When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
Professional dancer Tonya Hagey has stared at it often enough to know that the relationship between a woman and a mirror can be agitating. After years of practice, she’s found grace in its graze, and strength in the reflection of her soul.
A group of women wearing nothing but tights and leotards in a room walled with unforgiving mirrors – you can almost hear the inner dialogues behind the critical and comparing stares. This is a dancer’s life, and sometimes her worst nightmare.
The face in the mirror
The relationship between the dancer and the mirror is a tumultuous one; a constant battle between constructive critiques and demoralizing taunts. Dancers are notorious for engaging in self-destructive patterns, in the quest for thinner reflections. As a dancer myself, I know firsthand how that reflective glass can act as both a trusted friend and a deceptive enemy. I experience times in the rehearsal studio when my reflection seems to mock my every move, my every curve. Yet, other moments when I look in the mirror I am filled with appreciation and awe for the way my body stretches and bends and carves out space.
Over the past 10 years of my dance career, as instructor and performer, I have discovered an important key in the development of dancers. There is a certain level of freedom and presence that great dancers demonstrate which goes beyond technical skill. This is reached when a dancer’s relationship with the rehearsal studio’s mirror undergoes a significant transformation. In training, the mirror acts as a necessary tool, providing feedback on alignment and positions. But dancing is elevated to a new level when the dancer is able to see through the mirror, past the two-dimensional external guide, and into the multi-dimensional self.
Learning to see myself
When I was able to discover my true self, far beyond the reflection in the mirror, I became comfortable in my own skin. Suddenly my dancing began to emanate from a deep, internal source. At this point the mirror became secondary, even obsolete. I had come to accept and love my vehicle, my body, and was able to dance from the inside out. I have witnessed and experienced great power, beauty and freedom in this discovery, but not without first knowing the darkness of a distorted perspective.
I believe we often become victims of our own lack of self-esteem. When we don’t love ourselves, those around us tend to lose respect for us, which in turn causes us to lose respect for ourselves in a downward spiraling cycle of self-hate.
My own lack of self-respect surfaced in my inability to say “no”. I began to take on more and more “opportunities” leaving less and less time to properly care for my body, mind and soul. I was constantly eating on the run, not getting enough sleep and dancing long hours with a back injury that was getting worse. I neglected important relationships and never had time to read, write or pray. I even began to resent dancing, one of the greatest joys in my life.
Above all, I resented myself. Far from beautiful, I felt exhausted, unhappy and out of control. And finally, I crashed. I couldn’t seem to get enough sleep or enough time alone. I dropped out of nearly all my commitments and couldn’t even return phone calls. I was faced with the realization that I desperately needed to learn to love and respect myself.
How do you mend a broken heart?
I quickly became aware that it was crucial to create a safe place while attempting to rediscover myself. I had to set protective boundaries for my fragile self-esteem, choosing to isolate myself from those who threatened my sense of self-worth and respect. Gradually, I began to re-invest in the important relationships in my life, recognizing their integral role in helping me regain a healthy, whole lifestyle. I explored was to nourish – even pamper—my body, mind and soul.
I made it a priority to challenge my mind, and to carve out time for my soul to grow. I recommitted to caring for my body through good nutrition and exercise, which had a profound impact on my mental and emotional health as well. I treated myself to candlelit baths as often as needed. I choose to wear things that made me feel fabulous! I visited museums. I read good books. I took fitness classes and went for long walks. I began to write in a journal. I listened to my favourite pieces of music. I bought myself flowers. I enrolled in a poetry course at a local college.
And in the middle of it all, I began to find myself . . . and ultimately, to love myself.
It’s not all about me
On this journey, however, I found that loving myself becomes self-centered and narcissistic when it stagnates within me. But a true, healthy love for my whole being results in a healthy love for the world around me. It becomes a life flow, a cycle, that feeds me and pours out to nurture those surrounding me. And that, I believe, is the essence of real beauty.
All women, whether dancers or not, deal with this tenuous relationship with themselves.Outrageous cultural ideals have placed unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on women. But we can look through the reflected image in the mirror to discover and learn to love our whole, beautiful selves. We are so much more than just our outward appearance!
We need to recognize and appreciate our many dimensions, giving equal attention to our intellect, our spirit, and our physical well-being. We are unique and have permission to love ourselves. So next time you encounter your image in the mirror, consider what lies beyond that reflection: the potential for power, love and freedom.
Do you have a hard time accepting yourself? Do you wonder where your sense of self-worth is supposed to come from? When asked to describe yourself do you reach for your job title? Do you define yourself by your relationships — wife, mother, lover, friend? Do you think of your successes, your failures, your dreams, your past? All of these are parts of who you are, but you are more than what you do, more than what you own, or where you live. You are a woman loved by God.
Living with hope
If you are looking for peace, there is a way to balance your life. No one can be perfect, or have a perfect life. But every one of us has the opportunity to experience perfect grace through a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.
Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? You can pray it right now, and Jesus Christ will come into your life, just as He promised.
Is this the life for you?
If you invited Christ into your life, thank God often that He is in your life, that He will never leave you and that you have eternal life. As you learn more about your relationship with God, and how much He loves you, you’ll experience life to the fullest.
Article by Tonya Hagey
Photo Credit by Masterfile
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