This week I am noting an “Uphill from Here” podcast I was featured in, a text I have read and something I have watched. For the podcast, which “puts two fingers up at the people who told us it was all “down-hill” from the age of twenty-one”, I was invited by two amazing young women, Cat and Amy, to talk about body image and sexualisation. I am not an expert in either of those subjects, but I am an expert in movement, dance and the process of objectification in performance. Thus, I angle my writing from this perspective. Below is the letter and a link to the podcast.

I want to talk to you about sexualisation of the body, body image and their roles in how I experience my own subjectivity, or, in other words, my self. I speak to you from a position of personal experience and self-observation within a movement practice that is often perceived as self (sexually)-objectifying behaviour and thus negatively adding towards my body image. This practice is pole dance. You will notice I used the word perceive. Perception is an interesting point of discussion when it comes to pole dance because what is displayed historically and or in current popular media is often not the reality. Particularly when it comes to body image and sexualisation. So, without sounding too much like I am about to present my thesis to you, I want to offer you two points to consider when looking at these themes in relation to pole dance and or erotic dance.

Dancing in a provocative way, or with erotic intention, is often criticized as disembodied activity that is purposely carried out to please the gaze of the onlooker (usually men). To suggest my movement, whether visually sexually suggestive or not, exists only to please the onlooker, is very problematic in many ways. Firstly, it suggests that I experience no physical sensation and or enjoyment during my ‘performance’. Secondly, it disregards the fact that the movement can be used to create a deeper connection between mind and body. Thirdly, it indicates that women cannot experience something sensual without them having to internalise the gaze of a man. Fourthly, relative to the last point, it suggests that all women who dance in an erotic way, without or without a pole, are heterosexual. Which is not the case for me and a lot of other women I know.

Body Image
Before I committed my life dance, I could not see my physical or psychological strength. The image I had of my body was never good enough as I was always trying to meet impossible societal standards of how an “insert age” girl / woman was supposed to look and act like. This was met with many self-destructive behaviours. However, when I committed to a movement practice (dance) that requires discipline, focus and determination I began to see a psychological shift that was clearly reframing my thinking. I allowed myself to feel the power of my body and its capacity to make choices for me, as opposed to only using my body, a body that was groomed and carefully crafted, to satisfy the gaze of others. When I say my body makes choices for me, I intend to express how I use the images of my body to tell me more about myself. I do not profess that I have no issues with body image, I am saying that I have methods of dealing with them that are very effective in my journey to self-knowing. I use this as a direct argument towards anyone who suggests that pole dance damages body image in women.

I have a long history of and a lot to say about objectification, sexualisation and body image so it is quite tough to address these subjects in such a short space. However, if I were to offer some advice to you in terms of protecting yourself against the harms of sexualisation and negative body image it would be this… Resist acquiescing to the gaze of others, and instead, look inside yourself. Dig deep enough to feel what you want and know WHY you want it. Explore movement and or other elements of sexualised femininity not only with an anticipation of external gaze (the audience or general society), but for the experience and pleasures that it offers you during the process. Create the terms and condition of your body and make sure you keep them close by.

Check out the full podcast from Cat and Amy here…

Something I have read (Bacon & Migdelow, 2010) 

Briefly touching on dialogues surrounding practice as research, this paper offers insight into ‘choreographic labs’ as a means “of embodied knowing and the processes of speaking ‘from’ rather than ‘about’ movement” (p.4). Specifically, it aims to make visible the epistemologies of practice and theory combined to unravel the notion of embodied knowledge, removing the common duality between body and theory. In dance then, it is understood that the body produces the knowledge, then, once read by the expertise of the practitioner, the practitioner is then able to theorize about this form of knowing. The process of theorizing takes place through critical, reflective, and reflexive thinking; how we know what we know and brings forward what we do know. Relevant to theorizing about knowledge produced through the body, the authors offer insight into the difficulties of speaking through the body in that movers can sometimes fall into traps of expectation whereby the emphasis is on the mover moving. One can combat this by moving and writing from a place of experience rather than about experience. Writing and moving goes back to what I said above about knowing yourself through movement.

Something I have watched

I’m Thinking About Ending Things. This film, written and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, is a bit of a mind fuck to the point where you are saying “wtf is happening” most of the way through. To avoid spoilers, I will not write much more about it, but just prepare for its meditation on ever shifting human attributes.

Rowena x

I will be back with more notes next week, but in the meantime, you can see my daily updates by following me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook