Living Gracefully: Ballet and Body Shaming

There is an urgent bubbling inside that has me fully questioning how I want to live my life right now. I am questioning whether I am living too small of a life and then in turn questioning what is too small? Shouldn’t I be living large, the nasty inner voice nags? Living large in the colloquial sense means taking life with gusto, reaching for all that you want, even if that means you have to go out of your comfort zone. Must I live large to experience life fully? Or should the questions be not about living too small or too large of a life but instead around the richness and complexity of how I choose to live my life? Do I choose actions that make me feel good physically? Do I choose routes that serve my emotional well-being? Do I want to always feel comfortable or do I want to want to push my limits? What are my limits? How does aging impact my experience of life? And then it hits me where it hurts most: how does being a large woman impact my experience of life?

As I explore this I am struck by one really big part of my life that tests all these questions: my ballet class. I started taking ballet class again as an adult this past summer and I haven’t stopped since. Ballet class gives me an opportunity to at once feel wonderful and also push my level of comfort, to feel the highs and lows all at the same time. Tonight is my class so as I anticipate the evening I am welcoming all the mixed emotions that come forth.

From my first class to present, although I look forward to each class, I also get very anxious. There are so many reasons for my anxiety that mostly stem from my internal insecurity and shame around my body. Oh, that ugly socially created and perpetuated problem of body shame. Whatever your size or shape, you most likely have experienced body shame. Will people look at me because I’m large? Do I look graceful—can I ever look graceful at my size? Does the teacher spend more time with me because I’m large. Does the teacher spend less time with me because I’m large? Am I too outspoken to counteract my feelings of insecurity? Am I outspoken because I’m confident? The answer is probably yes to all these things. And thus these conflicting thoughts demonstrate the complexity of living and breathing and thinking in a human body—of any size.

Although I can’t know what everyone else is experiencing, I know from all that I have read and studied and from my clients that most of us have internal dialogues going on inside our heads all day long that impact our experience of life. Meditation and other practices exist to help us suffer less as a result of all this internal talk. Through mindfulness and meditative practices, instead of attempting to remove those inner monologues, we work to be with them and not attach to them as truth. And so with regards to my ballet class, instead of trying to tame the inner voice, I am simply going to witness all that it has to say. I will attempt to be with the thoughts and recognize that they are simply thoughts. What I think is not the truth. What I think other people think is not the truth. They are all simply thought constructs made up in my mind.

The interesting part of this exercise is the realization that although I get anxious because I will be in the class tonight around other people who might judge me and my ballet skills and my body, what others think about me really isn’t the issue. What is real is that I am myself judging myself. I am the one who is creating all this anxiety. I am not blaming myself. Instead I am simply pointing out that without my own acceptance of myself in my beautiful graceful body—that I do recognize here and there—I will continue to suffer and get overly anxious about my ballet class.

The truth is that I love my ballet class. I love moving my body. I love stretching. I love the music. I love the other people in the class. I love the teacher. I love that we are all ages from late 20s to 60s. I love that we all have different bodies. I love that I feel sweaty. I love how my leotard, tights, leg warmers, ballet slippers, wrap sweater and skirt hug my body. I love that I smile throughout most of the class. I love smiling to myself when facing the mirror. I love that I feel strong even when my calves ache. I love that I feel strong even when I am exhausted after the long class. I love that I am ballet dancing. I am choosing to live life gracefully, inclusive of the running thoughts in my head.

xoxo Rachel

Published by Rachel Mueller-Lust

I'm a writer, artist, executive & life coach, wedding officiant & Life-Cycle Celebrant®, psychologist, media researcher and teacher. I explore language, relationship & connection, living a fulfilling life and the beauty & wonder of the world.

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