Ballet, Body Image, and Recovery

Ballet, Body Image, and Recovery | Libero Magazine 2

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When I walk into the ballet studio and place my hand on the barre ready to start class, I instantly feel calmer.

For me, it’s like meditation in motion. There’s so much to think about in ballet–the music, the choreography, pointed toes, tucked in thumbs, lifted elbows, strong centre, turn out, etc–it’s hard to think about anything else in life.

Many people associate ballet with perfectionism, a particular body type, and even the development of eating disorders. Whilst this can be the case at the elite level, my experience with ballet has actually helped to challenge all of these things.

I struggle with perfectionism in many areas of my life, but ballet is slowly encouraging me to escape from the idea of ‘perfect.’

I’m constantly reminding myself my primary reason for dancing is fun–and perfectionism is the thief of joy! I have to admit, I still expect to get everything right. There have been classes where I often become frustrated and angry with myself when I make mistakes.

However, the key for me is I keep going back to ballet anyway because I truly love it. I haven’t let the mistakes I make stop me from going to class. I’m gradually trying to increase my self-compassion, kindly reminded by my wonderful teacher who reminds me to ‘stop stressing’ and ‘everyone makes mistakes.’ When I can let go of my perfectionism, even for a brief moment, the feeling of dancing is amazing.

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Ballet, Body Image, and Recovery | Libero

The style and etiquette of a ballet class, no talking for example, also allows me to have an internal focus. Even more so, because ballet requires movement of the head and eyes whilst dancing, I’m too busy shifting my eye gaze to my hand or corner of the room to be focusing on what other dancers are doing and comparing myself to them. It provides a wonderful opportunity to really connect with myself, to notice how my body is feeling, and to get lost in the movement.

Although it may go against the stereotypes of ballet, my studio is a wonderful body positive place.

Over my time taking ballet classes, I’ve seen women (and a few men) of all different body shapes and sizes participate, and I love the diversity. You most certainly do not need to possess a particular body shape to be able to dance ballet.

I’ve become accepting enough of my body to wear a leotard, tights, and skirt to class. It makes me feel like a dancer. Rather than thinking about the size of my body, I think about the lines I can create with the point of my toes, the lift of my chin, or by shifting my gaze. These are things that can all be achieved, regardless of the size or shape of someone’s body.

Unlike many classes at the gym, not once have I heard my teacher suggest we do a certain exercise to burn calories, tone our legs, or flatten our stomachs. Rather, the focus is on increasing strength and agility, being able to jump higher, or most importantly–having fun! In turn, despite every other type of exercise I’ve done having a focus on changing my body, ballet has allowed me to focus on enjoying, challenging, and caring for my body.

I do my best to immerse myself in class, to enjoy the moment of dancing, and to be mindful.

I can honestly say I love and thoroughly look forward to going to class. During a difficult period of depression and an eating disorder, these things gave me some respite from the world and from the thoughts in my head.

I’d wanted to do ballet for years before finding the courage to start as an adult. Although I still struggle with negative body image and perfectionism, ballet is helping me to progress in my recovery and to be kinder to myself. Of course, not everyone will have the same experience with ballet as I have. However, I encourage people to try different things, to find something they enjoy, and to do it despite the fact it might not be done perfectly.

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Jodie Mechielsen

Jodie Mechielsen, BExSci&HM, MClinExPhys, GDipPsychSci has her Masters in Clinical Exercise Physiology, has a Graduate Diploma of Psychological Science, and is a qualified exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and group fitness instructor. She’s currently studying psychology, with the aim of becoming a clinical psychologist. Jodie is incredibly passionate about the advocacy, prevention, and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating, as well as body image difficulties, depression, addiction, and anxiety disorders. She believes all bodies are good bodies, food has no moral value, and exercise should be something that makes you feel good, not something that serves to manipulate our bodies. Jodie loves a good rant about the importance of body acceptance, the failings of the diet industry, and that you don’t have to look a certain way to have an eating disorder. When she’s not working, studying or ranting, Jodie loves to speak French, dance and watch ballet, bake delicious foods, and spend some quality time with her husband and two cats.