Fanoos Magazine reached out to body image coaches and mental health counselors to inquire: why is there an increase in negativity towards dancers on social media recently?
1. We've seen a significant increase in body shaming on Instagram and Youtube towards Bellydancers recently. Why do you believe this is occuring?
I believe it is backlash to the body positive movement and feminism in general. Often as people begin to gain more and more liberation, those who have been in power feel threatened and try to take control back through cutting down those gaining liberation. Most body image issues are rooted in diet culture. Diet culture is a great way to keep marginalized people distracted by self-hatred and trying to "fix flaws" while funding an industry that is over 72 billion dollars. When people begin rejecting diet culture norms, they are taking power back into their own hands. That is very threatening, especially if it's anyone other than White cis/het wealthy men.
2. What might be the cause of this being so focused on Bellydance as opposed to other forms of cultural dances? Body shaming is traditionally more involved as it pertains to ballet or showgirls, why bellydance?
Bellydance has at times been a relatively safe space for a more diverse range of bodies compared to ballet, which is steeped in Eurocentric beauty standards. In 2003 I found bellydance to be a more welcoming environment when I was scared of other dance forms as a naturally curvy woman. However, as I have grown in the dance and in my understanding of the world, I see that I'm also in a White cisgender able body that can find clothes in stores and therefore don't understand the level of body shaming that is present for other bodies in bellydance. I imagine that the stereotypical association of bellydance with sexuality is part of why it's been targeting now. When dancers are claiming their own sensuality and bodies, especially if showing skin, internet trolls can feel emboldened to comment behind the safety of their keyboard. I believe this is all rooted in trying to take away the sense of power and agency that dancers find in the dance. Bellydance has often been assumed to be about the male gaze, and therefore cis men in particular may feel entitled to comment about bodies where they are not welcome.
3. We seem to see this behavior directed from CIS hetero men towards CIS hetero female dancers. What is the psychology of men commenting on these posts? Would you say that this changes when it is directed to any other gender of dancer?
Again, I believe cis/het men are struggling with the empowerment of others at this time. Cis women do not actually need cis/het men for much anymore, now that there is more equality. Cis women are culturally asking for more out of cis men than in the past, and it's probably threatening and uncomfortable. I believe that misogyny is present no matter what the gender is of the commenter as well as the dancer. We all live in an inherently misogynistic culture, so this attitude is present unless actively challenged. I believe that cis/het men commenting on male dancers is rooted in a similar struggle due to the stereotypes in bellydance of it historically being associated with women. Male dancers therefore are likely to be considered "feminine" by the average cis/het man commenter and therefore less respected. And anyone who is trans or non-binary is already challenging the status quo by their very existence, so cis/het men commenters would most likely devalue gender non-conforming individuals even more.
4. Posting online is necessary for advertising oneself. How can a dancer handle the fear and nervousness associated with posting online?
I would recommend remembering that we are most likely to remember the mean comments and forget the many, many wonderful and supportive comments. That's part of how our brain keeps us safe, but you can intentionally combat this by making sure you connect to your "why" of posting. There's a reason why you are dancing and posting, and make sure that's in the forefront of your mind. Also, take deep breaths and give yourself affirmations while in a power pose if you need to. I personally enjoy dancing before posting because it lifts my vibe.
5. What should a dancer do if such commentary happens? What do you recommend?
I would encourage you to report and block them, first and foremost. They don't need access to your content. If you're being harassed, follow the platform's harassment policy and let your followers help you by encouraging them to report. Some platforms may not be effective with this, but it's important to set boundaries. Also, I strongly recommend dancing to shake it off. Dancing is most likely what makes you feel the best, and it will shift your state if you can put on an upbeat song and take care of yourself. Reach out to a friend if you still need a little boost afterwards, and imagine energetically protecting yourself by placing yourself in a dome of support. I have a meditation on this I can send interested parties if they email me at email@example.com
6. What are the possible long term effects that could happen to an individual dancer caused by body shaming?
Dancers could experience anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, unfortunately. Body shaming online could even result in suicidal ideation due to the level of negative comments that people can sometimes experience. If you're in the US and are struggling with suicidal ideation, text 741741 for immediate crisis support. Most countries should also have something similar if you google "text suicide hotline."
7. What steps could a dancer, dance teacher and community take to feel more body confident and enable body positivity?
This is a big topic! First of all, follow a diverse range of bodies and dancers. If you're only seeing one type of body, you will believe any variation is abnormal, which isn't true. Following people who are your size of clothing can be helpful or even a hashtag of your size clothing. The problem with sizes is that they are arbitrary and change, but it can be a start to curating a more body positive feed.
Also, focus on how you feel in your body. As a board-certified dance/movement therapist who also offers body image coaching, embodiment is one of my top priorities for improving body image. This takes regular practice and intentional effort, but the more your feel good and speak kindly to yourself in your own mind, the better you will feel.
Dance teachers: please never comment on a dancer's body, even if you think it's a compliment. You could end up reinforcing an eating disorder or body dysmorphia. Also, showcase and support dancers with a variety of bodies, not just the Eurocentric beauty standards. I have a whole training on this because it's such a difficult topic.
8. What effects do you believe filters have?
I am seeing a lot of literature saying they are really harmful for young people especially. I strongly recommend frequent reminders that the internet is curated and fake. There are some great accounts that do work around this like @danaemercer on Instagram
9. What should others do when they witness body shaming?
Report and make sure to comment uplifting things on that dancer's page. Also, don't internalize it because unfortunately you might be impacted by that negativity, so I'd recommend YOU dance and shake it off also.
10. Do you have any other resources that you feel would be helpful? (books, podcasts, websites, services)
I post a lot of body image related tips and content on my Instagram page at @laurenpetersonhiggins if anyone would like to follow me. I would also recommend that if anyone is finding their relationship to food impacted by body shaming that they listen to The Maintenance Phase podcast and read up on Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size. If you're not aware of these concepts, they are incredibly helpful for developing a healthy relationship to food. I'm happy to send my free body image webinar to interested people if they email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can also book a free 15 minute call to talk about your relationship to your body so you get some individualized support.
Lauren Peterson Higgins, MS, BC-DMT (she/her) is a board-certified dance/movement therapist and body image coach. She helps people heal their relationship to their bodies so they can finally thrive and feel confident in their own skin. You can find her at @laurenpetersonhiggins on Instagram or at www.laurenpetersonhiggins.com