“How can I help my daughter feel more confident wearing a leotard?”

– parent of a 14 year old ballerina

After a 2018 press shoot, I received the above image. Mum exclaimed, “Wow darling! That’s stunning!” And all I wanted to do was delete it and regretted changing into the leotard for the last few shots.

Honestly, I hated that my stomach wasn’t flat. I hated that you could see my eczema on the back of my arms. I hated that my arms were more muscly than lithe. As I listened to myself, I knew it was time to change the internal dialogue but I didn’t know where to begin.

When parents ask me how to build confidence in their young daughters, they presume I have it all figured out. Unfortunately I don’t. Like many grandmothers, mothers, daughters, nieces (women!) I’ve come to realise that loving my body is going to be a long and arduous journey.

Unless we lock ourselves away in an off-the-grid cabin for the rest of our lives, not a single one of us is immune to the patriarchy that constantly conjures up ways to make us feel inadequate enough to continue buying lotions, potions, diets and products to fix us.

I know, it’s incredibly unfair! This is why the journey of loving the skin we’re in is a forever one. But we can begin with some simple proactive actions to help ourselves and our girls realise their body is not for the consumption or manipulation of others.

I may have hated that photo in 2018 (which wasn’t that long ago!) but in 2021 I absolutely love that photo after implementing the following practices over the last few years…

  • I’ve spent less time consuming social media, news media and content that makes me feel bad about myself – I know, easier said than done!
  • I have read and re-read Girlvana by Ally Maz (friend of the pod) to learn about befriending my body. Instead of buying your daughter a new leotard, buy her this book. Buy it for your niece. Buy it for yourself.
  • I also read Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It’s dense, but her words helped me learn about my innate creativity, energy and power.
  • Even if the answer is sometimes ugly, journal prompts such as, ‘How do I feel in my body today?’ and ‘Who were you before the world told you who to be?’ help me a lot.
  • I meditate daily on the words, My body is safe. My body is comfortable. My body is my home.These words are my phone screensaver and I’m seriously considering adding them to the bathroom mirror…
  • And honestly, choose a dance teacher who is open to uniform changes (I’ve done a whole pod episode about this) and promotes period positivity instead of shame.
These actions helped me immensely. They’re not perfect and conclusive, but they’re a good start. I don’t hope they’ll help, I know they’ll help.
Unfortunately it takes a lot of work to realise our value is not wrapped up in the pursuit of physical perfection and I truly believe that dance can be a way forward, not a way deeper into the impossible pursuit.Doing the work, feeling the feelings and learning to take up space is so difficult. Trust me when I say that I know. However one of the beautiful things about ballet is that it teaches us to stand tall and that’s the first step in creating physical change that impacts our mental one.

My dear parent, it’s not about the leotard – it’s about the inner work. And it starts first and foremost with you, with us.