By: Susan Angell-Gonzalez (CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer)
As Dance/Drill Team Directors, it is extremely important to remember that your students look up to you as a mentor and someone to support them when they are facing difficult situations. Sometimes, Directors are surprised to find that members of their team are suffering from negative body images. A negative body image can be incredibly painful, so it’s the last thing we would wish for vulnerable students. They struggle with this due in great part to today’s weight-obsessed culture. As the former Director/Choreographer of the Texas State University Strutters, I dealt with this issue every year and made sure to handle it with “tender loving care.” Our students are bombarded with movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, “If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.” That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later in adulthood. In many cases, too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard. And the media is reaching into the very heart of our homes and classrooms with its unhealthy and abnormal images and expectations of beauty. Because the attack on self-image is very focused, strong countermeasures need to be taken to help our students see their bodies not as a burden, but as their temple.
What can you do to help fight poor body image on your team (and help those in need)?
You can start by concentrating on your teams’ strengths and dance ability. Make every effort to praise each team member during practice or class. By doing so, it will be obvious to the team that it is the skills being evaluated and not their bodies. Keep in mind that individuals tend to obsess about their flaws and compare their body to others. It is important to have them focus on their unique strengths.
Stress the importance of healthy eating and promote good food choices. This should start at training camp by giving them tangible information. Set up a healthy nutrition and exercise plan that takes their schedule into consideration. In addition, make sure your students are taught to make healthy food and beverage choices before, during, and after practices.
Avoid educating your team about the symptoms and signs of eating disorders. This can promote bad ideas of how to control their weight. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of nutrition.
Select uniforms that are suited for all body types on your team. There is nothing worse than seeing an over-weight girl stuffed in a uniform not suited for most body types. As you can imagine, this enhances the body image problem even more and the person suffering feels more self-conscious.
Don’t draw attention to a student’s body changes in front of others (even to praise it).
Encourage positive self-image with your students. Many times, when people don’t feel confident, they degrade themselves aloud, hoping someone will disagree with them and make them feel better. The concept of “fishing for compliments” gets worse when they internalize what the media is teaching them about beauty.
Teachers can make a difference by recognizing the need to define beauty for their students and praise them appropriately.
You can help set a positive and realistic mind-frame about body image among your team members by setting a foundation for your team and taking ownership of your program. Be mindful of how impressionable young women are. As a Director, you are in a power position to make a difference in your students’ lives. It is important to communicate and be honest, but it is also important to show compassion and empathy. It may take a while for results to show, but your team will appreciate you for your compassion and commitment to their health. Moderation and appropriateness should govern your actions.
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