Well, well, well, for a blog about being a dancer and feminist, it has taken far too long to write a snarky and sassy little piece bashing up society's demands on body image. It seemed so overdone, and already achieved, right? But the sad and unfortunate truth is that this pesky little thing keeps rearing its head, and often in the most unexpected places. I thought with this Corona break from not working my usual 9-5 job as a professional dancer, I would also get a little holiday from these age-old body pressures for a hot second. But no, unfortunately this has not been the case. As such, I figured it's about time to take a few swats at it. Strap in kids, we are off on another fun little adventure to have a look at the expectations we (still) have upon gendered body images (fancy words for the feminine body, but let us also include men as they are unfortunately starting to cave under their own versions of noxious masculine body image).
Let's start off with a fun story from me in this Coronavirus situation. Obviously dancing isn’t on the cards now or anytime soon with theatres (at present) closed and the economy in a less than pretty state. The few places I regularly teach barre fitness have moved classes to online. From here things have pretty much spiralled and long story short, I have somehow transformed my life into two of my childhood dreams growing up. First of all, Jane Fonda! For those of you too young to know her, please enjoy your ensuing Youtube spiral into 80/90’s workout videos. And secondly the Britney Spears of the nineties- full out, old school, getting to wear a microphone headset wonderfulness.
The interesting contradiction is how this current situation has made me contemplate these particular pressures and societal images in much different ways than I would have ever imagined. It is very easy to understand the extremes of body pressure when working in an industry based on the female body and rather stringent expectations of its presentation. However stepping out of that and looking into the more insidious ways body pressure leaks into every part of society and human collective consciousness is something just as, if not more important to breaking down these negative cycles.
As such today is about looking at one's relationship to our own bodies and critically engaging in connections between food, emotional eating, exercising, and the reasons we get to doing anything at all really. I'm not sure about you guys, but trying to tango everyday with these competing pressures (both good and bad) can at times be a bit exhausting. Between the varying influence and images daily from scrolling social media, to our own subconscious pressures through mainstream media to look a certain way and conform to a specific version of healthy. We seem simultaneously to be in this self-help zeitgeist of constant self-betterment and constant productivity. Coupled with these outside forces is the very real design in our humanity to deal with our inner lives through our outer lives, and our desires to indulge, to treat oneself, to drink and (comfort) eat.
To take a few steps back quickly to explain where I'm coming from, and to demonstrate my battle scares in being able to talk about such a sensitive and emotionally charged topic .... I have been through the period growing up and pursuing full-time ballet professionally to know first hand the pressures and affects to stay skinny. I have the girl scout badge to say I have been through the eating disorder- weighed nearly 15 kilos under a healthy state for me, exercised like a coked up mouse on a wheel, refused dinner and social plans for fear of eating and somehow, have miraculously managed to come out the other side. Perhaps one thing to perceive nowadays, is how the transformation and the push-back against those previous waif-like and stringent expectations for women (to take up less and less physical space) has not resulted in a total body liberation. On the one hand, the better, more healthy, more conscious direction we are heading into should be celebrated, but on the other hand, this progress should also be taken with caution. As slowly these images have also somehow "changed in fashion" in what is expected of the female body. At some point in history it was curvy Marilyn Munroe, then it was the stick thin, twiggy era, supermodel Kate Moss, and now it has transformed into a body of strength, big peaches(i.e. butt), abs, and sleek toned muscles, some sort of sliding scale between a yoga yuppy, a crossfit queen and a Kim K behind.
And once again, whilst yes we should laud this wonderful step forward into a new more healthy, more "accepting" narrative of body image, the undercurrent of this is at times something much more insidious. Underlying in all of this is still the idea that the female body is intrinsically difficult to love, takes work to "accept", must be constantly worked on, wrangled with, bettered and surveilled. All this in order to achieve the "healthy" "bikini ready" body we are sold over and over again in media platforms (with only a few exceptions, to which we will come to later).
Unfortunately, the reality that we are, to some degree, assessed upon a particular set of acceptable looks still stands. And as a result, we are lead to focus on our own very individualised requirements of self-betterment and personal fulfilment through bodily work. This is firstly physical, in terms of working on perfecting the body towards a predetermined acceptable outcome. And secondly, mentally, in terms of being Buddha-like in full acceptance of our bodies- without really questioning where these pressures are coming from or why they matter to such an extent in the first place.
Why is it that bodies that look "different" in the public eye must be celebrated as something truly extraordinary, courageous or inspiring? And if that is the case, does this not inadvertently and subconsciously solidify the "othering" of bodies which don't fit into the norm? How does that then affect us on a greater societal level as well as individuals; and furthermore, our personal relationships and perspectives on food, exercise and experiences of our own bodies on a day to day basis?
I am a front-line cheerleader when it comes to appreciating the wonderful progress we have made to celebrate strong, to celebrate hard-work, to celebrate ability, to celebrate differently abled, to celebrate old and young when it comes to societal visability on body image nowadays. So this is not your garden variety- black or white, good or bad, blog rant. It is just for us to stop for a moment and take stock. To question the times we have disconnected and compartmentalised ourselves from a holistic place of mind-body connection, with regards to nutrition, movement and play. Towards this less than ideal place, where we relinquish control, intention and energy to outside forces- and for whose benefit? In short, just questioning the why on what we spend our mental, emotional and physical energy on.
For a world dealing with a rather extreme set of circumstances, various economic, political, personal and psychological pressures, I know I am for sure being a bit of a tit about where my head is at. I read the news and empathise with the absolute poverty and carnage some countries and individuals are experiencing from the economic and fall-out of the pandemic, and then will blatantly ignore my crazy levels of privilege to stress myself after gaining a few quarantine cookie kilos. I am reminding my audience and fellow online workout compatriots constantly of the need to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful skin they are in, to relish in and embrace the wonders of exercise at the level their body can achieve, and yet still go home to deal with my own insecurities which can be described as nothing less than shameful hypocrisy .
However, with my yoga pants, fabulous mic-pac, and convoluted feminism, I am still just trying to figure these things out one day at a time. However, I suppose the important thing is that we keep keep questioning and keep the conversation going over these happenings which inadvertently shape our societies, our lives, our bodies and all those connections in between.