Tonight a friend posted an article on Facebook about how women approach fitness. It grabbed my attention and lined up with my personal experience.

First, Some Background

If I had started this blog 2 years ago, then it would all appear in chronological order. Instead, I will provide a little background information before I dive into the fitness article. I will also write more about this topic and fill in a some gaps. Hopefully you are accustomed to reading stories out of sequence, thanks to Facebook’s Top Stories News Feed!

Two years ago, I was in a bad relationship. I couldn’t see how bad it was at the time – isn’t that how it usually is? I had been in a relationship for 2 years with a man we’ll call Carl. Carl had started to get on my case about my weight, my poor eating habits, etc. He flat out told me that he wasn’t really attracted to me, physically.

andra and mistiJust writing that angers me. I’m mad that I didn’t walk away from him at that very moment. But he had slowly been tearing me down over 2 years and I didn’t see that option to walk away. I loved him, or so I thought… and I’m the girl that will go to outrageous lengths to try to make a relationship work. So… as much as I hated to “workout”, I started, hoping I would lose some weight and save the relationship.

The first thing I did was join a Zumba class. Why Zumba? Because I have always enjoyed dancing and I had friends that were taking the class. Besides, I have never been a gym rat. Sure, I could have joined a gym, but I wouldn’t have known the first thing about getting into shape – and no, Carl was not going to offer any assistance or support in this effort. So, Zumba it was. I lucked out and had a great instructor. I enjoyed going and didn’t miss a class. But when that instructor left and a new one took over the class I lost some of the love I previously had… and now it was feeling like a chore to go to class. I began making excuses not to go.

First Real Fitness Lesson Learned: The class instructor makes a HUGE difference!

At about this same time I was frustrated with Zumba, I had a friend forward a Groupon to me for a Pole Fitness Class. She thought it would be fun and suggested we go. This was something REALLY outside of my comfort zone… but it did sound like it could be fun and I was in need of some girlfriend time. So I bought the Groupon. (However, my friend did not). It didn’t matter. I had paid for it, and I was going to go!

My Introduction to Pole Fitness

how women approach fitness

Here I am at my first Pole Photo Shoot in February 2014. Photo Courtesy of Alison Paige Photography

Yes, I felt a little awkward walking into a strange studio alone for a pole dance class. I wasn’t the only one though. As I meekly looked around, I could tell just about everyone else there was feeling out of their comfort zone as well, with the exception of a few who were overly giddy (maybe that was their way of covering their discomfort).

As the class started, I was extremely impressed with how the instructor made everyone feel at ease (see above re: First Real Fitness Lesson Learned). By the end of the class, everyone was smiling, having fun, and dripping of sweat. That really was a workout… though at the time I didn’t know exactly how hard of a workout it was.

It wasn’t until the second day following the class that I realized how much I worked every muscle in my body. Many muscles I never knew existed were now screaming at me in pain. But not a bad pain. Not a “I can’t move” pain, or a “I can’t sit down or stand up” pain. No, just enough pain to know every muscle had been pushed, but not abused. It was a very good pain. It was probably the very first time that I considered that kind of pain good. And I liked it.

I drove to the studio to find out when the next class was because I wanted more! Two weeks later, I started taking regular pole fitness classes. In a future post, I will go into more detail about all the reasons I fell in love pole fitness. But for now… back to that article.

Sexy, Sensual, STRONG: How Pole Dancing Reframes Female Fitness

The article, Sexy, Sensual, STRONG: How Pole Dancing Reframes Female Fitness, By Alexander Cortes caused a number of emotions. The article started off discussing the difference in the way men and women approach fitness. He wrote:

For a man that wants to get fit and get in shape there is this sense of fulfillment that comes along with the process: you are building muscle, you are changing your body, you are feeling physically stronger, you are feeling more manly. I have never had a male client not express to me how much more confident he felt once his physical strength and stamina had been developed.

Far, far too often, getting in shape [for women] is done not in the pursuit of actually wanting to be healthier, stronger or more capable, but with the destructive mindset of becoming “less” of something. It is focused on everything that you don’t like about yourself, and everything on your body that you can take off, cut down, trim down, tone, or generally just get rid of.

I’ll admit that when I started the journey to get fit it was to become “less of something”. I could completely relate to this observation of how women approach fitness. He goes on… recounting numerous conversations he has had with young women as a dancer and personal trainer.

One of the first things that struck me was the separation between what I perceived to be “beautiful”, versus how the girls perceived themselves. I realized quickly that the extent to which girls and women are judgmental and critical of their bodies is absolutely endless.

Perception

That reminded me of this ad by Dove about how women perceive themselves.

So yes, our perception of beauty, especially in ourselves, is very skewed. We are so hard on ourselves. We don’t even have to go into how the media displays an impossible image of beauty. But what brought me to tears and lit a fireball of anger in my stomach at the same time was that there was a man in my life who was being critical of my beauty.

Sure, he probably doesn’t have any idea how hurtful his words were. How deeply they cut me. But now that I have a clear mind, I see that as hard as I was on myself about my body image, having someone speak those same criticisms out loud should not have been tolerated. I am angry that there are men out there who will denigrate a woman they claim to love. That is not love. It also makes me sad for women, who, like me, absorb the harsh words and internalize it. Our own internal voices are hard enough to overcome, but the external voices… well, I still hear Carl’s attacks. They have been harder to conquer.

Change Your Mindset

Alexander wraps up the article with a statement of how, as women, we need to change our mindset when it comes to fitness. He also states what I have personally experienced in pole dancing, that it is powerful.

Going beyond the “fitness” world for a minute and getting into the physical realm, it is my personal desire and belief that every woman should have the right to feel strong, to feel sensual, and to feel sexy. And not for the satisfaction of men or to appeal to men, but for herself.

That is why pole dancing is such a powerful force. It is not just about “fitness” or getting in shape or some other crappy buzzwords that get tossed around. Pole dancing is a physical and artistic expression of the self, and an entirely unique pathway to personal development that is rather incomparable.

Pole dancing ties together the body, movement, action, and personal narrative, and it gives anyone that practices it a pathway to expression. Regular fitness doesn’t readily do that, but pole dancing does.

For that reason, I hope sincerely that more and more women become pole enthusiasts, and I hope sharing this has shed some light on why it’s a positive force. Pole dancing is largely a land of woman, and in it you have the right to feel strong, the right to feel sexy, and the right build your body and mind into something that is MORE than what you are now, not less.

My fitness journey really launched when I started taking pole dance fitness classes. I went from a size 14 to a size 6 in a little over a year, but I gained more than what I lost along the way. I acquired strength (both physical and emotional), confidence, grace, and beauty. Oh, and a new nickname, as several of my friends started calling me “Badass”!

If you’ve got the time, after reading my lengthy story, I highly encourage you to read all of Alexander’s article here: Sexy, Sensual, STRONG: How Pole Dancing Reframes Female Fitness.