Absolute panic. This is what I felt when my body shape started changing during puberty.
Since I was two years old, I danced at a pretty ballet-focussed dance school. I was in leotards and ballet tights most days of the week; this uniform became like my second skin.
Unfortunately, the world of ballet still has a long way to go with size-inclusivity. When I reached my early teens, there were a few of us who were a bit more serious, who would do the tough competitions, big performances and go interstate. And all of us were pretty naturally stick-thin kids.
Until I started changing. While everyone else maintained their traditional “ballet dancer” bodies, I got boobs and a bum. This was honestly my nightmare!
I remember actually wearing really tight leotards to try and flatten my boobs so they were less noticeable, and even trying to physically squash them back into my chest to stop them growing. One day, in PE class at school, I pretended I felt sick so that I could sit out of the bodyweight squats the rest of the class was doing, in the fear that these would make my bum grow more.
These stories seem ridiculous now, but I think they really show the fear and panic that so many young athletes, especially in aesthetic sports, have around their changing bodies.
All this stress prompted me to reflect on dance and why I even did it. Why was something I loved so much causing me to hate my body through such a natural and beautiful time of change?
I’d love to say that I flicked a switch and just started loving my body as it was, but unfortunately it doesn’t often work like that.
What came next was a slow but determined shift in focus from how I looked when I danced, to how I felt when I danced. And not even just in a performance sense! I focussed on friendships, expression, leadership, team culture, and all the other amazing things that come with dancing.
Sure, initially getting picked to play the “boy” roles in ballets because I wasn’t dainty enough (yep, I absolutely killed it onstage as Peter Pan) was a bit hard to swallow, but I am so grateful that this amazing body of mine carried me through years of movement, freedom and connections in my dancing years.