Photos: Challenging body image

1 From Zoe Henrot: "Three Words: Long. Lean. Beautiful. Growing up in a ballet school, these were the three words I used to describe the physique of a professional ballerina. While standing at the barre in ballet class everyday I would make a checklist for myself as I observed my own body in the mirror: make thighs smaller, waist thinner, and legs longer. I thought that if these changes were made in my own body, then I would maybe have a chance at becoming a professional ballerina like the ones I saw in all of the movies and magazines. As I grew into my body and my dance career, I came to realize that my checklist was quite unattainable within my anatomy. At first I pushed away this realization, insisting that if I just changed this or that in my exercise routine that my body would become long, lean, and beautiful. I then began to understand that the ways in which my body deviated from the qualities I had prescribed to 'the ballerina' in fact made my dancing unique. My strong legs made my jumps powerful and my ability to move swiftly fluid. Furthermore, I began to notice different qualities in every ballerina. These differences are what make watching and performing dance infinitely interesting. If you asked me today what three words describe a ballerina, I would only be able to tell you one: beautiful." 
2 From Amber Genetzky: "'Jolie laide' is a French term that translates to 'oddly beauty.' In her book, On Becoming Love, Work, and life, Arrianna Huffington explains the concept as, 'They (women who embody jolie laide) radiate a kind of magnetism that goes beyond their specific features.' And, 'A hint of imperfection enhances a woman's appearance and makes her more interesting to look the end, she is more alluring, more captivating, than conventional beauty.' Realizing this truth has helped set me free and has given me peace. It is my soul radiating through that makes me beautiful and nothing else. I can exercise endlessly, eat in an unsatisfying manner, and be as physically 'perfect' as society wants me to be in an attempt to be accepted, but this is just a lie, a trick, to keep me from being the amazing being I'm meant to be. The power each of us possess scares that which suppresses us, so it tries everything it can to keep us from realizing it, but once we accept our inner beauty and worth we are free to be ourselves and allow passion to rule our lives instead of fear. That's where magic happens." 
3 From Brittany Adams: "I have always been curvy. I find myself noticing this distinction all the time in regular classes and rehearsals. When I was younger it really took a toll on me. I was losing my love for being in the studio because there was such a negativity that came when I walked in to the room and felt that I was not going to succeed based on my comparison with others. But as a made my way through college and beyond, I began to realize - It's not fair to my artistic growth to focus solely on my looks. I stuck it out in dance - even got my Bachelor's in dance for a reason: it brings me joy to move and to tell stories through movement. Often dance says more than words could ever say. I have come to realize that a beautiful dancer starts inside. The audience will respond more to generosity of movement than to skin and bones without something more to share behind it. I have come to value the smart, intellectual dancer in me more than I value being the skinniest that I can be. Finding this peace will always be a journey, and a lot of days I fail to see past the physical qualities that bother me. But if I give up on myself and let those thoughts overtake me, then I'm letting down the generous dancer inside me. At the end of the day what I care about as an artist is sharing my passion for movement and communicating through dance, not my passion for the perfect body." 
4 From Jarod Boltjes: "Food is Life. Call me cliche but this statement is what I live by. Growing up on a farm, dinner was the one thing that could put all work to a stop. Food was always a necessity, not a desire. Without food there would be no life, (obviously). Taking the statement 'food is life' directly, food is the fuel needed in us to continue a day's work. Work can be as strenuous as dance for 8 hours, running a marathon, or even as simple as a walk in the park or playing with your children. Taking 'Food is life' indirectly can be as easy as gathering around a dinner table with your family and friends. Yes, we eat at dinner, but it is the food that brings us together to enjoy life with the ones we love. Denying yourself food is denying yourself of having a full life, and a full tummy!" 
5 From Nicole Brown: "Over the years, as I became more serious with my ballet training, I also became more critical. I was constantly noticing the parts of myself that I didn't think fit the ballerina body type description. It's hard spending so much time in front of a mirror, being able to see every detail about yourself at just a glance. I began to think and feel I looked too bulky, and wasn't happy. I knew muscle was what I was gaining, but I didn't feel thin and long like I wanted to look. I wasted so much time knit picking the bad in myself, I never acknowledged what I did do well, and why I was able to do it. At my first summer intensive, I was asked to do grande allegro in the last group with the boys one day. When I realized I was jumping higher than half of them, realization seemed to wash over me. I was strong. Not skinny and bony, but strong, and muscular. I no longer secretly envied the tiny twig-like girls in the back of the room, but instead became proud of myself. Finally realizing that being healthy and fit was more important made me grow as a person and a dancer. I became more open minded and accepting of myself and why I could do the things I did. Instead of hating my body, I learned to appreciate it." 
6 From Joanna Lowry: "Being a dancer, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about my body. I have compared myself to others, stared in the mirror for way too long and wondered what I needed to do to have a more "ballet-esque" figure. The journey towards a more positive body image has not always been an easy one but it has been important and rewarding. As this is the only body I possess to express myself through dance, I have learned to embrace it. I realized that since my body gives me a great deal of joy on account of what it can do, it only made sense to honor it with acceptance and even love. It also eventually occurred to me that if my Creator placed in me a desire to dance and gave me the body that I have, then this body was just fine. I did not need a form that was taller, skinnier, more proportionate, etc, in order to dance. I just needed what I was given. And so the muscles I once thought were too large and bulky I now view as symbols of strength and agility." 
7 From Preston Stockert: "There are days that my body frustrates and confuses me, and there are days that my body empowers me to do great things. No matter the frustrations, I need my body for the work I do on a daily basis. In my work, my body is my temple and my canvas. If my body is neglected, my body refuses the art it produces. In the production of my art, I find that my body becomes my best friend. We fight, I push its boundaries, it provides me with the realities that it must abide by, and I listen. Without the proper care, my art suffers, but most importantly, my body suffers. My body may provide me with challenges in the pursuing my best artistic processes, but I love it. I love where my body can take me when I listen to it, and respect it." 
8 From Shamira Sirr: "I've been dancing ballet since I was three years old, but had never given much thought to my body until high school. In high school my body image became directly correlated to how confident I was with myself and with my dancing. I became fixated on what I thought was healthy. I ate only healthy foods, and at times I also restricted how much food I ate in an unhealthy way. Once I graduated from high school I took two years off from ballet to concentrate fully on college. Without dance I was no longer focused on my body image and healthy eating, I gained weight and lost a lot of muscle. That didn't bother me until this year when I decided to return to dance. At first it was a shock to see myself out of the shape I had been in the past and once again I struggled with my confidence. However as the year has progressed I've been gaining my strength and technique back while eating healthily without restricting how much I eat. As this year has gone on I've realized that my body is not what makes me who I am as a dancer. In the past I was choosing to focus so much of my energy on my body to make me happy rather than believing in myself. So now I choose to be happy and proud of my body and treat it right to keep my mind and body strong and happy." 
9 From Shannon Corbett: "My whole life I've been a ballerina. I've seen the ups and downs of everyone's body image in 29 years. Living a life in front of a mirror and in front of the public eye where everyone is judging you can really take a toll on a person. What I've learned through experience is that the dancers who make a career out of it are the ones who worship their bodies. We need to listen to our bodies and eat if we are hungry, rest when we are exhausted and take time to heal when we are injured. The older I've gotten, the stronger my body has become with cross-training and nutrition. The overall mental mindset of the body I have and what I can create with it is so fulfilling compared to the frailness I could be. You can't be fierce and frail at the same time. I'd rather be fierce." 
10 The St. Paul City Ballet has partnered with The Emily Project for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week with a project called "Take Back the Tutu." They describe it on Facebook this way: "To 'Take Back the Tutu' is to be empowered to take ownership of our art and throw away the idea that we have to look a certain way to wear the tutu. Our journeys are different and what we each chose to share is as unique as we are. Please enjoy our reflections; we hope they inspire you to take back your own tutu!"