in your triceps this is what you can do…” or “Although you cannot spot reduce, if you want a leaner waist line you can try this…” But the difference is that this advice is solicited, not just offered based on an assumption.
Re-frame the dialogue from aesthetic to functional
In your pole classes and marketing, you can be more body positive by taking attention away from the aesthetic (how the body looks) to the functional (what it can do).
As an instructor a good way to do this is by emphasising what can be achieved by practicing certain moves, for example “We are working on this gemini mount so that you can progress to the outside leg hang, and then you can eventually work towards your superman.” By framing it in terms of what cool new trick they can get, it makes it about what their body is capable of, not just what it looks like.
Recently I posted a flyer to promote my upcoming floor work classes. I wanted to draw attention to the benefits of my class without resorting to talk about weight loss and punishing new year’s resolutions. The message is ‘You can be confident, you can be sexy, you can learn cool moves and be a better dancer’, not ‘You need to be thinner, you need to look a certain way, you won’t be happy until then’ – see the difference?
Encourage self-love and body acceptance
This is for everyone – instructors, students, pole stars. I notice a cycle of negativity can develop in a room of women wearing very little clothing. Laura says she hates her thighs, and then Sarah jumps in and says “If you hates yours, I must be a whale!”, and then Katie interjects with “At least you don’t have all of this cellulite…”.
Everyone is guilty of this! I know you are just trying to make the other person feel better, to show them that you relate to them and understand where they are coming from. However, it does become a contest of who has the most hideous body part or feature, and that is a competition that nobody wants to win.
Don’t body shame yourself in front of others – talk about your own body positively, and don’t be afraid to compliment others too, set an example to your class / class mates. If you start insulting yourself the negative cycle begins again so leave the negativity at the door. If you hear someone comment on their own body negatively, do NOT join in!
Athletes come in all shapes and sizes
Athletes come in all shapes and sizes and we need to respect this. The higher up in pole you go, the more homogenised the bodies often become. Whilst this is to be expected to some extent, after all the amount of training and associated nutrition that goes into being a top athlete will result in certain shared characteristics, not every athlete needs to be extremely lean, with separated muscles and six pack abs. You can be just as successful an athlete and have a some semblance of fat on your body.
Yvonne Smink recently wrote a very brave post on her own experiences in relation to this, so give it a read below:
Every competitor has a right to be there
So, the next time you think you have to be a certain weight to perform or compete, or the next time you hear someone make disparaging remarks about a class mate or competitive pole dancer’s weight – make sure you address that because it is problematic. Remind yourself that you can be an amazing athlete regardless of your weight, as long as you are dedicating effort, time and passion to your training, and remind those around you of this too. Yvonne no longer has that super lean look (i.e. higher than 13%-16% body fat that the leanest dancers have), but she is an incredible dancer, and more importantly she is now healthy!
Everyone at a competition is there for a reason, and everyone has a right to perform and to compete. I don’t care if you think that only certain body types should be on the stage – I don’t care if you have a certain preconceived notion of what an athlete ‘should’ look like. That competitor is there because they have trained hard, they have built up their skill set, and they have a desire to perform – get over it haters!
What are some tips you would offer for promoting a more body positive environment in the pole community?