Mirrors are something I've done a lot of reflection (hehe) on since quarantine started. As a dancer, I spend many hours a day in the studio staring at myself in a mirror. This is something all dancers experience from the moment they take their first class. I've realized that since studios have shut down I've been spending far less time looking at myself in the mirror and feel much better about my body. This realization is what has inspired me to write this piece, which will hopefully shed some light on this issue.
Body Image and the Reflected Image
It's no secret that most people at some point or another in their lives struggle with body image issues. For dancers, this is an even more prevalent issue due to the nature of how we practice. We are often required to wear form fitting clothing including leotards and tights, sports bras, shorts, or leggings. Once we are dressed like this, we then execute movements and combinations in front of a mirror while searching for imperfections. A lot of dance has to do with creating aesthetically pleasing lines and shapes with our bodies, which is why we have to practice this way. Unfortunately, it's the perfect storm for creating body image issues in dancers of all ages, but especially students.
As if standing in front of a mirror judging yourself all day wasn't enough, the dance world also puts an an enormous amount of pressure on students to look a certain way. There is a very specific body type required, especially for ballet dancers, and it can often be difficult to succeed professionally if you don't have it. This is no different than how you are expected to be tall to play in the NBA, or have a sturdy build to be a linebacker in the NFL. However, just because body typing has become socially normalized, that doesn't make it right.
Overcoming the Mirror
I am no exception to the unfortunate amount of dancers who struggle with how they perceive their body. When I was younger it was quite an issue for me, but I have learned ways to overcome these negative thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever come across is to focus less on what your body looks like, or how much you weight, and more on what it can do. The idea is basically that I'd rather be able leap through the air at great heights when I'm 135 pounds than struggle to get off the ground at 115 pounds.
That's not to say it's wrong to try and lose weight or be at your slimmest, but your heart has to be in the right place. My dance teacher always said that the desire to improve your body has to come from loving it, not hating it. I've decided to eat healthier because I love my body so much that I want it to be functioning at its best, not because I hate how it looks and want to be skinnier. I run every morning because it energizes me and makes me feel good, not just because it burns calories.
At the end of the day, I've decided that I will not hate or harm my body in order to fit an image that someone else has established. I will love my body and work hard to make it the very best it can be, not try to look like someone else. Being a dancer is not just about looking good hitting that pose, it's about the movement. Even though I may not have the longest legs, their muscularity is what allows me to move the way I do, and I love how I move. For that reason, I will never wish to have someone else's body or strive to make mine something it is not. I will focus each day on how to make myself the healthiest and happiest dancer I can be :)