Speculation abounds as to why North American Women are at war with their bodies. Some say it’s the media and the constant barrage of images of Hollywood A- listers. These women, who have the benefits of personal chefs, personal trainers, and air brushed photographs, literally appearing ‘picture perfect’.  We end up setting the bar for ourselves based on these unrealistic images.  Whatever the cause may be, the reality is that a growing number of women are dissatisfied with their bodies.  I have two young daughters, and it is of great concern to me to think of them growing up in a society that defines a women’s beauty by how thin and young she is.  I found myself thinking over and over “Who is going to change this?  Who will stem this tide?” Finally, I realized I could do my part.  This is the story of how I made the journey from loathing my body, to learning to love and appreciate it.    

    I am an intelligent, university educated professional woman.   It still surprises me that at the age of 31, I began having body issues that I thought were reserved for adolescents’.  I would look in the mirror and be disgusted by what I saw.  My 5’6, 132 lb frame was not thin enough, not acceptable enough to love.   The resolution to this came about in a rather surprising place:  Pole Dancing.  How does a 31 year old mother of 2 end up taking pole dancing lessons?  It was a show where they mentioned pole dancing as a way to empower yourself while learning to appreciate and love your body.   That got my attention.  I tracked down a local class and signed up. 

    I arrived for that first class not really knowing what to expect. As participants arrived, the owner of the studio walked around testing each of the poles. I was impressed to see how strong and beautiful this curvaceous, older woman’s body looked moving around the pole.  I loved how the image shattered society’s definition of beautiful.

As the class began, she recounted how in ancient times, women danced for each other to celebrate momentous events in their lives.  Women dancing joyously for one another punctuated coming of age ceremonies, weddings, and births.  It wasn’t until hundred of years later that men usurped this power from women, and ‘exotic’ dancing became exclusively performed for men.  Throughout the 12 months I attended classes, I experienced tremendous support from my classmates, women of all shapes sizes and ages, from all walks of life; all of them there for their own unique reasons.

    Society often pits women against each other, and encourages us to see one another as a threat, as competition.  None of this was present in class. They were filled with camaraderie and encouragement. What I found was a community of women who supported one another, and were not threatened by each other’s power and beauty;  a place where the female soul was nurtured. 

    As for body image issues – it was quite a journey for me. In several of my classes there were full figured women.  Week after week I would see these women, and how beautiful their bodies looked as they moved.  It was liberating for me to see women of all ages, shapes and sizes on the pole, looking stunning in their movements.  After awhile the discrepancy between thinking they were beautiful but my own body was not, become more and more obvious to me.  How could I watch them and think they were stunning but judge myself as unacceptable and unworthy.  Attending a years worth of pole dancing classes was the best thing I ever did for my self esteem.  It helped me to appreciate my own body, as well as the range of beauty in women’s bodies.   I learned that there is nothing more attractive than confidence.

     In our society, it is not acceptable for women to openly embrace their sexuality.  We are taught from a very young age to conceal our sexuality.  The reality is, that no matter how many times we were told to contain that part of ourselves, sexual feelings still exist.  Instead of honoring them, and recognizing them as valid feelings central to our humanity, we end up suppressing them.   I want my daughters to own their sexuality, to embrace it, so that it can never be used against them

    Women should not have to be afraid of their bodies or the way their bodies naturally want to move.   For many women, the sexual self is an important piece of who we are: pole dancing is an avenue in which we can get in touch with that powerful sensual part of ourselves in a safe venue.      Women are taught to move in such a way that we take up as little space as possible.  We are taught to walk in a constrained and asexual way – lest anyone think we are ‘asking for it’.  Women’s hips have a natural tendency to sway.  Why should we hide that?  One of the first things tackled in class is releasing the hips.  At the beginning of every class we spend time practicing walking in a natural, uninhibited way.  Most women find it very challenging to let their hips move in the way they were meant to.  However, when their hips become unlocked, they feel free to move about the world in a more natural, less inhibited way.  They are having fun, and they feel sexy.  More importantly, we feel ok about feeling sexy!

     There is no nudity involved.  The only thing we work on removing is inhibition.  I discovered that learning the art of sensual movement is not only liberating – it is a tremendous amount of fun!!

    Sometimes in my enthusiasm, I forget that when most people hear “Pole Dancing” they have the mental image that includes women stripping and lap dancing for strangers in seedy bars and clubs.  We can’t overlook that this is a medium in which women, in an effort to support themselves and children, are exploited, objectified and degraded by men.  However, what I am referring to are classes in which women are supporting one another in a quest to love and appreciate their own bodies: it is about getting in touch with our sensual side while working out and having fun.  It is the antithesis of objectification. 

    In the end, I have learned that a woman’s size does not determine her beauty and appeal.  Embracing your body, connecting with your sensual side, and simply believing you are beautiful just the way you are exudes a sense of self-confidence that is more attractive than anything else.  Pole Dancing is a legitimate form of exercise and an art form that not only improves strength, endurance, balance, posture, muscle tone and flexibility, but also promotes a sense of well-being and improves self esteem in the women who participate. By  celebrating the power that is contained within the shape and curves of a woman’s body,  we begin to embrace the beauty and power of the  TRUE female form.  Imagine the amount of time and energy saved when we stop deeming the shape of our bodies as unacceptable.  When we stop trying to change our shape and instead embrace it, and recognize it as unique and beautiful.   We need to stop trying to conform to a ridiculous notion of beauty.  Women need to do whatever it takes for them to feel good about themselves.  For me that sense of confidence and joy in my body came from pole dancing.  I believe there is a tremendous source of power in women connecting with their sensuous side.  Within each of us resides a powerful goddess who will allow us to do amazing things.  We just need somewhere to let her out to play.