Poling with body dysmorphia

roxanne alaska Paid Member
Hi Studio Veena folks,

I'm starting this thread because I'm hoping to connect to other polers out there who struggle with body dysmorphia, or the experience of compulsively criticizing your own body or specific body parts. I imagine that most people fall along a spectrum of self-criticism about their bodies, and I recognize that struggles with body image are affected by the particular cocktail of oppressions and privileges that each individual experiences. For context, I am a white, cisgender, nondisabled woman in the northwest corner of the United States. I'm in my late twenties and have history of disordered eating and depression.

I started pole lessons just over a year ago. Like so many others, I fell in love right away and threw myself into learning as much as I could with the time and money I had available. To quote Cooper Bombardier, I came down with a case of "adult-onset athleticism." Besides yoga and some distance running, I had never thrown myself into any challenging physical pursuits that I actually enjoyed. Beginning in high school, I started telling myself I "wasn't athletic," and this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without realizing it, I had closed myself off to the possibility that I could experience my body as strong, capable, graceful... fully alive, really.

Pole dancing changed that for me. Upon that first successful fireman's spin, I felt intoxicated by the dawning realization that if I tried, I could learn to do things with my body that I had never imagined were possible. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel afraid of putting my body through discomfort and risk. Each bruise that appeared was a badge of honor; a reminder of my commitment to learning how to love myself as fully fledged young adult. I did a work-study trade at my local studio to get free lessons; I bought a home pole; I started stretching every morning. I started dreaming about competitions.

And then, just a few weeks ago, something shifted again. I'm at a point now where I feel competent in a basic vocabulary of movements. I'm inverting and working on spin pole, challenges that, when first introduced, were extremely exciting to me. Yet I've been absolutely bowled over by a wave of hatred about my body that I'm really struggling to understand or move through, and it's creating extraordinary tension when I dance. My instructor (in the non-digital world; my studio is open under strict health guidelines) pointed out recently that I look "vacant" and "rigid" when I dance. Perhaps this is a little harsh, but I think she's right. I've realized that I have a hard time slowing my movements because the thought of someone actually looking at me, my body, is terrifying to me. I tend to just zone out and focus on getting tricks "right" rather than actually expressing a feeling or state of being. And I know that my body is indeed rigid; I carry my stress in my shoulders and belly like a knot. Having all of this brought to my attention feels important, but also extremely overwhelming. I feel despair about my body and movements not being more fluid and at ease; I also feel grief for the child inside me who grew up in a world where attaining true body-acceptance is a minor miracle. Altogether, I'm in my first real pole dance rut, and I'm afraid of losing my joy.

I recognize that there are deeper issues here that don't really belong on an internet forum--things that deserve the time and attention of a therapist or dear friend. Fortunately, I have both on my side; I'm also working hard to investigate and challenge the internalized sexism and fat-phobia I know are playing a role here. I'm putting all of this out to you now because I think that there's something really special and particular about the personal work that pole dance brings up for people, and it's hard for me to communicate that to folks who don't pole. I'm not looking for a single solution--I don't think there is one. Rather, I would love to hear from anyone else who has felt pole dredging up old body-related wounds and sources of magic and growth. Thank you all!

Much love.
Oct 20, 2020
Thank you for sharing with us. 💜💜💜

Oct 20, 2020
Ewaters7131810 Paid Member
Thank you so much for sharing. I can relate to much of what you are sharing. I won't go into detail here, but it is helpful that you told your story by which we don't feel alone in this struggle. It is much appreciated.
Oct 21, 2020
Corrie Paid Member
I totally get this. I don't (technically) have body dysmorphia, in the sense that I've never been officially diagnosed but I'm in recovery for ED - which I was active in for almost 25 years (I'm in my mid-40s). I discovered aerial almost 3 years ago, pole a year and a half ago. (I was a dancer for a long time, then got older and became a "runner" instead, for the calories, naturally).

Aerial, and pole, helped me flip a switch from "what does my body look like" to "what can my body do" and I've talked a lot on my Instagram at how they've given me a gift of not worrying about what I weighed. It truly is a gift.

BUT, it still comes up, and its coming up right now! :) I had surgery in July, which means that I can't do any of the tricks in my bag of tricks - and have to instead concentrate on movement and dance and flow, and I am feeling the same feels you are. My body has changed because of the time off from the surgery, and I wasn't moving as much. I dislike nearly everything I do and have resorted to posting funny posts on my aerial instagram making fun of myself/various animals who walk in front of my camera vs. just sharing things outright because I'm afraid everyone will see what I see (and old, slightly dumpy lady who should *not* be prancing in front of her camera, even though that's BS and I think every person should prance in front of their camera if they want to, just...you know, not me).

However, I've been down this road before - not just with pole, but with aerial (hammock) and with other things. I have a few things that I like to do when I get this way, so I'll share them for you - maybe they'll help? (also, these are great reminders for me ;).

1. Just keep going - I know it sounds terrible because right now everything is, but sometimes, just going through the motions can take you through to the other side of the crummy feelings. One day, you'll get up to keep going and realize that you no longer feel incredibly self critical or hate everything you're doing. This is one of the reasons I'm still posting on Insta, and still planning on joining in challenges, etc, because even though I hate it right NOW, at some point soon, I won't. And it will be the going through it that will have gotten me there.

2. Talk about it! Stuff like this helps, and if you feel up to it, talk about it with your teachers and/or the studio owner. While her comments sounds like things I've heard said to me in the past...it was when I was prepping for a performance and/or dancing full time in a company, not in a regular class. If your teacher/studio/etc. is good, they will listen to feedback on THEIR feedback. Just saying "I appreciate your feedback, but right now I'm having a hard time, so if we could keep things technical - like my hand needs to be rotated more, or I should work on shoulder rotation - vs. emotional, I would appreciate it. I'll let you know when I'm able to take in feedback on how I look/feel." You have the right, as a student, to ask that. I had a teacher who used to comment on the size of people's butts and boobs all the time, and I had to take her aside once after class and say "I do not appreciate being told I have a big butt. I know my butt's size, and the last thing I need is for this class, which I love very much, to trigger my ED again. If you could refrain from talking about the size of my butt, I'd appreciate it." Turns out, she didn't even realize she was doing it - and thought since she talked about her OWN butt size, it was ok. (It wasn't).

3. Take a break to try new movement. I know I just said "Just keep going" but sometimes, trying some new things that can jolt you out of the mindset of "Everything I do is terrible." Right now, I'm learning hula hoop. Being new (and maybe terrible!) at something helps me keep things in perspective. Experiment with movement in a way where it feels really low stakes because you're new. That could mean try a YouTube dance class (not pole), play around with a hula hoop, score some roller skates, or try a chair class. Find something that is new enough, from a movement standpoint, that you have to think about it, and yet also know that you probably won't be amazing at it. Hula hoop is great for this for me, because if I'm constantly worried it'll fly off and break the cat, I don't worry about what I look like.

Anyway, that's my thoughts! So glad you have good therapists & friends too - because that's half the battle. :)
Oct 21, 2020
Phoenix fire bird Paid Member
Thank you for sharing your story, that’s the amazing thing about this group, everyone is so supportive. I can relate to your story. I was slim then put on a dreadful amount of weight and from yo-yo dieting I damaged my metabolism and long story short I ended up being over 18stone 4lbs (256lbs for my American friends) at 5ft 4!and I promised myself to get slim so I could pole and I gave myself a target of 14stone Abd used pole classes as an incentive to get the weight down.

I was nervous to pole infront of others and I honestly felt like a right fat moo when I turned up at 14stone and instead of feeling proud I had lost so much I felt conscious which honestly was terrible, I was not meant to feel that but then I realised something as I learned to have fun trying the moves and felt empowered from being able to achieve different moves...I stopped comparing myself to others for good or for bad because they weren’t there looking at me because I was fat, they were looking at me because I was having fun, I was happy, they were my friends and they became family. When I did this I got some flare back. I began to feel sexy and I began to act it and had fun with my dance.

When I let go of that everything became easier and I got down to 12stone 4lb and felt amazing! I then got pregnant and through medication during pregnancy I became 18stone 4lbs again and now have diastasis recti but I now no longer fear poling as a larger person. Why?

Because I am poling for me.
I am poling for fun, I am poling for my health and I am poling because I am lucky to be alive.

I had my x stage turn up a while ago but haven’t been able to use it as I have been battling recurrent clostridium difficile infection but fingers crossed I will be able to unbox it in the next week or two. I was 18stone 4lbs, I have lost 32.6lbs in the last 10weeks and am now 15stone 13.6lbs so I am still a very big girl, my skin is baggy and my tummy sticks out from my diastasis and fat but I love my body and it’s thanks to the inner strength from pole and the joy I get when I ride horses and every single time I look at my child that remind me no matter what I look like, my body is amazing. Plus I know I can get fit and healthy again because I have done it before. You never know, each one of us that poles despite our personal body issues might just be an inspiration for others to take their health to the next level, to love themselves that little bit more or to have a bit more fun in their life and that can only be a great thing, to lift others up❤️
It took a lot to get to that stage for me personally, especially after being bullied for years for being ugly and fat(even though I wasn’t) but it all started to really come together with pole, with making friends and learning to look at it in a different way and deliberately thinking of positive reasons people might be looking at me.

Being good at certain moves despite my weight gave me confidence and in some ways my fat actually helped me so we all had our ups and down and we all had our body worries but they became my pole sisters in my mind...sounds so cheesy but it’s true. That’s how I felt with mine.

I hope some of my story may be of help to you or someone else. Sending much love and care your way xxx
Oct 21, 2020
Phoenix fire bird Paid Member
Oh and I forgot to say I got a pole at home when I first started before I got pregnant and practiced at home to build my co fuse be in myself:-) the x stage is new as sold my pole after I had my baby because we had no where to put a pressure fit pole xxx
Oct 21, 2020
roxanne alaska Paid Member
Hi everyone!

I just wanted to say thank you to those who responded to my post. I hit the "save" button on my original thoughts when I was really feeling at my wit's end about how to manage the painful feels and critical thoughts I had been experiencing with pole, and I honestly had no idea what to expect in return. Deep down, I think I was just hoping to get some sort of virtual hug from people who understand what it's like to pole while struggling with body hate... and honestly, that sort of warm embrace is exactly what I felt when I read your responses. What I appreciate so much about your posts is the way that you spoke to both the experience of struggle AND the ways in which you have gotten/are getting through it. I felt so uplifted and inspired to read your words. My laments about my own body dissolved into compassion and gratitude when I read about your unique challenges and journeys and learnings along the way. I think one of my big takeaways, as I reflect on this thread, is the reminder that all feelings are fleeting... joys and sorrows and angsts all come and go, and what matters is to continue moving no matter what, and dancing if that's what feels right.

Thank you all for the magic of community, for sharing your stories and opening your hearts to an internet stranger. I truly, truly appreciate it.
Nov 5, 2020
dustbunny Previous Paid Member
I've been a subscriber since I found this site years ago. These are BY FAR the best value for lessons...ANYWHERE! Regardless of your level, Veena's lessons will help you discover, learn and perfect new pole dance moves.
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