It's sad, but true, most of the people I have met in pole and aerial have some negative thoughts about their bodies. In the world of pole and aerial the comparisons to other's bodies are often on the same level as dancers and gymnasts and the standards are unforgiving and lofty. There is performance in our sport, there are small amounts of clothing covering the body and there are unspoken expectations of how one should look. Let's face it, there is a stigma that if you do not look a certain way you must not be that good at pole.
There is still a connection to the sex industry which often produces unrealistic images of women; the selling of fake boobs, apple bottom booty, washboard abs and thinness and genetically some of us might have been gifted, but the majority of us have to work hard and may never achieve certain "desirable" features without surgery. As a sport, do we want gymnastic standards or sex industry standards dictating how we look and feel?
Now some bodies are thin naturally, some bodies have big boobs, some people can achieve washboard abs by doing nothing. Attending class, we are literally standing around in our underwear looking at each other. To not compare your belly to someone's washboard abs is nearly impossible. So what can you do about it?
On the healthier side the sport does carry a lot of empowerment and the ideas of building muscle, strength and control of the body. I think every poler has experienced the moment of getting a difficult move and the self fulfillment the comes with that. In that moment you love your body for what it is capable of, but does that feeling last?
Mental Exercises to Help Reduce Negative Body Image
The first step in solving any negative issue is to gain awareness. What parts of your body do you feel negative about?
- Do you feel that you are not thin enough?
- Do you feel that your stomach is not flat and that you have belly fat?
- Do you think your body is disgusting?
- Do you fear your cellulite or that your stomach and legs wobble?
- Do you feel that your breasts are too small? Or too big?
- Do you wish you could change a feature? Bigger booty, smaller booty, thinner thighs, smaller waist, less curves, more curves?
Discovering of the Inner Critique (The mean girl or boy in our heads)
Take a moment and think about if there is a dialogue in your head about certain body features?
Many of us have a inner critic, that little voice in your head that says terrible things like " you look so fat today," "your boobs are small, no man will want you," and a variety of other horrible things. Most of us have had this inner critic living with us for some time and quieting this voice is hard to do.
From a neuroscience perspective, we are fighting old neural pathways in the brain and we are fighting things we actually believe about ourselves, though they may not appear true to other people. We need to override these old pathways by creating new pathways.
One of the best ways I have found to describe this inner critic is to see this voice as a mean girl in your head. Do you like hanging out with mean girls? Mean girls put down other other people, manipulate other people and in general bully other people, particularly other women. This mean girl is living rent free in your head. Do you want her there? This goes for mean boys too.
What is this mean girl saying. Write these phrases down
Examples " Your body is so fat," "You are so ugly make up can't fix it," "Your cellulite is disturbing, you need to hide it," and "You shouldn't have eaten that, you are so fat already."
Once you write the thoughts down, often we realize how mean these thoughts are. Now that you have the list, ask yourself, would you say these things to your best friend? What if you heard your best friend says these things about herself? What would you tell your best friend about her body?
Check in with your supporters and people who love you. The harsh things you are saying to yourself, are they the truth? Run them by your friends and you will likely discover the outrageousness of your inner critic.
Positive affirmations do work, we have tons of research. Over time with repetition the brain and body begin to believe the positive thoughts. I know it can sound cheesy, but we can actually change the nueral pathways in the brain to stop believing negative things about ourselves.
Start by taking your list of negative thoughts and write down a positive thought that counteracts the negative.
Negative - "I am so fat." Positive - "I love my body as it is."
Negative - "I will never get any tricks because I am not strong." Positive - "I will get tricks, I just need to keep practicing."
A key element of affirmations is that you need believe the positive statement. Find the positive statement that resonates with you.
Write these positive affirmations down on a post-it and take them with you. Post them in your bathroom, kitchen, car and keep repeating the positive phrases. Say the positive phrases out loud, try for 100 times a day if you can. You have now started the process of shutting down the inner critic. The process takes work and time, but eventually the brain will get rewired and you may find yourself feeling less negative about your body.