I’m a Pole Dancer; Here’s What One Minute Inside My Head Is Like
Upside-down on a brass pole, eight feet off the ground, it’s easy to forget that I weigh something.
The room spins. I defy gravity. I dangle from just the back of my left knee.
It doesn’t matter now what my bra size is or whether my butt looks perky. If I don’t engage my muscles or if I lose my grip, I will fall head-first to the floor…
…where there won’t be a spring mattress to catch me…
So, I switch into a right-leg hang before I lose my nerve. I want to hold the pose, even though it’s harder than the last one. Sucking in my stomach won’t keep me in balance. Only technique will; I arch my back and point my toes.
And then – still upside down – I sit forward, folded at the waist. I thank my lucky stars because my thighs are fleshy enough to clamp the pole for dear life. And forget all about the cellulite.
…Instead, I remember to breathe…
Glancing down, it’s time to nosedive. Lower and lower I spin, arms outstretched like a crucifix. Only my knees clamp the pole to slow my descent.
Who cares what body shape I am called, or what my dress size is, when I’ve got the core strength to do this?
As my palms reach the floor, I tense into a handstand and split my legs 180 degrees. One leg wave, two leg waves, three leg waves, four. The audience applauds, but I don’t notice.
Because the truth hits me like a giant wave that washes all my insecurities away: body image can be so deceptive. Real body confidence comes from so much more than being accepted on the cover of a magazine.
Figuring Out When Body Image Validation is Real / Not Real
Two years ago, I tried to carve myself in time for a professional pole dancing photo shoot. At five-feet-two, size zero, I didn’t feel I was beautiful enough to be immortalized in a larger-than-life portrait. Riddled with my own insecurities, I only had to check out the other pole dancers at the studio, sporting six-pack abs and sculpted wing muscles, to convince myself that my body just wasn’t enough.
So, I embarked on a very costly protein shake-lithium pills-chicken and broccoli near-starvation protocol that nearly drove me mad in my pursuit to represent some stick-thin ideal. I wanted to lose weight like the Spartans wanted to win wars. I worked out six hours a week at pole dancing. And didn’t eat any solid foods for half the week. I was constantly obsessed with checking the weighing scale. I don’t think I was getting much sleep.
After six months, I went from 115 lbs to 95 lbs and my BMI went below 18. On the outside, I finally achieved ‘that look’ — chiseled cheekbones, shrunken hips, flat tummy, tight ass. Sure, I could rock a sultry pose in that photoshoot. From any angle, I’d look like what you’d expect a pole dancer to look like in eight-inch heels and a skimpy rhinestone bikini. I was approached by a talent scout for a modeling gig. Everyone complimented me at work. Men gave me catcalls on the street.
But on the inside, I was crumbling to pieces. I couldn’t go through a single pole session without taking painkillers. I could barely plank or do crunches during warm-ups … let alone climb the pole or invert upside down afterward.
My trainers kept telling me to stop losing weight. They red-flagged how often I burned out during our dance performances. Short routines made me nauseous and dizzy; I kept falling and injuring myself.
My wake-up call came one day when I fell from six feet in the air straight down onto my neck. My dance instructors immediately put a halt to my pole activities for my own safety. Since I could no longer execute even beginner moves, they relegated all my routines to simplified floorwork. If this is what being ‘cover girl’ attractive and sick as heck got me, I no longer wanted any part of it.
Other women at the studio without ‘ideal bodies’ (some in their forties, post-delivery, curvier and heavier set) surpassed me in both strength and technique. I noticed that none of them were on any kind of diet. They weren’t tall, skinny, or busty like Victoria Secret runway models; they weren’t even compact or ripped like Olympic gymnasts. But they were doing all those things on a pole that my heart wanted to do but my body couldn’t.
This blew my mind. I had been so focused on how my body looked that I forgot to pay attention to how it functioned.
I started eating normally again and my hips filled out as did my waistline. Ironically, my body was officially ‘bottom-heavy’ when I recovered enough core strength to execute complex airborne maneuvers. Not obsessing about my weight meant I was actually happier and had more headspace to absorb new techniques.
The night I was scheduled to go on stage, twenty of my fellow dancers bailed and I had to dance solo. With all the limelight focused on me, I was nervous about not being the fittest dancer to look at. Or the most graceful, or skilled.
Then the music started. There was nothing left to do but strut onto the stage in sky-high heels. Remembering the importance of showmanship, I smiled at the audience. It totally worked. The audience responded with encouragement, spurring me on. I stood a little taller and was more determined to give them my all.
The support I got from my ten female friends in the audience that night was worth a million times more to my self-esteem than any fake compliment I could’ve gotten for my weight.
A fellow dancer said she loved my style. A mom in the audience wanted her daughter to learn pole dancing. A plus-sized teenager volunteered to dance on stage with me, so I wouldn’t ever have to dance alone again. What? Did they feel that way because of me? I felt buoyant. Whole.
And that kind of validation and support stayed with me. Pole dancing taught me to use my whole body, and, when I worked with what I had going for me, totally rewarded my body type.
Why had I felt such shame around my body image before? Shame had been taught; it wasn’t something I was born with.
I won’t lie to you. My thinner self (20 lbs. ago) received social media likes, invitations by talent scouts, and flattery from men. All that attention was nice. But fleeting. And empty.
None of that matters now. Now I get to choose my source of validation, and I’ve learned to choose wisely.
Now I have people who take a day out of their lives to come to watch me dance. Fellow dancers who spot me during practice and offer words of encouragement. Teachers who stand by me through thick and thin. Their love is unconditional and stays with me.
Maple Loo, Chief Instructor and owner of Bobbi’s Pole Studio Malaysia where I dance, taught me to love and be compassionate with my body. “All through my #dancelife, I’ve only just pushed the limits [because] results were most important to me… I’m amazed at how resilient my 44-year-old body still is… this is such a #divine #gift and I really shouldn’t abuse it.”
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