Growing up as a dancer, I became so accustomed to seeing women dance in crop tops or sports bras like it was no big deal. As the years passed, everywhere I’d look, when it came to women in a fitness commercial or a dance class, they were often thin, with a flat stomach or defined abs wearing a sports bra. If by some miracle there was a bigger woman in the ad, she was more likely than not covered with a t-shirt or least a tank top. That is, until 2 years ago when an Instagram post caught my attention. She mentioned how that day she had decided to do something she'd never done before and go to the gym with her shirt off. She described how she used to engage in negative-talk, preventing herself from doing this simple act until her body was “perfect.” But that day, she decided to be bold and dwell in a place of self-love, so she took off her shirt! Now there have been campaigns such as that with Lane Bryant (#ThisBody) and their collaboration with Pretty Big Movement that showcased beautiful plus sized women dancing freely, in sports bras and the like.
For so long, due to the size of my rear, breasts, thighs and midsection, I was so afraid of wearing what I’ve seen smaller women easily wear daily, anxious about being too “exposed” or judged for too much of my body moving. That all changed when I began teaching dance classes. Earlier this year, I was blessed with the opportunity to do a photoshoot/video shoot with plus- store, Fashion to Figure for one of their weekend edit features, modeling a few pieces of their new activewear line. From the moment I arrived on set, I felt so comfortable in my skin and had a blast as I danced around in a sports bra and mesh leggings. And yet, somehow I was still terrified to do that outside of those studio walls. However, an unexpected shift occurred once I started teaching a dance class with my friend about a month later, called the Dance Therapy Fusion Werkshop. I walked in knowing that if I was going to be my most authentic self and say that our class was going to be a place of liberation and a judgement free zone, I couldn't in my right mind judge myself! So I figured I'd try it out by dancing throughout class in a sports bra. Of course, I almost chickened out until my partner held me accountable by shouting, “Take your shirt off! You said you wanted to be free--- so be free!” So I did. And can you guess what happened next? The world did not end! Instead, I felt a rush of anxiety, excitement and confidence creep up my spine, and I knew this was a moment I'd always remember.
Now I know what you may be thinking: “Did a sports bra really change her life?” But the truth is, as dramatic as it sounds, in a way it truly did. When you go through so many years of your life thinking your worthiness is attached to a clothing size, a number on a scale or an ideal image society throws at you, a moment like this is a big deal.
Building confidence, especially body confidence, is like strengthening a muscle. The more you practice using it, the stronger it gets. This confidence shift didn't fully happen overnight, but the more I danced in my sports bra and saw my body as it is, the more my fears and self- judgement began to diminish. In addition, the more I practiced this, the more it became the norm and loving every bit of my curves became a lifestyle. I became bolder in my every day life choices, and even hiked to the top of Runyon Canyon in LA with just a sports bra and mesh leggings alongside my very gorgeous, very petite friend! With this newfound confidence and self-acceptance, I can honestly say I felt equally as beautiful, capable and secure as her, which I know would not have been the case years, or even months before. I have learned to see the beauty in every curve, every tiger stripe, and every jiggle on my body, even while I work to become even more strong and healthy. So if you want to move your way into more confidence, maybe, just once be a rebel and take your shirt off!
Author, choreographer, mental health advocate and empowerment speaker. By sharing her story, she hopes to encourage others to actively seek self-acceptance. Whitney is currently a dual youth ministry leader, holds an M.A. in General/Experimental Psychology and is co-founder of the Dance Therapy Fusion Werkshop, based in NYC.