Like most girls, I never had a healthy relationship with my body. Having inherited my mom’s pear-shaped genes, I abhorred my big hips and chubby thighs. I knew my body’s flaws and imperfections too well because I pick at them every daythe muffin top, the cellulite, the unsightly flabs everywhere. I wanted to be part of the skinny and sexy club, but it remained a far-off dream because I was never motivated to diet or exercise to lose weight. I carried the "chubby girl" label for most my teenage and young adult years because that’s what the mirror reflected back at me.

Enter pole dancing. When I first heard about it, I had some hesitations because of the stigma attached to it (think scantily-clad girls in bars gyrating seductively against a steel pole). That was not my style at all. I was the last person you’d think of to attempt something so sexy and sensual. But my curiosity got the best of me and I did some research to learn more about pole dancing. There were lots of raves about this controversial fitness activity–plenty of women were so into it. It didn’t sound so bad–in fact, it seemed pretty exciting. And so, I signed up for my first class despite years of being an unhealthy couch potato.

On that fateful day, I stepped into the studio with a mix of curiosity and apprehension. I wondered what I would learn in class but I was also worried about being a klutz and making a fool out of myself. When the group of regulars waltzed in wearing their cute pole outfits, I was so intimidated that I wanted to back out. But I managed to gulp down that fear and awkwardly warmed up with everybody else. The hour that followed was littered with measly attempts to spin around and stick to the pole, all the while ignoring the intense pain and burning sensations that exploded from all parts of my body.

After class, I went home spent and bruised, but felt a sense of enjoyment from the entire ordeal. I was amazed at what my body was able to do during that periodspinning around the pole with both feet off the ground, holding myself up with just my thighs squeezing the pole. I never knew that I was capable of pulling off those things. And it was just the first day! I wanted to see what else my body could do and how far I could go with this activity. So I went back the following week. And the week after that.

Now, two years since that awkward first day, pole dancing has become a weekly habit for me. And it has given me so much, not just in terms of fitness but also in terms of emotional and mental health. It made me appreciate my body for what it is, what it can already do, and what it can potentially achieve. Who cares about being chubby and bottom-heavy, when you can hang upside down from the pole with just your thighs holding you up? And the best part is that I was able to do these awesome feats with the body that I already have.

Pole dancing has taught me that I’m a lot stronger than I think. That my body is capable of doing things that I would have never imagined. I take pride in that strength, and as a result, I also became more confident and more comfortable with my body. I no longer care about being skinny or losing a crapload of weight; what matters more to me now is to get stronger so that I can progress and do more amazing stuff on the pole. I’ve had to deal with some pain, sore muscles, and a ton bruises in order to perfect a trick, execute a flawless spin, or perform a graceful choreo but the results are so worth it. And the learning never stops because there are always new things to aim for.

Pole dancing also taught me that sexiness is not a matter of looks but a matter of attitude. I’ve never had a "sexy side" to me prior to pole dancingpeople always saw me as the nerdy girl. But I was compelled to dig up and explore that hidden persona whenever we danced in class. And it felt good to let out that side with no judgements from anyone. It is true that no matter what shape or size you are, you can be sexy. You just need to internalize that script and truly live it. If you feel and believe that you are sexy, it will show. And more often than not, people will admire you for it.

In pole dancing, a picture-perfect body is not a requirement. Neither is athleticism, flexibility, nor gracefulness. The only thing you need to have is an openness to new experiences and a desire to learn. That’s what I learned when I took up this activity. With each class, I find myself growing in strength and confidence. I now have a newfound appreciation for my body for the amazing things that it can do. It also makes me proud that I can do something that not a lot of people can. It doesn’t matter if I sucked or failed in classwhat’s important is that I tried and pushed myself to do more than I did the last time. And with enough practice and dedication, I will get to that next level. For me, that’s what makes pole dancing interesting, addicting, and so empowering.

PHOTO: Flickr Creative Commons/Francisco Osorio

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