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Being a feminist face in an “un-feminist” space

by Julia Bluhm

I’ve been a feminist ever since I knew what a feminist was. Being a feminist seemed like common sense to me. I felt like, naturally, I was a feminist in everything I did. I’m a feminist as I work with a team of inspiring, motivated women in SPARK to create change. I’m a feminist when I write, to make my voice- the voice of a teenage girl- be heard and recognized as it should be. I’m a feminist when I wear skirts and bows in my hair, and I’m a feminist when I wear sweatpants or jeans. I’m still a feminist when I’m wearing a leotard and tights, tying the ribbons on my peach-colored pointe shoes, or being lifted in the air by my partner, the Nutcracker Prince. Ballet is just one example of a profession or activity that is often deemed “un-feminist” for countless reasons. I know that the ballet world is very flawed, and there are many aspects of it that make me really angry. I also know, however, that I’m not ever going to stop dancing. And similarly, I’m never going to stop identifying as a feminist. You can be a feminist in nearly any setting, job, or activity as long as you acknowledge the problems, support changes, and bring your empowerment with you wherever you go.

We all know that ignoring a problem won’t help it to disappear, but recognizing the problem could. This is why it’s important to talk about the issues you see in your field, and not get defensive when others talk about them as well. I’m often asked about my thoughts on body image in ballet, and the pressures to be thin. When I was younger, I’d always say “there is no pressure to be thin at my ballet school, I always take care of my body, my teachers and friends are really supportive,” etc. That’s all true, but does it stand true for the ballet world as a whole? No. If I was not recognizing the larger problems, that there is still pressure to be thin in the ballet world as a whole and that many ballet students experience disordered eating habits, how would these things ever change?

At the same time, many so-called “un-feminist” fields such as ballet, modeling, acting and fashion are taking beginning steps towards a positive change. There are ad campaigns that use models with a greater variety of colors and sizes, and movies that feature strong, female leads such as Brave and Frozen. Misty Copeland made waves with her “I Will What I Want” commercial and American Ballet Theatre recently launched “Project Plié” to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet. As a feminist in one of these fields, it is important to celebrate these changes and share them in a positive light. If the beginnings of a change receive a good response, the change will probably continue.

I know ballet does not seem particularly empowering for women. Ballerinas are known for being graceful and soft, and for dancing on the tips of their toes, while male dancers are known for powerful lifting, jumps and turns. Ballet is much more than that, however. For me, dancing is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. I feel incredibly powerful in that I can use my body to do remarkable things, to create art that, in a way, defies human nature. And when I dance with a partner I don’t feel weak or any less powerful than him. We are a team, and we help each other. As feminists, we all find empowerment in different ways, even if that empowerment doesn’t initially make sense to everyone else. We should bring our feminism wherever we go, whether that is at the United Nations, watching the Superbowl, or dancing onstage in a delicate tutu.

‘Everything is practice’: an interview with Patricia Alvarado

by Brenda Guesnet

For this month’s SPARKArtists we talked to Patricia Alvarado, a 22-year old visual artist from Chicago finishing up art school at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Although Patricia is mainly a performance artist, she uses a variety of mediums, including video and photography. Her work draws on personal experience as well as research to explore the violence and the absurdity of white patriarchal standards and how they affect  us, especially women of color.

Do you have something you’re working on right now that you can tell me about?

A: I’m working on a few different things; right now I’m working on my senior project because I’m graduating in December.[One is] a performance piece where I take small, innocent “compliments” or things that people have said to me, and then deconstruct them to show the [racist] complexities within them. [So it’s] kind of like a “think tree” where you have the point and then stems coming off of it, kind of like a brainstorm. It’s taking something small that maybe someone didn’t really mean as super offensive, and then mapping out and branching off of that to explain the complexities within those statements and why we need to be careful of what we’re saying. It’s me writing this on the wall, and it branches out really big and it’s something that can go on for a really long time if needed and given the time opportunity. I’ll be contrasting that with these objects that describe how exhausting that is – because that’s my whole life on a daily basis, hearing these things, and because I have the knowledge and the experiences that I do, my brain is constantly doing this [mapping] and it’s exhausting. So [I’ll be] contrasting this big mind map with objects that kind of are more easily enterable. As a viewer if you see so much text it’s hard to process it at first, so the objects serve as an entering point for someone who isn’t easily going to be like “oh yeah, racism.”

 

And it’s going to be a performance?

Yeah, it’s a live performance so the objects will be there, but I will be present writing on the wall so people can interact with me if they want. I actually don’t know how that’s going to work out yet, if I’m going to be talking to people or not while I’m doing this.

Looking at the work you have up on your website, I noticed how you come back a lot to the theme of body hair.

Yeah, that’s something that I worked on when I was just starting to get into making political art. I used to be a photo major and then I studied in NY for six months for a residency. At that time I was feeling really unfulfilled by my photo work. I was reading a lot of theory on photography, and it wasn’t matching up with my practice and so I was freaking out, I was like “what am I doing, this doesn’t make any sense, I don’t like the work I’m making, it’s stupid. And I was thinking a lot about feminism at the time as well, reading about feminism on Tumblr, and I was like “yeah, these are really important things”. And when I was in NY was when I started talking to my friend who is also an artist, Amaryllis [DeJesus Moleski], and she is a queer woman of color. We had a lot of conversations about what it’s like to be a queer woman of color, especially in art school and academia. That’s when my work really switched and I was able to start making the work I’m making now. Body hair was kind of an easy start, because it was something that was just present and I was thinking about and reading about, so I started making work about it.

I feel like you are always super present in your own works, also as a performance artist, your body is literally in the work. Is that something that comes natural to you or is it also really confronting to expose yourself so much?

I would say both. I feel like I’m always really present in my work because most of my work is about my experiences. It’s also really important to me to create some kind of visual representation for other brown women. Not that I ever think that I can speak to everyone’s experiences, because I can’t, I can only speak to mine. But I hope that people can relate and feel like I’m speaking to them because I am. I’m here for people to relate to, I’m here to talk about things that I’ve been through, so that other people can feel like they’re not alone. I’ve gone through these things too and I want to talk about them. My practice is a lot about creating dialogue and facilitating discussion. It’s weird to be so present in so much of my work, like every time I hang a show I feel like it’s just like a hallway of me [laughs]. But I think it’s helpful for me to process things that I go through and to learn more about myself.

 

It’s so much about representation, and whose life experience is represented in the art that is shown to us.

Yeah, my friend Amaryllis who I mentioned, we all had our own studios in this residency that we did, but before mid-semester critique, I really [hadn’t seen] any of the work she was making. I walked into her studio, and she was making these giant drawings and paintings of queer women of color, and I looked at these drawings and I literally just started crying. I was like, I’ve never seen this kind of beautiful representation before, and I was like holy shit, this is what people are lacking, because I had never seen this before. So this is what I want, and this is what I want to communicate to anyone who is looking at my work too, is that I’m out here, struggling, just like everybody else, and I want to create this space for people to feel like I’m talking to them.

Right, and I think often the art world reproduces this lack of representation so violently by pretending that it’s this separate space that has nothing to do with structures of sexism and racism. Do you experience that as well in art school? How do you fight back?

Yeah, I experience this a lot. I go to school in the Midwest so the majority of people at my school are white, and it’s really hard all the time. I would say that 90% of my critiques are me defending things that I think are really simple, like that racism exists. It gets really tiring but I try to view it as practice, because I know I’m going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life – dealing with really simple-minded questions and defending things that I believe in. But it’s really hard, we don’t have a lot of people of color as teachers, so I’ve had to work really hard to find people to talk to about my work. Critiques are always really awkward, and it’s gotten to the point where I have to go into critiques on the defensive because I can pretty much anticipate the conversation, which is really sad. And not to completely knock my school, because I’ve learned a lot, everything I know is because of my education. But it’s hard to find good conversation and I guess it’s made me really tired, which is why I’m making the work that I’m making right now, because I’m honestly exhausted from all of this. Every critique is a toll, and every work I make is a toll on me. Even when I’m in class and someone says something and I’m like “hold up” and I go off about patriarchy or racism or whatever, and I can see people [thinking] “oh my god, here’s Patricia, she never shuts up about this.” Which is fine, because the thing for me is that if I don’t say anything, there is a very real tangible possibility that white people in the room can go for their entire lives without acknowledging [racism]. That’s real to me, that people can really just go through their lives and not think about this. And I have to go through my life and think about this literally like every moment of my day. I just feel a moral responsibility to be that person, and if people don’t like me for it, it’s fine with me at this point. It’s a struggle all the time but I’ve found good support systems, which has been really helpful. I’m just always trying to do the right thing and defend brown and black people as much as I can, and try to keep pushing through it.

Do you feel nervous about the future because of what you’re facing at art school now?

I feel okay about it. I’ve gotten so many opportunities to show my work and to talk about these things, especially this year. This year has been really amazing. I’ve shown a few different times and I’ve done interviews, which is really nice because it gives me an opportunity to be like “I’m out here, talking about these things, and making art with a political stance.” So I feel nervous about it, but I feel sort of well prepared, kind of like because of the things I’m dealing with at my school, like I said, I view these things as practice. So I feel relatively prepared. It’s never easy, but I feel more and more ready to deal with it. It’s just practice, everything is practice. Just like unlearning internalized racism is a daily thing, me learning to deal with critiques, etc, is also a daily thing. It’s given me a thick skin.

Who or what are your inspirations?

So my friend Amaryllis is a huge inspiration to me, just because she really is the one who got me starting to think about these things and to look at my life in a more critical way. Props to her, she’s just an amazing human being and a great artist. Then, other women of color who are out here fighting for representation, Fabiola [Ching], who runs the Coalition Zine is a huge inspiration to me because she’s probably one of the most driven people I have ever come across. She’s out here fighting every day, she’s super strong and I love what she does. Also just having discussions is really helpful for me, just talking to other people and having that space to relate, or to feel like I don’t have to explain myself so much. And my family is super supportive of me. Generally just brown and black people who are out here fighting, that’s what drives me the most.

What are your dreams for the future?

I feel like I’ve been asked this so much recently! So I’m planning on staying in Minneapolis for a few years after I graduate; I just want to apply for grants and apply for residencies and stuff. Otherwise I want to go to grad school but I don’t know where yet, so where I move will depend on that. I would love to live in California, but I’ve also lived in New York, so I’d love to go back there too. As far as big plans or dreams go, I would love to teach one day. I don’t know if it would be a studio class or a liberal kind of class? I don’t know, I feel like I could teach something though… And I want to write a book one day. I just want to share positivity and representation, and just continue sharing stuff with people, and reach out to people.

Sexual harassment online is everywhere–but it doesn’t need to be

by Anya Josephs

There is nowhere you can go on the internet as a woman without being sexually harassed.

Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration. More accurately: I, personally, have never existed online in any space where I am identifiably female without receiving unsolicited dick pics, demands for nude pictures of myself, or extremely personal questions about my sex life.

Case in point: I recently started working for an online tutoring site. It’s pretty good work—easy, I can pick up a little extra money, and I can do it on my busy student schedule. I’ve been doing this for two weeks. I have a picture of myself up on my profile, because I figured I might attract more students if they could attach my name to a human face.

I wasn’t surprised when I immediately started getting some inappropriate messages. Within two hours—before I had my first real student—I had someone message me and ask for me to send him a naked photograph. All credit to my employer, it was very easy to block the user.

A few days after that, I got another message from someone who claimed to want tutoring, but that he didn’t have a credit card to pay with. I explained to him how to set up a free trial on the website.

“Okay,” he said, “but can’t you just help me? I love you.”

“No, I can’t help you over message. And that’s not really appropriate. Please only contact me again if you’d like to set up a tutoring appointment.”

“Okay. I am so sorry. Please, I love you.”

He sounded like he was trying to convince me not to leave him at the altar or something, not score free French tutoring. I blocked him.

I got one more love confession and one kid who was irate that I wouldn’t help him “real quick for free” since I looked “like such a nice and pretty girl” in the intervening week.

And then today happened.

Today is the day I did what we all know we’re not supposed to do—I replied.

The conversation went like this:

Student: hi

Me: Hello, can I help you with something?

Student: Yes

Sex.

My finger flew to the block button. But I wasn’t just annoyed this time—I’d been online all afternoon, trying to get some work, and I was actually pretty angry that the only lead I’d gotten was just another guy who wanted a sexting buddy. So, even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good, I replied.

Me: absolutely not.

Student: send me a pic of u.

Me: no.

Student: boobies.

Pls.

Pz.

Keep in mind that we were already online. If this kid couldn’t figure out how to type “boobies” into the google searchbar instead of a message box, maybe he really could have used some tutoring.

Me: Literally why would I do that.

Student: Fine. Leave me alone.

Why am I even writing about this? It was annoying, yes, but it’s hardly the clumsiest way I’ve ever been solicited. I get worse catcalls walking down the street all the time, which is much scarier than some faceless internet entity doing it.

I think what bothered me so much about this encounter was the entitlement. The way that, by visibly existing as a woman online, I was immediately viewed as a sexual commodity. There are few spaces less conceivably sexual than an online tutoring website. Students only ever see that one profile picture. Conversations are usually limited to  a few minutes of pleasanteries and then work on essay editing or French grammar. The only information this guy knows about me is what I look like from the neck up, my SAT scores and GPA, and what subjects I offer tutoring in. He doesn’t know my age, my body type, if that picture is really of me, my relationship status, or even where I live. I really doubt any of those things mattered to him—the fact that I’m female was enough for this guy.

The futility of it bothered me too. I really doubt there’s any woman out there, sitting at her computer trying to get some tutoring business, who is going to reply to that message positively. Besides, it’s a worldwide site. Should I have inexplicably decided I wanted to go for it, I could have been in Australia or Berlin or the computer on the international space station.

So why? Why bother sending the message at all? To frustrate me? To anger me? To get a reaction?

The fact that it could be any of these things—that there is some entertainment or erotic value in ruining a strange woman’s day—is profoundly disturbing to me. It should be disturbing to all of us.

This is far from an isolated incident—not just one weird, misguided dude. From my own other experiences getting bothered by unsolicited pickup attempts across social networks, up to the threats Emma Watson has received to have nude pictures published because she’s spoken out for feminism, this is a pervasive problem. Harassment obviously exists in other contexts as well, but online it seems to be particularly constant and unapologetic.

We need to challenge this culture, both on and offline. This isn’t a matter we can keep dealing with individually—I will block him, I could change my profile picture (perhaps to a studious stock image of an elderly librarian?), but in the end this is such an irrational thing—such a tiny, but frustrating symptom of a larger cultural ill—that we will need to question the root cause to stamp out every little incident like this.

Why we stopped reading “alternative” teen media

by Aviv Rau and Calliope Wong

As teenage girls and former consumers of alternative and feminist publications and blogs circulating the Internet today, we’ve noticed a disappointing trend of girls with pale skin, knobby knees, thigh gaps, and pastel hair being featured almost exclusively. In fact, the trends are so exclusive that they’ve turned us away from these alternative media altogether. What we once believed were progressive media catered specifically to us, we’ve since realized are quite narrow-minded. These “alternative” images still conform to mainstream beauty standards, which are Eurocentric and prize thinness. Like their mainstream counterparts, these magazines put forth a countercultural ideal that still favors white, thin, young, traditionally “feminine” women.

The purpose of countercultural (and, of course, feminist) movements has often been to remain progressive and representative of otherwise-unrepresented communities, even when the mainstream has slipped into rocky terrain. Whether or not alternative media have any obligation beyond showcasing aesthetics, it’s not as if the mainstream media is generous to anyone who isn’t a very thin, very Eurocentric, cisgender girl. That’s why we expect the alternative world to do a better job representing marginalized people. However, independent publications and blogs like The Ardorous, i-D magazine, Rookie, and countless others to set forth the same narrow, oppressive, and exclusive beauty standard in their work.

These countercultural, feminist media includes few, if any, women of color. As in mainstream media, curators and photographers prefer to feature white or white-passing girls. For example, websites like Rookie and the popular Tumblr “pale blogs” are full of pictures of white girls, but contain few, if any, girls of color. Sky Ferreira-esque waifs, pale and white-passing, are far more likely to be featured than darker girls. On those rare occasions that darker skinned girls do appear in these media, they are strategically shrouded in hazy, pinkish filters and ostentatious outfits. It’s as though curators are trying to de-emphasize these girls’ ethnicities by literally filtering and processing them to fit the whitewashed, Eurocentric standard. Rather than creating opportunities for diversity of representation, many of these alternative media engage in whitewashing that hurts women of color.

Plenty of “alternative” trends are fitted specifically for light-skinned women. Pastel hair, for instance, is all over alternative media. However, to dye one’s hair such a light color requires, for women of color and darker-haired girls, expensive and dangerous amounts of hair bleaching. Pastel hair is usually modelled by pale, white women with fine, straight long hair, so even if a dark haired girl wants to have pastel hair, it’s physically hard for her to achieve the trend. Similarly, in certain niches of the internet, growing out body hair and dying it bright colors is becoming popular. Many of the Tumblr “body hair positivity” blogs, however, feature a ton of white girls with superfine, pastel leg hair. It’s not exactly commonplace to see a coarse-haired, dark skinned girl rocking body hair on these sites.

These media are exclusive when it comes to body shape and size, too. Models are often frail and thin, and curators are once again fetishizing the “heroin chic” aesthetic that was so popular in the 1990s. (Arvida Bystrom photoshoots, for example, hardly contain thicker girls.) The women and girls portrayed are mostly small-breasted, thigh gapped, and hipless. That is not to say that they do not deserve a place in feminism and in the media; feminism is just as much for skinny white girls as it is for busty women of color! However, featuring only thin women makes thicker girls feel underrepresented. Worse yet,clothing becomes tailored to fit models rather than average girls. The pressure to fit into the “trendy” clothing featured in independent media encourages many girls to resort to dangerous methods of weight loss.

But it’s not surprising that the alternative world advocates a narrow beauty standard. Part of the issue is that these media are run largely by thin, white, and cisgender people. Presuming that counterculture has some moral obligation to be inclusive, they should be making an effort to include a wider range of people in their work. The internet widens audiences and opens up these alternative publications–once tucked away in remote corners of counterculture–to everyone. Wouldn’t it be lovely if every single viewer could feel validated by and represented in the alternative world? Because, believe it or not, not all of us are twee, pastel-haired, flower crown-donning types with thigh gaps and pale skin, but that’s most of what we see in alternative media.

For alternative, feminist media to live up to its goal of inclusivity and acceptance, we ask them to place emphasis on morals and values before aesthetics. Curators, after all, should have a larger duty in society than just showing images which they find attractive or validating. They should also ensure people of all body shapes, genders, and ethnicities can feel comfortable and validated flipping through the pages of an independent publication or scrolling through an alternative blog. The question remains, however: Is the true purpose of alternative media a moral one? Or does it exist, like mainstream media, for largely, if not purely, aesthetic purposes? Regardless, as it stands currently, the independent, countercultural media’s blatant preference of thin, young, cisgendered, Eurocentric girls is no more inclusive than that of the mainstream.

Redefining “nude”

by Jodi-Ann Johnson

Though I love that “UMPH!” that comes with a good lingerie set, I myself have never pondered lingerie too much. It was a necessity of a wardrobe as I grew and developed female secondary traits (breasts) and such–bras were needed to  holder the over shoulder boulders, hah. But even just the practical nature of a nude bra–e.g. remaining undetected whilst wearing a sheer or semi-sheer top–was lost on me. Maybe that was why I was so oblivious to the necessity of a nude lingerie line for just Black femme people. The idea that what I called a “beige” bra was meant to be nude had never dawned on me before.

But, just think of the word nude for a moment. What’s the first image that popped into your mind? A body. A female homo sapiens one. And almost invariably: white.  Myself, as a young, Black woman, came to the same conclusion. That type of unified image is unnatural. The reason the same image appeared in all our minds is undoubtedly the result of mainstream media pushing white bodies as the default human bodies. So when we think of a naked woman, we think of a naked white, cisgendered woman. This image has been so consistently pushed throughout our lives, it becomes normalized, through mainstream media, literature, music. So, of course, lingerie or any type of product geared towards women would reflect this bias.

By creating the Nubian Skin line, Ade Hassan, has provided another option of lingerie to women of colour, especially Black femme individuals. But she at the same time, has done so much more. She has in, a sense, given them an identity. Along the melanin spectrum, “black” is the polar opposite of “white”. The further we deviate from a set standard or beauty ideal in this case, the harder clothing options will be to find.

Some companies before Ade Hassan have moved to fill the “nude” gap, most notably Christian Louboutin and Urban Decay in the areas of footwear and makeup.

Christian Louboutin ‘The Nudes’ includes an interactive app, Louboutin Shades, that you use to take a picture of your foot, and matches you to one of the 5 nudes advertised.

The Naked2 palette by Urban Decay includes 12 taupe-hued (beige and grey) neutrals that are highly pigmented, providing the necessary contrast needed for dark skin tones.

Our attire, like any other tool, can be used to enforce our being onto society. We present the version of ourselves that we want people to see. Whether it be through nude lingerie, nude eyeshadow or nude pumps, we are provided the tools to fully sculpt the look we want, to have full control over the image we present and, as a result, fully assert ourselves as a complete person with the autonomy to make our decisions and execute them. By creating such products, our needs as people of colour are being recognized, which means our voices are being heard, that our identities are being formed. So, Ade Hassan, if you ever read this: You’re amazing, and thank you for highlighting our needs.

Research Blog: I Wanna Belly Dance with Somebody

by Christin Bowman

When I was a kid, gymnastics was my life. I spent hours and hours at the gym, and I was closer to my teammates than I was to my schoolmates. At school, I wrote all of my book reports and biography assignments about gymnasts, and I spent every recess balancing, swinging, flipping, and dancing. I felt the most free and comfortable when I was doing gymnastics. The training taught me how to use my body, and hone my body’s skills to accomplish exciting things. I was strong and flexible and focused.

That is, until one fateful day. It was a hot summer afternoon, and the doors to the gym were propped wide open to let in the breeze. My teammates and I were called into the dance studio for a talking-to from our coach. “It’s time to start thinking about the kinds of foods you eat,” she explained to the room full of 9-year-olds, “Gymnasts need to maintain a slender body, so no more hamburgers!”

A slender body? I thought to myself, Is there something wrong with my body? It had never occurred to me that my body needed to look a certain way for me to be a good gymnast. Don’t get me wrong, I was well aware that my favorite sport had a lot to do with performing. “Smile at the judges!” was our coaches’ constant refrain. But I had thought that what mattered most to those judges wasn’t my smile, but the ways I could control the difficult movements of my body to produce a performance of strength, grace, and skill. Now all I could think about was not looking fat.

Gymnastics is one of those interesting sports in which athleticism is paired with femininity – dance is another one. Dancers, like gymnasts, have to be supertough and superstrong, but they also usually have to be graceful and feminine – a tricky combo when it comes to things like body image (how you think about your own body). Research has shown, though, that not all dance is created equal. For example, ballet dancers[1] and exotic dancers (exotic dancers are defined as women who dance in sexualized settings for the pleasure of others)[2] are more likely to have negative body image than non-dancers, but hip hop dancers[3] and modern dancers[4] are more likely to have positive body image than non-dancers. Researchers think this might be partly because hip hop and modern dance are more “athletically-focused,” while ballet and exotic dance are more “appearance-focused.”

But what about types of dance that straddle the line between focusing on appearance and focusing on athleticism? What about gymnastics? Or perhaps even more apropos… belly dancing?

Psychologists Tiggemann, Coutts, and Clark[5] set out to discover if belly dancers have better body image the way hip hop dancers do, or if they have lower body image the way exotic dancers do. They recruited a bunch of belly dancers and non-dancers, and asked them to take a survey that measured things like body image and self-objectification.

Full disclosure: I was on the edge of my seat as I read this paper. As someone who doesn’t know a lot about belly dancing, I could totally see the results going either way. On the one hand, being a belly dancer means that you have to learn how to use your muscles and move your body in a very particular way. Just like gymnastics or other sports, belly dancing forces you to connect with your body, feel your body, and use your body – feminists would say that in this way, belly dancing, like other sports, is an embodying activity. But on the other hand, being a belly dancer means performing a sorta sexualized dance, in revealing clothing. There’s all that male gaze stuff to consider.

Not knowing what you’re going to find is what makes research freaking awesome. And in this case, the results do not disappoint.

It turns out belly dancing is a lot more like hip hop or modern dancing than exotic dancing. Even though there are sexual components to belly dancing (read: appearance-focus), belly dancers find themselves much more concerned with the athletic components of their craft. They love belly dance because it allows them to reconnect with their bodies, it makes them feel confident, and it actually helps them move beyond the gaze of others.[6] Belly dancing makes women feel embodied.

I asked one of the researchers, Marika Tiggemann, why she thought belly dancing was related to better body image. She says, “Participation in ‘embodying activities’ means that you are really ‘in’ to them; they involve an inter-connectedness of the mind and body. This means you are both more appreciative of what your body can do for you, and less concerned about how it looks (at least while engrossed in the activity). These things make you less critical of and feel better about your body.”

Here’s another reason research is rad: sometimes when you’re finished, you have more questions than answers.

The researchers in this study think belly dancing is different from exotic dancing because exotic dancing is usually done professionally, while belly dancing is usually recreational. If belly dancing is such an embodied activity, what about other recreational forms of dance or sport that blend both athleticism and appearance? What about those pole dancing classes I keep hearing about? What about figure skating or – wait for it – gymnastics?

We’ll have to wait for researchers to catch up with my burning questions, but I will tell you this: I wasn’t in love with gymnastics as a kid because I thought it was sexy. I wasn’t in it for the approval of the judges, my coaches, or anyone else. That’s why when my coach told us to ditch the hamburgers, I was crushed. Gymnastics, for me, had never been about what my body looked like. I loved gymnastics because it made me feel alive. It taught me to take up space with my body and love what my body could do and it made me feel powerful. If belly dancing feels to belly dancers anything like gymnastics felt to me, I say, keep on dancing!

 


[1] Pierce, E. F., & Daleng, M. L. (1998). Distortion of body image among elite female dancers. Perceptual and motor skills, 87(3), 769-770.

[2] Downs, D. M., James, S., & Cowan, G. (2006). Body objectification, self-esteem, and relationship satisfaction: A comparison of exotic dancers and college women. Sex Roles, 54(11-12), 745-752.

[3] Swami, V., & Tovée, M. J. (2009). A comparison of actual-weight discrepancy, body appreciation, and media influence between street-dancers and non-dancers. Body Image, 6, 304–307.

[4] Langdon, S., & Petracca, G. (2010). Tiny dancer: Body image and dancer identity in female modern dancers. Body Image, 7, 360–363.

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