(This blog has been written by our awesome new student contributor, Tash Gillezeau! She's a Sydney Pole student who is keen to share with us what she's learnt about fitness, health and body positivity! Stay tuned for regular blogs by Tash in the future!)
One of the most special things about Sydney Pole is its instantly welcoming atmosphere. As every student knows, the environment is a strikingly safe, positive, pro-feminist space to enter that makes learning how to pole dance or Twerk a totally fun and empowering endeavour.
Learning feels fun, supported and judgement free.
This is a stark contrast to many traditional gyms that tend to over-focus on exercise as a means of losing weight or changing how our body looks. When fat loss is the main preoccupation of a fitness atmosphere, it makes exercise feel, well… kind of not that fun. When a Body Attack instructor yells “BURN. THOSE. CALORIESSSS!!!” as you’re low-key wondering if this will be your last breath on earth, you can literally feel the joy being sucked out of the room.
So, any place that promotes body acceptance and dancing for the pure fun of it as loudly and proudly as Sydney Pole is pretty rad.
But inclusive dance spaces don’t just happen – they transpire because of an active commitment to creating a particular culture.
One thing we can do to strive for a more supportive studio environment is think about the way we talk about one another’s bodies. In this blog post, we’re focusing particularly on the comments people ~think~ of as compliments but actually promote the idea that weight loss is an intrinsic good all women should be striving for.
This is a bad thing for two main reasons. Firstly, to truly love our bodies, we must learn to accept them as they are. Secondly, we don’t want to buy in to the false idea that some bodies have more worth than others.
And hey, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look our best. But this should never come at the cost of feeling our best. Mental health is a crucial part of the overall health picture, and comments about weight can reinforce a stereotyped message about female beauty: thinner is better. This is a fat-phobic myth we wanna bust right here, right now.
Here are 4 comments that sound like compliments but are actually size-shaming/fatphobic in disguise.
#1 Wow, you’re looking so skinny at the moment!
This reinforces the arbitrary idea that thinness equals beauty. It suggests that the person receiving the ‘compliment’ has not previously or does not currently fit this mould.
Comments like this can also be intensely triggering for people suffering from an eating disorder or recovering from an eating disorder. It might seem harmless, but given there’s no way of knowing how a comment like this is going to be received, it’s best to focus on some other thing you love about that person.
#2 You look ah-mazinnggg! Have you lost weight?
Asking if someone has lost weight implies that you thought there was weight to be lost in the first place. They might have, or they might not have. Either way, losing weight isn’t always a good thing or a healthy thing, but the amount of social reward we give it in our society is a huge issue for women in particular.
#3 It’s great how comfortable you are with your size.
Bigger women in particular hear this all the time. You are essentially telling the person that you could never be comfortable with your body if it looked like theirs. But hey, good on them for putting up with it.
#4 You look the best you’ve ever looked at the moment!
With this comment, you’re implying that something about the person hasn’t looked good in the past, and suggesting that they are looking ‘good’ based on society’s standard of beauty. Sometimes, when a person looks their ‘best’ can actually be when they’re feeling their lowest. There’s just no way of telling from external appearance alone!
If you notice someone has been putting in a lot of effort into their pole classes and you want to say something nice – focus on the effort, rather than how they look as a result.
Does this mean I can’t give the people I love compliments…?
Absolutely not. We LOVE compliments and women building up other women! But interestingly, even comments complimenting a person’s body or weight can increase the hearer’s sense of body shame. You would think only negative body comments could do that, but it’s not true.
Marika Tiggemann and Michelle Boundy explored this concept brilliantly in their study on self-objectification, finding that appearance based compliments could actually enhance the receivers’ body shame.
Their results tell us is that even though we might think all compliments are a good thing, the bottom line is that when women feel like they are in an objectifying environment, it doesn’t really matter if what’s being said is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ about their physical appearance – the comment still leaves them feeling worse about their bodies because they are made to feel that their bodies are being judged. The study can be found here and is worth a read. It doesn’t mean you can’t give compliments, but perhaps genuine affirmations not tied to physical appearance are a better way to go for eliminating body judgement and objectification from the studio environment.
For example, instead of telling someone they look ‘skinny’, you could say: “I love how hard you work on perfecting new moves!” or “You always show up with a smile on your face and even on days when I’m like, I do not have the energy for this class, just seeing you is a breath of fresh air!”.
The more we can build each other up the right way, the more energy we’ll have for the important stuff – like running the world and what we’re going to wear at Showcase.
Feature Image from @any.body_co