Thursday 5 April 2012

The War is Over! Make peace with your body.

I love my body. It's awesome. It does some amazing things. It's strong, bendy, and transports me wherever I need to go. Amazingly, it even heals itself, given enough time. There are a couple of things I would like it to do better, but I know that if I'm patient with it, feed it the right stuff, take care of it and treat it right, my body will improve on the things I want it to. I have a strong respect for my body, and a huge amount of gratitude that it lets me do so many of the crazy things I want it to.

These days, although there are definitely some things I would like to improve, I feel like my body is an old friend. I know everything about it, its strengths and weaknesses, and I love it the way it is. I feel like we've come so far together that anything else would be nothing more than disloyalty. I'm working on improving the things I want to change, but I don't beat myself up when I don't get the results that I wanted.

I know that it might seem easy for me to say these things. After all, I'm a professional pole dancer, and I train pretty much every single day. But I think that everyone accepts that for most women, there's pretty much no link between how your body looks and how you feel about it. It's always the women who seem to have it all who are the most insecure, right? It's easy to be harsher on yourself than you would ever be to anyone else. In fact, if you overheard a stranger saying out loud to another woman the things that you say to yourself about your own body, you'd be horrified. You'd probably even leap to the poor woman's defence. But I'm guessing you have no problem berating yourself for all your body's shortcomings, real or imaginary.

There's nothing wrong with setting goals and working towards them. I'm not talking about giving up on self-improvement altogether. Maybe you do need to lose weight, gain weight, exercise more, exercise less, or change your eating habits. I'm talking about curbing the self-hatred and disgust that we women seem to heap upon ourselves so readily. I'm talking about learning to respect and love your body for what it can do for you, and to begin taking care of it in the way it deserves.

As a pole instructor, I come into contact with women from all walks of life. When I first began teaching pole, one thing that surprised me was that the women who I thought were in great shape were the ones who were most likely to be unjustifiably mean to themselves. These are the women who refuse point-blank to wear shorts, because, they joke, they wouldn't want to inflict such a sight on the other women in the class. Then they begin to list all the things that are wrong with their bodies. Even though they're making jokes about it, I can always sense the pain and shame they feel. It makes me so sad.

But one of the most beautiful (even miraculous) things about pole is the liberating effect it has on women. I don't know what it is - the all-female environment, the support and encouragement of fellow classmates, the gradual strengthening of previously unknown muscles, the joyous discovery that you are capable of flipping yourself upside down and hanging from one leg in ways you haven't done since you were a kid in the playground - or maybe it's a combination of all of the above?

Whatever it is, it works. I've seen women come to their first pole class in ankle length leggings; women who swear blind that they would never dare to wear shorts. Then, as term progresses, gradually the leggings get shorter. Eventually, they will come up to the front desk and ask shyly about the price of our booty shorts. When they put them on and head back into class, I always play it cool, but on the inside I'm cheering, and I feel so proud I think I might burst.

Our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of. They are marvellous instruments. It's ok to want to work on your body, to be the best that you can be, but it shouldn't involve the degree of self-loathing and disgust that so many women inflict upon themselves.

Take a look at your body right now. You're probably sitting down. Look at your legs. They're just hanging out, waiting for you to tell them where to go next, so they can do exactly as you ask, no problem. Look at your arms. They might be a bit wobbly when you wave to someone as they leave, but they can also carry you up the pole and support your entire body weight (it's true - whether or not you've had the joy of learning that yet). Look at your tummy. It might be squishier than you want it to be. Maybe that's because you've popped out a couple of little ones, in which case it's the amazing cubby house that kept your babies safe while at their most vulnerable. And now look over your whole body - while you're sitting there, thinking terrible things about it, it's just ticking away, doing all the work it needs to do to keep you alive, without you even asking it to. It's an extraordinary machine.

Pole dance taught me to love my body. It wasn't always so. As a teenager in high school, like many other girls my age, I developed what I guess was a borderline eating disorder. It was never full blown anorexia, but I became obsessed with controlling and restricting the food that I ate. I remember so well all the horrible feelings that went along with it. The secrecy, the anger, the self-loathing, the inability to escape my obsession. It stayed with me well into my twenties, on and off. I thought I would never truly be rid of it. I knew so many other girls who were exactly the same as me, whether they admitted it or not, so I came to think it was normal.

Pole dance set me free. It gave me new confidence and an appreciation of my body's capabilities. I stopped dieting. I learnt to stop being suspicious of my body, and began to listen to it, and trust it. Nowadays, I eat when I'm hungry, and I eat real food, not processed "fat-free" or "sugar-free" stuff that's made from who knows what. I'm no longer ashamed of my body. I'm proud of it and all the things it can do. I don't pole dance to stay in shape. I don't even think about that anymore. I just love pole and the feeling of strength and freedom that it brings me.

I'm not saying that to be happy with yourself you need to dance around a pole in your underwear (although it sure worked for me!). I guess I'm just saying that I hope that more women can find a way to un-learn the bad habits we pick up in our teenage years. You and your body are a great team. Especially if you can work together to achieve your goals, rather than on opposite sides of the battle field.

We came into this world with no sense that there was anything shameful or wrong with our bodies. Somewhere along the way we lost that. But that doesn't mean we can't try to get it back.

So. I propose the following. Write a love letter to your own body. Tell it how you feel. Tell it all the things it needs to hear, and if there are a few relationship issues you need to work through, be as subtle and gentle about it as you would with your lover. Here, I'll show you mine to get you started...

Dear Shimmy's Body,

Have I told you lately that I love you? That I really, really appreciate all that you do for me? Like how you just keep on with the breathing and the heart-beating even when I'm not telling you to. And how the more we work at it, the stronger and more flexible you get, even though I know that sometimes it hurts you to do so. I promise I won't push you beyond your capabilities (but let's see if we can go just a little bit further, hey?).

I know I've had some views in the past about the small boobs issue, but heck, who cares. I just want you to know that it's not really a big deal. And when I joke about having man arms, I hope you don't take it personally. I guess I'm just a bit self-conscious about them sometimes.

I'm sorry about all the nonsense you had to put up with over the years. I feel like now we're at a really good place, and I promise to keep working hard to respect you and treat you right.

Keep up the good work!


Shimmy xxx 

And here is one from my sister Maddie:

Dear Maddie's body,

I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate everything you do for me. I love that you love the splits and are helping me again rather then fighting about it every time. I promise I will be more gentle in future. I love you very much and hope that together we can get much much stronger. I promise to take you to the doctor again so we can sort out my sore head and fix the migraines. I just want you to know that even if we never get any stronger or any more flexible I will always love you and am proud of everything we have done together. 

I will try to stop filling you with alcohol (after this Sunday) and eat better food so you don't feel tired.


Have fun writing yours!

Shimmy xxx


  1. Dear Kiki's body,
    I know we don't always see eye to eye. Often I push you past your limits or don't let you get all the rest you need.
    But you are always bouncing back. Even through organ failures you still heal and work well. I promise to keep working at treating you right and giving you everything you need. I know I don't always love you the way I should and I focus on the parts of you I don't like but I don't spend nearly enough time marveling at the wonderful things you can do. You have carried me through so many journeys and i look forward to sharing more adventures with you.
    I love you and appreciate you.:)

  2. Dear Lori's body:

    I have put you through absolute hell. Allowing you to weigh 350 pounds, dropping you down to 180 pounds in nine months, causing you to think you were starving to death. Exercising. Then stopping. Eating right. Then not. Yet you still wake up every morning and carry me around without complaining (much). You let me abuse you with crap food and not enough sleep. And you keep going. I appreciate you for that. I realize I have taken you for granted and I am going to be making a stronger effort to be good to you.

    I will also stop talking crap about you behind your back because I'm pretty sure you can hear what I'm saying. :-)



    Shimmy: Thank you for this post. It pretty much made me cry at work. lol. You are awesome and I hope to meet you when you are here in June!

  3. Thank you Lori for posting your letter! I hope we meet up in June xxx

  4. Shimmy! Thank you so much for an amazing post. I cried as I read this, remembering all the crap I put my body through, and the shame, guilt and resentment that came along with all that.

    My body and I have come such a long way, and we have such a long way to go, and in the process, we have developed an understanding with each other. We work together now, and (most of the time) I love my body.

    Thank you Shimmy. I will be sharing this post with a few of my friends who need it.

  5. I'm ashamed I'm just now getting to read this post... but!

    I've lost twenty pounds this year... Large in part to pole dancing. I'm very much in love with the pole dancing but have never been truly capable of loving my body.

    I over-ate. A lot. I didn't gain weight from kids.. I gained weight from depression and over-eating. I /was/ incredibly unhappy.

    I found pole dancing through a friend and she, this entire YEAR (and even up to this weekend) was kicking my arse over hating my body.
    And I truly mean /hating/ it.

    My arms and shoulders have always been strong. I've always had muscles in my legs but I buried ALL of it in fat....

    You posted this around the time I started taking my pole classes and I wish I had seen this post then but I'm not entirely sure it would of had the impact is has had today.

    Today.. While I'm still not BEST friends with my abs (and my stomach in general)... my arms and I have reconciled. I feel so /much/ muscle in my arms and back and chest it amazes me.. and my legs are even looking more and more toned...
    While I'm not perfect I'm proud of all I've achieved and this post has left me in tears and grateful that you wrote it...

    And grateful that I found it now.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    - JLM

  6. Dear Tanya's Body,

    I am sorry that I have not been the consistent friend that you need. I have strung you along a lot, through a lot of stress, driving, irregular (but organic!) eating...and little weight gains and losses...
    But! We stopped drinking, drugging, smoking, toxic food eating YEARS ago! I did start to drastically take care of you in many ways! and we did the raw food retreat. I still take you to hot yoga at least 3-4 days a week. Today pole dancing 2 classes!

    So--I guess my high ego aspirations are vanity. You do so much for me love bug, body! You are my best friend--you allow me to experience so much strength, beauty and pleasure. I KNOW that when I consistently pay attention to how you feel and your needs, we are both happier! So...please let's help each other find the strength and focus to remember that mind/body/soul are one...and through attention to YOUR needs, Beautiful Body, we are realized!
    I love you!
    And I commit to loving words...and mindfully bringing focus back to you!

  7. I'm late to the party, but I was googling how to enter pole competitions with a long history of eating disorders, and I found this post.
    I really, really needed this. Thank you.
    I no longer binge/purge/starve/overexercise but if I know I have to be in a crop top for a pole competition or video/photoshoot, I'll feel myself slipping back into that shame-filled mindspace.

    Dear Mel's body,

    I'm sorry about all the times I've hurt and abused you for not being superhuman. You were always perfect just the way you were, just waiting for me to work with you the way I was meant to.
    I know I have trouble seeing that a lot of the time, but I'll work on it.
    I do appreciate that we work together to do amazing things on the pole, things I didn't think were possible, but that you always held the power to do.
    I love that everyday you get stronger and more flexy, that we push forward together. You are my friend, my teammate, and I love you for that.

    <3 Mel