Can the pursuit of health become a sickness?

Introducing a new obsession for the obsessives

Dancers, like models, have developed a notoriety for their extreme drive and dedication toward the super slim aesthetic. Both dancers and models excel in terms of beauty and employability if they fit the mould and the mould has been getting smaller over the years. Many have lived on a diet of cigarettes and curly kale despite the rigours of training to maintain fitness, poise and grace.  Bouts of vomiting particularly after a celebratory indulgence like a cake or other sweet treat have been common place as have drugs to speed the metabolism.

But is this all changing? Pole and aerial dance have brought a new obsession for the obsessives and this time it is arguably a slightly healthier one. Any serious pole fitness enthusiast will recognise the need to eat a healthy diet in order to remain strong. Strength is the all important attribute in pole. If you don’t have it you simply don’t make it. You can’t fake it and you can’t starve it.

Strength is good and we know that to build muscle we need to eat lots of protein and get our daily dose of vitamins plus a few carbs for energy and stamina. Anyone can be stronger than they are. But can we push ourselves too far and become obsessed with food and exercise to develop the perfect physique?…Can we become too finely tuned? too focused on energy input and output? Is there a point where the pursuit of health and fitness itself becomes a sickness? In short can we become too strong?

The downside of developing super sized muscles is that it would limit flexibility. Flexibility is almost as important in pole as strength and what we need is a healthy balance of both. It is also worth noting that women’s bodies do not develop to the extent that men’s do without the assistance of anabolic steroids or lifting heavier weights than their own bodies. No doubt some pole dancers have tried enhancing their strength through steroids and or weight lifting but it isn’t something that is glaringly obvious and this could be unhealthy and problematic for the industry. Furthermore it doesn’t fit with the aesthetic of pole, which is super feminine, sexy and graceful. Men pole too but they bring a very different aesthetic to the sport where the emphasis is much more on the strength and less on flex and grace (though even that is changing).

Some pole dancers have been known to obsess over their flexibility and some even describe themselves as flexorexic. Amy Hazel is one such pole star. No matter how much farther she manages to bend her body she is never satisfied and pushes it to bend more. Nevertheless, she is bendy enough to wrap her whole self many times around the pole and win some major competitions. The use of the term ‘flexorexic’ implies that Amy herself thinks that she has a problem. She recognises that she is obsessed.

There will always be people with addictive or obsessive tendencies (myself included) and no matter what field they find themselves in they will push the boundaries to the point of excess. The big question for me is what is healthy and what is not?

Can we argue that pushing for extremes of strength and flexibility trumps pushing for extreme weight loss? Can we say that pole is the ideal obsession if you must have an obsession? Can we say that strength is the perfect zenith to chase? Everyone can be a little bit stronger than they are and can push every day to improve on that. It doesn’t have to be dangerous or life threatening like dieting, smoking and drug taking.

Can we now all agree that strong is the new thin and banish extreme dieting from our lives forever?

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Soozie Campbell