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Body Diversity, Positivity, And Acceptance In Pole (OR “Skinny Bitch’s Guide To Not Being An Accidental Jerk To People Larger Than You”)

Body Diversity, Positivity, and Acceptance in Pole (OR “Skinny Bitch’s Guide To Not Being An Accidental Jerk To People Larger Than You”)

I want to talk about the F word in pole. No, not one that you have to pay a sound editor to bleep out for your competition routine. I’d like to talk about fatness. I will be at PoleCon this June alongside Roz Mays for a talk about size diversity in pole. I cannot speak about size diversity from the perspective of an individual who has experienced size discrimination, because I have never been discriminated against because of my physical size. I can, however, talk about the role that I play in the journey toward this particular facet of body positivity. I’ve been an instructor, student, and performer of pole for a number of years, and its been a fantastic experience. Despite this, I have had no shortage of eye rolling and cringing at some of the (innocently) problematic thing’s I’ve heard come out of the mouths of thin women in the pole community with regards to size. I’ve created a short general guide for navigating the pole community and body acceptance. Some of these things are my own thoughts, and many of them are echoed from the feedback I have received from others through works of art, social media, and the personal relationships I have developed with dancers.

1. Listen.
When I was about 14, I was watching a TV interview with Marilyn Manson and the talking head on the screen implied that he was an influential voice in music and asked him “If you could say anything to the youth of America, what would it be?” His response was, “I wouldn’t say anything at all. I’d listen.” This quote has stuck with me.
Sometimes the best way to participate as an activist is by not speaking at all. If you want to be an ally, remember that ally-ship is a title given, not claimed. Entering into a minority space and claiming to be an ally is an act of oppression because it strips the minority group of their agency. It is the assumption that they must want you on their side. This is not always the case. Sometimes the best way to be supportive is by listening.

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2. Acknowledge your privilege, then check it.
I am a thin woman and chances are, if you’re a pole dancer and a woman and you’re reading this, you probably are too*. For the most part, I fit conventional standards of beauty. I’m 5’7’’, my curves are in all the right places, and I typically weigh between 135-140lbs. My dress size is a 0-2, and my jeans are a 4. I experience thin privilege every day. When I go shopping, I can easily find something in my size. When people look at me, they do not assume I am unhealthy. My body type is not the punchline of a joke, nor is it referred to as a dangerous epidemic. There is not “War on Thinness” like there is a “War on Obesity”. There are a number of pole dancers who do not fit the skinny bitch bill**. It is extremely important to have a working understanding of your own privilege. This does not mean apologize for your body nor does it suggest that you should stop being proud of your ability to fonji. The acknowledgement of privilege simply means holding in the forefront of your mind that fact there are situations, tricks, and benefits to your existence as a pole dancer that YOU DID NOT EARN. (and no, talking about how “hard you worked” to get where you are is moot because I’ve seen 250lb women who are not only training with the same level of commitment, but also deal with the backlash of even believing they are worthy of that training in the first place)
Example: When you are thin and you tell people you are a pole dancer, their response might be this:

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When you are not thin, and you tell someone you are a pole dancer, their response might be this:

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This is privilege. Acknowledge it. Check it.

 

3. Stop using the word “fat” as a negative qualifier.
I would like to challenge the usage of the term fat. Fat is the adipose tissue on every human being’s body. Some people have more than others, but we all have it. When you have acne, you say “I have acne”, not that you are/am acne, however, when someone has an amount of fat on their body that society has deemed unacceptable, we say that they are fat. This language is problematic because it classifies something that should be a condition as a character, and that character is always negative. This is a judgement because we all know that what fat really means. Fat, in our society, is denotative of misery, and this is a problem.
You have fat.
You are fat.
See the judgement there?
When a thin woman talks about how fat she feels what she probably actually means is “I feel disgusting”. This kind of language perpetuates the idea that having an excessive*** amount of fat on your body is inherently negative. Its not. Its a language construct that implies that certain people are less valuable than others, and that needs to stop.

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4. Stop placing body acceptance and diversity as the sole responsibility of fat people. Do your part as well.
“If she can be confident, so can I”
OR
“I just think its great that she really does seem to love herself”
Yes, I have heard this on more than a few (or 20) occasions at the skinny girl watering hole when big girls aren’t around. Here’s the thing: that big chick ain’t here to be your thinspo, girl.

This rhetoric implies that it is the sole job of larger women to address, come to terms with, and overcome sizeism for both herself and others around her. First off, value comes internally, not externally. If you’re looking toward an external source for a reason to embrace confidence, you’re looking in the wrong place.

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5. Acknowledge potential for the awesomeness that size diversity holds in the pole community and run with it.

One of my favorite parts about pole is the fact that it is a performance art/sport that has the potential to accommodate all body types in a way many others have excluded. The prescribed set of goals of many forms of dance and sport rely heavily on the regimentation of the body, of which, size is a central concern. Pole could possible defy that. When Western Pole in studio’s across America emerged, it came with an invitation for every kind of woman. There is a distinct push forward with gender diversity and much smaller (but present) push for diversity in sexual identity in a traditionally hetero feminine zone (read: ballet), but size diversity seems like a dwindling concern. Why is that? What is the down side to embracing size diversity, aside from the fact that it would cause one to recalculate their perceived external value in the world, and that might be inconvenient for a thin privileged person?

The rebuttal that I have encountered in this assertion is that larger bodied people aren’t un-invited to the pole community. They’re welcome to join anytime they want, right? They aren’t being turned away at competitions or studios, are they? Chubby girls are most certainly welcome because they aren’t being turned away, so everything is cool, yeah? No. Neutrality isn’t positive inclusion.

It seems as if pole dance was the new girl in the high school, so she took on as many new friends as possible, but once she settled in and was socially accepted by the big hitters, she suddenly forgot about her less popular friends who had always treated her right. She isn’t mean to them, but she doesn’t call to hang out either.
There lies right in front of us a great potential to use our voice as a community to reshape how size is interpreted and valued in our culture. I am not proposing that we “use” plus sized women to fix the problems placed on women at large. I am proposing that as a whole we reconsider what it means to participate in the pole arena and consider the social impact of deciding that one body exists in better form than another by choosing to only represent that one kind of body.

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6. Modify movement for your classes.

I’ve seen a number of thin bodied women talk about how spatchcock “just isn’t their move”. I think its wonderful to respect and recognize the limitations of your own body. But why is it when someone with a larger body is trying something and not doing well, the response is to assume they aren’t trying hard enough? Telling a plus sized pole dancer to “just keep trying” her aerial chopper runs the risk of being dismissive and lazy.

Pole shapes are as unlimited as the bodies doing them. Embrace this. Get creative. Reinvent movement. Relinquish the notion that the ability to dead lift your body weight above your head, or even climb, is the mark of a successful pole dancer.

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7. The “Health” Argument

Thin ladies, fellow skinny bitches, please, no. Correlation is not causation. It is often assumed that if you have an “excessive” (there’s that word again) amount of fat on your body, it automatically means you are without a doubt unhealthy. This assertion is categorically false. But, lets say for a second that it was true. Lets say that size is a measure of health and that thin bodied people are healthy and fat bodied people are not. Yeah? Ok. Ready?


Health is not a reasonable measure for determining the amount of respect someone deserves.

The “health” argument is perhaps one of the most negative. The implication is that the large person in question is unhealthy and until they are healthy they have to remain punished by being excluded because fat is bad and fat is unhealthy therefore unhealthy is bad. Health is not a moral imperative.

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8. Do not assume that fat girls hate themselves.

Yup. ‘Nuff said.

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*65% of pole dancers call their bodies “athletic” and range from a size 0-12.
**21.6% of pole dancers identify as “non athletic”, “plus sized” or “overweight”.
***excessive, according to who? Bare in mind that throughout history it has been suggested that ideal femininity is based in the concept that a woman should take up as little space as possible. If you need more proof, research corseting.

Nia Burks
This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. You certainly didn’t miss a chance to tell everyone how skinny and cute you are, did you? The use of gifs as illustrations leads me to think that you’re really not too smart.

  2. I just assume fat girls over eat, because they do, its the only way to get fat. If you think its due to something else medically, you are wrong. If you want to poledance well you have to be fit and lithe. If they are unwilling to control their eating, then I can judge them. I work my ass off , literally.

  3. Well, it’s clear some people did not read what this is about. Or possibly working their asses off and making assumptions also worked some of their brain cells off. Why do women constantly feel the need to break other women down? Do you feel so poorly about yourself that you have to hurt someone else to make yourself feel good?
    Comments like those of Frankie and Tabula are offensive and ignorant. They exemplify what is wrong in the world of fitness and pole. Thin does not equal fit and being lithe (or graceful and flexible) has NOTHING to do with size or body composition.
    I certainly don’t claim medical issues for my body composition (notice I didn’t say weight PROBLEM). I do claim heredity, differences in metabolism, and knee problems that prevent me from running. And FYI…the knee problems came from trying to attain an impossible goal of being a “skinny bitch” and running 7 days a week. I irreparably damaged myself trying to get approval from uneducated thin people who are uncomfortable with people who don’t look like them.
    Hopefully with the hard work people like Roz Mays and Nia Burks are doing we can begin to accept people for their efforts, differences, and accomplishments and stop spewing ignorance and fueling hate.

  4. Ms. Tabula Fora,

    While there are a number of expletives I’d like to call you due to your general ignorance and rudeness, I chose not to call you out of your name because I want to model a respect for human dignity which you proved you do not have.
    As one of the “over eating fat girls” you hate so much, I obviously have a number of problems with your harsh and ill-founded assumptions and judgments. I believe your ideas are not terribly refined, so I’ve taken it upon myself to provide you with a little bit of education in an itemized response that hopefully won’t be too difficult for you to understand.

    1) “I just assume fat girls over eat, because they do, its the only way to get fat. If you think its due to something else medically, you are wrong. ” Thank you, Dr. Fora, for your expansive medical expertise. Except, wait a minute, I assume you aren’t a doctor and, if you are, you skipped a few classes on this subject. In case a simple google of “factors contributing to weight gain” is too strenuous on you, I’ll educate you. There are thousands of factors that determine weight and body make-up. Yes, diet counts and is important, but there are other things such as: emotional and psychological disabilities such as depression, side-affects from medication (go read a pill bottle once and a while and you’ll see how common that side-affect is), long-term impacts from pregnancy, thyroid conditions, disabilities that impact your ability to be physically active, and, hello, GENETICS. That’s only a few examples of things that affect weight other than diet. I can bore you with my personal story of the extreme depression and eating disorders I had as a skinny no-ass-having person like yourself, but judging by your general lack of empathy, I’m afraid I’d be opening myself up to more cyberbullying, which brings me to my next point….

    2) “If they are unwilling to control their eating, then I can judge them.” My initial reaction to this statement was intense anger and annoyance due to the total ignorance and straight up meanness of it. But, upon further consideration, the emotion I truly feel is pity. Yes, this over eating fatso FEELS SORRY for the skinny girl. Social sciences and psychology tell me something that is pretty much true in 100% of cases: people who waste their time judging others and putting down others do it because there’s something fundamentally missing in themselves. NO ONE who has total self-esteem and confidence bullies others or judges others who don’t have what they have. Your statements tell me that clearly fat people bother you or that you feel joy in seeing their failures, which speaks more volumes about your own lack of self-confidence than any length of a blog comment could encapsulate. I am sorry, seriously, about what it is that we remind you of and hope, someday, you overcome these issues and can feel just as joyous and self-confident as we are. My goal isn’t to make you feel worse, but only make you more aware of something deeper you may not have addressed.

    3) ” If you want to poledance well you have to be fit and lithe.” Ok…let’s use your logic. Soo…..fat people shouldn’t jog. They shouldn’t try gymnastic. They shouldn’t try ballet. They shouldn’t do ANYTHING that gravity isn’t kind to, because in order to be successful at anything athletic, a pique physic is paramount. I still struggle to understand this pervasive logic: people hate fat people, but then when fat people do things to benefit their body, everyone is up in arms like we don’t belong in fitness. Don’t you think that’s a little counter-intuitive? Moreover, you’re assuming everyone’s goal is to be some new Oona, but if their goal is to become more fit and do it as a nice form of exercise, then they are right where they belong, right? If their goal is to be in a safe space where they can work on their confidence, they’re in the right place, right? (provided you aren’t their instructor or peers, because your logic is poisonous to any sort of self-esteem they’d be trying to build.)

    4) Let’s also dissect your statement about “fit,” and scroll back up to the article that tells you explicitly: size DOES NOT equal health and it DOES NOT equal fitness. Me and the other amazing plus size pole-dancers are fit! In fact, I, personally, have more strength than many smaller people and more flexibility than most pole dancers, even some of those at the professional level (yes, that’s a bold and egotistical statement, but I challenge you to ask anyone who has seen me in action or the hundreds that follow my progress to tell you otherwise). Tell me that the big men and women who hold strong iron-X’s, ayeshas, handsprings, etc. are not fit. Tell me that the headstands to full walkovers, scorpion chinstands, flips and splitwalks that I and the other flexy dancers do isn’t fit. Please, enlighten us all. Because clearly, you’re hip to something the rest of the community isn’t. Tell me that all of us who have a clean bill of health from our doctors but just have a little more weight than you are unhealthy when plenty of smaller people struggle with blood pressure, diabetes, etc that you assume I have. Open your eyes to reality, friend.

    I’ll try and educate you the best I can, because I see this as a lack of knowledge and I’m trying to assume there’s still hope for you to become enlightened. The fact that you chose to post this, knowing you will make enemies with people who are WAY bigger than you, shows a lack of wisdom within you. But, I’m going to let the talent and skills of me and my counterparts speak way more to you than the aggressive come-backs you deserve because I’m (literally) the bigger person.

    I hope to see you at polecon. I hope you stop by and see the Dangerous Curves performers showcase. We perform on Friday in the middle of the day. Please come by and see us on the main stage. And I hope the amazing things we do with our body that you and some other little people couldn’t even dream of doing opens your eyes to just how wrong you are.

    See you in June. Best of luck in your fitness journey.
    Peace, love and pole,
    The Famous Ms. Vegas

  5. (1) I love this article. I can’t wait to attend Pole Con and learn from Nia’s workshops. (2) As usual, Ms. Vegas nails it.

    I have been poling for a couple of years, and I have noticed the reaction non polers have to it. I have heard non-polers say that certain women need to “tighten up”, and those women do not have the right body types for pole dancing. There are two false assumptions behind these statements: (1) Pole dancing’s only purpose is to please the viewer and (2) the viewer only wants to see women (not men) with certain body types perform.

    I have tried (often in vain) to disabuse people of these notions. I have met so many women who tell me they don’t think they are thin enough to pole. And I tell them that a poler doesn’t need to be a size 2, and this is truly a sport for all who want to try it. The negative reactions people have had to this column not only hurt members of the pole community, it contributes to people not even wanting to set foot in a pole studio because they fear these types of reactions. They miss out on the joy of pole, and we miss out on all the wonderful things these potential polers could have brought.

    What a lot of people do not realize is that pole isn’t about what a judgmental non poler wants to see; it is so much more than that. Pole is something polers do FOR THEMSELVES. It isn’t about making sure someone else is pleased and happy; it’s about making sure the pole dancer is pleased and happy because s/he can get that next move or (in my case) because I can finally reach my toes (unlike Ms. Vegas who I am convinced does not have actual bones in her back, I can’t get into wheel pose without at least 2-4 people spotting me). When I watch polers like Ms. Vegas perform, I notice how much they want to be on that stage. They are happy/excited/having the time of their lives/confident. And seeing that draws in and captures the entire audience. After seeing her perform, I once described Ms. Vegas as having a quality that can’t be bottled, bought, taught, or sold. It comes from inside her, and it is what makes her such an incredible performer. I hope those of you who made less than supportive comments watch her at Pole Con and learn a thing or two; I know I have.

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