Category Archives: In Your Words

Here is where you get to have YOUR SAY! post pics, stories and even topic ideas so that we can get to know one another better as we take this journey.

Not Fat Not Thin: The Murky Middle Ground of the Body Image Issue

I have been writing this blog for a while now and I still find it interesting that when discussing body image the focus tends to swing from one polarity to the other, obesity to being too thin. When I looked it over I found that most of the articles and stories I post deal with being over weight, weight loss, or the images of women in advertising being too thin and not setting a realistic or healthy body image for females both young and old. It started to bother me, why is it always about the extremes? Why is the middle ground so murky especially when the majority of us fall into that category?

When you are neither fat nor thin, but somewhere comfortable in the middle as far as societies standards are concerned you reside in what I call Body Middle-Earth. However being neither/nor does not exempt you from the same feelings of inadequacies that women on the extreme sides of the subject have. I live in this Body Middle-Earth. To people looking at me I am certain that they might never suspect that I don’t like my body, or at the very least have issues with parts of it. It takes me back to when I first started the blog I did a pre-screening of sorts to friends and co-workers. Upon viewing the “About Me” video in the introduction one person commented, “I found myself re-watching the video to see to see those gorgeous pictures of you, which I don’t think is your point” Where I was flattered that they found them “beautiful”, The pictures were of me dancing the voice over spoke of my feelings of displeasure with my body and the contradiction housed within it. My legs went up, I could jump, and I had power. My body has always complied with my demands but I just never liked what it looked like doing it.” I thought the juxtaposition was the point- Often people think that we look good, but we hate the way we look!

I understood the note, but I chose to leave the video the way it was mainly because the t’ruth of the matter is that you don’t have to appear broken to feel broken, damaged, or inadequate…the evidence is not always visible to the naked eye.  Somehow we can understand a person having body issues if they are a “misfit” (to heavy, short, dark, light, lips too big, breast to small etc.) because they clearly stand outside of the social aesthetic,but if a person is okay (looking) if they are average-or above then it gets harder to imagine that they too might harbor insecurities. Very few of us look like the models in magazines. We are all inundated with those images, it is conceivable that we all (regardless of what we look like) are affected by them, the inhabitants of Body Middle Earth as well, we too should be able to enter into the conversation, it’s not about competition but recognition.
Why is there no space, no acknowledgement and little compassion for those who don’t necessarily look the way they feel? Can’t pretty people feel ugly, can’t thin people feel fat, and can’t successful people feel like failures?  Well of course they can, and they do but people just get annoyed when they talk about it publicly, and if they do they are seldom met with empathy, but they are treated like they are fishing for a complement or worse, as if they are trying to make other people feel bad about themselves (We all know those types of people) when all they really wanted was to share be heard, and supported.
A while ago I had an exchange yoga studio dressing room a month or so after I started the blog that illustrated my point:

It was after class, and we were all waiting to shower so it was a cornucopia of naked bodies of all shapes and sizes in the room. I was having a discussion with my friend Myrna about how I needed to reign myself I because I was starting to plump up again. It was a personal/private conversation we were having in public (we have all done it) A women interjected saying “your crazy, you have a beautiful body, if you think you’re fat what am I?” I was incensed! First of all no one was talking to her, and second of all NO ONE WAS TALKING TO HER! Now, where I wanted to say that to her, I chose to use it as a teaching moment, “Look,” I said trying to temper my tone,

“The way I feel about my body has nothing to do with the way I feel about yours. The way you feel about your body is a personal thing.”

Where I completely understood where she was coming from, (I have felt the same way myself when friends who are thinner than myself say that they are fat) but I was irritated by the fact that somehow I with my “beautiful” body was not allowed to feel a certain way, and I was definitely not allowed to verbally say it in mixed body company. Living in Body Middle-Earth can be quite isolating. We all have our own internal barometer for the way we feel, and the way we like to feel in our bodies, and that is not for anyone else to judge. It is not to be negated it is not a comparative conversation; it’s a personal one.

There was a similar situation that transpired between the Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine Wendy Perron and myself. She had assigned me my second article on body image. My concept was to talk to dancers about how they felt about their bodies and what were some of their issues. My idea was to interview Wendy Whelan of New York City Ballet because her body is a constant topic of conversation in the dance world as she is extremely skinny. I wanted to know how she felt about her body. I also wanted to talk to American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland (the now it girl) who is not only a ballerina of color but she is curvy as well, I knew there was a story there.  Sadly Perron informed me that Whelan had been featured too often in the magazine and she doubted that ABT would let me talk to Copeland especially about her body. Body talk in the dance world is like Wikileaks!

So I came up with an alternative in Maurya Kerr, of LINES Ballet.  Maury is a gazelle-like beauty and had been a Poster Girl for much of her career but I knew that she was recovering from hip surgery and I thought that process might make a great angle. When I ran this by Perron her response was “Was she ever fat?” I was bit perplexed and informed her that perhaps we were talking about two distinctly different articles. Once again the idea of “body issues” and the visible “flaw” was the expectation, the people in the middle were once again going to go unaddressed. I was not interested in doing the typical article about misfits, the people who clearly don’t fit into the standard: the flat of foot, tight of hamstring, or turned in. I wanted to highlight the fact that regardless of what you look like (whether it is the preferred aesthetic or not) you can still have issues with your body. This is not a criticism of Wendy Perron it’s just the way that we tend to think about the issue. When we discussed our divergent concepts she thought the angle was important enough to go with.  Ironically when I interviewed Kerr for the piece she spoke quite candidly about her battle with eating disorders. Although she was very thin, she had breasts and in the ballet world of flat chested dancers her breasts made her feel “big”, subsequently she stopped eating in an effort to look like the other girls. The article, Learn to Love your Body (not my title) was published in the October 2009 issue.

When discussing the topic with my friend and former student Erika Hand (she too is tall and of average size) she shared that often she felt “dismissed” when talking about her body issues with women, hence feels that isolation, and invalidated. Often the dismissal will come in the form of people saying “You’re crazy” or “There is nothing wrong with you” that may well be true but it doesn’t make you feel acknowledged or heard.  What it does is make you feel sorry for sharing such intimate, and sensitive feelings. Just because people think that you “shouldn’t” feel a certain way doesn’t mean that you don’t, and it doesn’t mean that your feelings are less valid. In short, often it’s hurtful.

The middle body ground is murky and filled with such subtlety that it is hard to define, defend or discuss. If you live in this grey zone you may find yourself on the outside of both sides of the issue. It’s like the Occupy Wall Street movement, in reality it’s not purely the 1% versus the 99%, there is probably 20% of the people who are middle class, they may not be “down and out” but the disproportionate distribution of wealth affects them as well.  Now imagine if that 20% were not allowed to add their voices to the protest just as passionately as those who are more greatly effected, would they change it to 1% vs. the 69%? I don’t think so. The Body issue discussion in my opinion is no different. I always say,

“If you have a body, the chances are, you have some issues”

they may not be to the degree of some other people but they are yours, they are real and they deserve to be acknowledged and addressed equally.
Theresa Ruth Howard

“All because she tried so hard to stay fit ” By Dominique Nieves

Inline image 4Dominique Nieves was a student of mine at the Ailey school in the Junior Division when she was in High School. That was many years ago, she attended Columbia University earning a BA in Dance (she did a Biomechanics based thesis in dance, and used my experience at Ailey to discuss the impact of training in both ballet and modern on the muscles and joints of the hip and knee specifically), currently she is doing a special post-bacc program. She recently sent me a poem she wrote about her body image, but I will let you hear it…In Her Words….

She wrote me :

Hi Ms. Howard!!

So I revisited your blog and I wanted to send you something to contribute. If this is something you think might be cool to add please feel free to do so. Below is a poem I wrote when I was 16 years old and a student at Ailey. I was taking a creative writing class and my teacher assigned the prompt “fit”- that’s all. I wrote the the following poem in response. I was the only one who interpreted the word with this meaning.

“Little girl cries at night with the magazine under her pillow
Wondering why she can’t look like those models, she’s weeping like the willow
Pressured from more sides than one, a building anxiety
Other girls, the boys, her ballet class, not to mention the rest of society
Eats nothing but fruit for an entire week but not one ounce is shed
Angry at the scale for those evil numbers that it said
So consumed with hunger she gets dizzy spells
And buys all the diet pills that the drug store sells
Trying a new one every week and bearing the side effects
Doing videos she found online promising abs, obliques and pecks
Burning a whole in her stomach and one in her throat
Feeling guilty after indulging in a root beer float
She just yearned to feel normal when out with her friends
Is forcing yourself to throw up normal? it all depends
Was it normal when her ballet teacher told her to lose weight?
Or when her mother tormented her for the food that she ate
Or for her own friends to joke about her big behind
Someone who understood her was too hard to find
Her size one companion gobbling French chocolate cake
While she worried about the calories in her slim fast shake
Media surrounded her with skinny bodies, everywhere she looked
The next attempt, was avoiding anything that was cooked
Her hair became dry and her fingernails brittle
Her skin grew pale, her confidence little
Lacking nourishment & her time winding down
On the outside a smile, on the inside a frown
Not long till the damage she was doing to her body would appear
But she was silenced, sending cries no one but her could hear
She was weak and she was weary but it was too late to turn back
Her body became a hollow, corpse like sack
But when she looked in the mirror she still saw a fat girl
So she ran to the bathroom and began to hurl
Her body could no longer handle the erosion
The breakdown happened as suddenly as an explosion
Cardiac arrhythmia, like a bullet to her chest, she was hit
And all because she tried so hard to stay fit”

-Dominique Danielle Nieves

Inline image 1taken at the time she wrote the poem….

-1in the creative writing classroom- I was asked to do a little diddy for them at the end of the semester

Inline image 3

Janelle Monáe- In Her Words (and they are inspiring and so very true)

“When I started my music career, I was a maid. I used to clean houses. My mother was a proud janitor. My stepfather, who raised me like his very own, worked at the post office and my father was a trashman. They all wore uniforms and that’s why I stand here today, in my black and white, and I wear my uniform to honor them.

This is a reminder that I have work to do. I have people to uplift. I have people to inspire. And today, I wear my uniform proudly as a Cover Girl. I want to be clear, young girls, I didn’t have to change who I was to become a Cover Girl. I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned throughout my journey that perfection is the enemy of greatness.

Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable.”Janelle Monáe

VEDA 22 asks Youtube hater: “Why does it hurt you if I don’t hate myself?”

Taylor Owen Ramsey sent me this and I was bowled over- the title of her email was “This is my new hero!!!”
So I opened it up and watched, and let me tell you I wanted to get up and cheer like it was the end of a feel good movie and the underdogs had won game, or the guy got the girl! THIS is where we are all striving to get to in our heads! Veda IS the embodiment of what My Body My Image is about Acceptance, Appreciation, and Respect! It is also about learning not to judge- by race, religion, gender, economics, or weight… She is totally awesome! Check out your girl!

Taylor Owen Ramsey: How Changing Cultures Changed My Body Image

I was so thrilled when Taylor Owen Ramsey emailed me and asked if she could write something for me. I was like Duh!!!! First of all just let you in on the history Taylor was one of the first people I interviewed for this blog, and she also wrote a kick as piece that has been getting a lot of interest of late: Levis’ Cuve ID- Are the Bold’s bold enough and is the Supreme- Supreme. Well 6 months ago she left New York to move to Colombia with the Peace Corps and she as had an interesting body experience that she wanted to share.But first I want to remind you of who Taylor is see her interview here:

Growing up, I was a white girl with a big bottom and I was always trying to hide it. Sweaters tied tightly around the waist during my high school and college years gradually matured into more elegant long cardigans that did double duty hiding my derriere and my arms, another body part I decided I didn´t like. As I approached the later part of my twenties, my struggle to accept myself, curves and all, became more of a hardened battle with little victories rather than hard-won campaigns. And I was happy with that. I had established myself in New York City, grew into my own style (cardigans and all), and learned to appreciate my body in the greater urban context of body diversity that only a place like New York City can provide. And then I joined the Peace Corps in the Caribbean coast of Colombia. While New York City provided a context where I could gradually become more comfortable in my own mostly-covered skin, Colombia told me to strip that clothing off, or at the very least tighten it, because stick-thin and covered-up have no place here, at least by the heat alone.

Changing cultural contexts through travel has often changed the way I´ve viewed myself. While certain things tend to stay sadly steady around the world, such as the light-haired and light-skinned ideal, the ideal body shapes tend to change based on the places I visit. However, living in Colombia with the Peace Corps for the past six months has given me a deeper perspective on my own body than anywhere else, simply because with the amount of time I´ve been here, I´ve been able to understand the body image culture more deeply than other places I´ve traveled.

I´ve always struggled to find ways to cover myself up, especially my large butt.  Here on the coast, every trip to the beach, the bathing suits seem to appear smaller, no matter the size of the curves in them. And while we don´t see them as often in the states, women pay a lot of money here to make their butts bigger with butt implants and the regional slang here has more ways to describe a curvy lower half on a woman´s body than I have encountered anywhere else.

One day in one of my classes at the school where I work, I was teaching how to describe appearances in English to a group of future elementary school teachers. As I do during most classes, I finished the class with some time for the students to ask me how to say things in English I didn´t cover in class, with no rules to what they can ask. A woman raised her hand and asked me how to say thin legs as if they were a bad thing. Easy, I thought. Chicken legs.  The woman next to her followed up the question by asking how to say large thighs, but as if they were an awesome thing to have. I couldn´t think of anything but negative ways to describe big thighs…thunder thighs, saddle bags, etc. I tried to explain that though the United States is a big place and in various contexts the ideal body changes, the overall cultural message is that thin is better and we have very few good ways to describe big thighs. The look of shock on the faces in the room was priceless. Another confused female student yelled out “but why wouldn´t somebody want big thighs and a round butt, like you?” All I could say in my still-limited Spanish was, “I don´t know.”  And that´s an honest ´I don´t know’ I´ve been battling inside myself for years. An entire culture was telling me I was their body ideal, and I couldn´t believe it.


Since then, I still get a barrage of cultural messages here telling me that my body is an ideal. Colombian friends ask me why I still wear long cardigans that hide my backside in jeans. Others encourage me to wear a thong on a beach.  Thin and stunningly beautiful students tell me they wish they had my body. And I still struggle to love myself, even if I am less and less likely to wear the cardigans. While I appreciate that I am learning that my body can be beautiful in one context and something I continually try to hide in another, even in my most body-image comfortable moments, I realize I am not happy. What would make me happy is a world and a context where all bodies are appreciated and beautiful. What would make me happy is a world where women don´t have to constantly think about creating themselves as products to be consumed, given the distinct local standards, whether those standards are thin or curvy. I just want a break from it all, no matter where I am. I want to wake up just one day where I don´t have to worry about my flaws and how I look. So while my clothing has perhaps become a bit tighter and smaller in Colombia, I continue to struggle with myself as I always have. That struggle will continue for all of us, until we learn that every shape and size can be beautiful, we stop policing ourselves and each other and we put that body ideal into practice.

Body Story- Pinar


I’m a female dancer. I dance flamenco. Yes, I can do ballet, I can do modern dance, folk dances but I “dance” flamenco. I love it. It’s me. I’ve been dancing since 5 and I’ve been dancing flamenco since 20. Now I’m 32 and still dance flamenco.
I’m 1.75 and 68 kilos. I have big bones and muscles. It comes from family but since my childhood I was very active. I always loved to force my body. About age 12, 13 I used to get on my bike and ride as fast as i could for like 2-3 hours everyday.
I was born with a belly. My mom says, “You had a belly like a muffin when you were born”. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get rid of it. It’s always there with me:)) I dance 6 hours a day and that muffin is still there. People who don’t know me or see me dancing asks, “You are a big girl and you have a little belly, you carry too much weight, how can you dance?”, or when they hear I’m a dancer, they give that look from tip to toe. I see the question mark on their faces. “Well, she doesn’t look like a dancer”. People think dancers should be like ballerinas, thin, skinny. I’m too big for a dancer.
I got suspicious about myself. I was unhappy, I thought, “no matter what I do, I’ll never look like a dancer, I’ll never make them believe.” Because this is the structure of my body. How far can I change it? How far can i play with it? Is it important? I dance damn good. I’m athletic. I have fast footwork, I love my arms and my back and I love my impression.Yes, I’m heavy but I’m powerful. I’m used to dance with that weight. I educated and treated my body the way that it can go on and on with carrying weight. I worked more but you don’t know it. You criticize with what you have in mind.
It’s better to stop what people think. Our bodies are not commercial products. We dance for life, we don’t dance to sell our bodies. It’s not sun tanned skins. It’s not Super Man. It’s not a Greek monument. Dancing is beyond body. And my body is mine. It’s mine to decide what i do with it.
Have a nice day:)

Light & Fit 2011 Online Video Spot ‘Cheers’- Erika Hand sounds off- “The women in this ad seem psychotic”

My Good Friend Erika Hand found this video yesterday and it rubbed her the wrong way, I asked her to share her thought about it. Now you might already be familiar with Erika, she is the woman who loaned us her gorgeous legs and feet for the video demo on how to correct hyper-extended legs She is the one I shared my early feeling about the piece I was working on at the time Not Fat Not Thin:The Murky Middle Ground of the Body Image and her voice became a part of the essay. She is a dancer who lives in the murky middle ground and though very beautiful and long she has some of the same body images as the rest of us. Two of the reasons I love her (and love talking with her) is because she is a critical thinker with a wicked sense of humor. My type of gal!!! here is what she found and her thoughts on it!

I can’t tell whether I am going to laugh or cry. The women in this ad seem psychotic.

First of all who sits around a table in a well lit country club atmosphere after shopping toasting over their yogurt? Anybody?

I think my jaw dropped when I heard “Here’s to my pants not leaving marks on my waist at the end of the day!” Anyone who has worn skinny jeans knows how good it can feel to peel those suckers off at the end of a long day. And now, thanks to Dannon Yogurt, I have one more reason to beat myself up which I never even thought of, the otherwise “invisible” marks that are imprinted on my body from my clothes.  I don’t know about you, but my clothes leave marks. Even my bras. What the hell am I going to do about that? Sometimes when I wear long johns under my pants the inseam will leave a small indentation that usually goes away naturally. So what am I to think now- my calf is too fat?

The next time I take off my underwear and see a imprint in my skin, at least now I know I can turn to Dannon yogurt for solace.

On top of that, the creepy Stepford Wives meets Twighlight vampire vibe is totally weird. It seems more like a mockumentary than a real ad the way they are acting like what they are saying and doing actually makes sense.

Out of curiosity I looked at the Nutritional Information for this lovely product. Included in the 14 ingredients- aspartame.  80 potentially cancer causing calories. Hey ladies, let’s get rid of our extra weight and potentially get cancer instead!

Erika Hand

“This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?”


By: Delphine Fieberg

A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was “This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?”

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

“Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness.
They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia.
They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on cds. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defend and admires.

Mermaids do not exist.

But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish?
They would have no sex life and could not bear children.
Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad.
And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I’d rather be a whale.

At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.

We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn’t enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies.
We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated.
Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: “How amazing am I ?! ”

(The girl on the picture is French model Tara Lynn) Feel free to tag yourselves 🙂
Last comment: I’m not putting down thin people, being a thin woman myself (BMI of 22 maybe?) just saying that being large doesn’t equate to being unattractive.
By: Delphine Fieberg