Thank you to the reader who submitted the following question:
What was Arielle’s journey that made her decide to promote positive body images for all women?
Back in 2013, I came to a body image crisis, years of loathing finally piling up into a resolve to solve my problems with my body for good. That’s what we’re told, right? If you don’t like something, work hard to fix it. I went to great lengths to become my “goal body”. I did everything "right" and performed health and fitness and nutrition the way that our culture portrays it. I thought being my goal weight and having my eating perfectly under control was going to fix the body-hatred that I wasn’t able to shake, and solve all the health problems I might ever have in the future. If I could finally just wrangle myself in, everything would fall into place.
I reached my goal weight and below through a myriad of shaming techniques and a very tight restriction of food groups. For a while, I loved how I looked and I loved all the compliments I was getting. I loved the feeling of accomplishment, of having overcome what society sees as immoral food urges.
Eventually, though, after a couple of years, I just found new things to fixate on, new things to hate. Not only could I not love this version of myself, either, I received none of the promises I was given by diet culture. I was still unhappy, still in an abusive relationship. Plus, my "healthy lifestyle" was, in reality, wrecking my physical health, and had been affecting my mental health and occupying SO much more space in my life than I was ready to admit- and at the time, I was even willing to admit I was spending at least 20 hours a week in maintenance. My “lifestyle change” started out as a diet, and then became a serious issue with disordered eating. That’s what it took to stay being a “success” story.
As I started to address the unhappiness in my life, moving on from the abusive relationship I was in and finding ways to deal with stress that actually helped me, I found that my “lifestyle change” was holding be back in many ways. The control over my body and my food intake gave me a false sense of security when my world was chaos, but after four years of semi-starvation, the toll was getting too high to pay.
In moving away from that paradigm, I needed a way to find peace with my body and with food that would last more than a few years, and find a way to pursue health that wasn't going to make me sicker. As I discovered the body positivity movement, I also discovered how much the paradigm of “thin always = better” hurt so many other people, too, and how shifting the focus can lead to real liberation and happiness. As someone who's been to "goal body" and back, I wanted to let people know that it's not at all the Fountain of Youth and land of everlasting happiness it's promised to be. I wanted to pass on the word that there is another way to live, because while the body-positive message has grown in recent years, accepting ourselves as we are and caring for ourselves as best we can under our unique circumstances (and the desire to change those circumstances to level the playing field for all) is still seen as a pretty radical way of thinking.
It’s helped me so much to be able to zoom out and see the cultural forces at work that are WANTING us to believe our bodies need fixing because it's super profitable to so many industries. I wanted Dance Life be the change I wanted to see in the world. To have a place where people can come and just BE, to have fun, and if it's an important value to them, to work on health behaviors like improving cardiovascular endurance and strength, i.e. things that have nothing to do with changing the way that our bodies look. I believe we all deserve to live the best, fullest, happiest (and hopefully danciest!) lives we can in the bodies we have now, not always waiting and holding ourselves back because we are afraid to take up too much space.
Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth says, "dieting is the most potent political sedative in women's history." At the studio I see so many intelligent, creative, brave, strong, capable people and I see firsthand how trying to make ourselves smaller (or more perfect) physically makes our lives smaller in so many other ways. While I do hope that the information that I share is helpful in cultivating a positive body image, I also hope that it goes deeper. I hope that we can free ourselves from these chains, and band together for a body revolution. A revolution that creates a world where not only are we freed from body-hatred and disgust, but one where people can focus on actual health outcomes rather than body changes (if they so desire), to go to the doctor and receive high quality medical care for the issues they're seeing a doctor for regardless of their size. A world where people of color aren't targets of violence simply due to their skin color. A world where people with disabilities aren't viewed as "other", and are given the same consideration as able bodies. A world where all bodies are equal, and all bodies are respected. Is it a lot to hope for? Sure. Do I know all the steps to get there? Absolutely not.
But the revolution has to start somewhere. Why not here?