Pole: Objectification or Empowerment?

I started pole fitness a year and a half ago after I heard there was a beginner’s class starting nearby, it sounded fun and I love trying new activities, so I thought I’d give it a go. I was already a synchronised swimmer at the time so I had some strength and flexibility but I was looking to try something a little different.

From my very first class

Pole fitness is a relatively new term used to describe exercise combining acrobatics, gymnastics and dance around a pole, although it can also be referred to as pole dancing or just pole. People have been performing on poles acrobatically or as strength training for other sports since the 12th century and it was only around the 1920s that it became associated with stripping. There are lots of types of pole dancing nowadays; some of it is more like contortion, others like modern dance, some people wear 10” heels and there is even a bid to get pole fitness into the Olympics. So it’s easy to see why there might be some misinterpretation if I were to tell people that I’m a pole dancer, because what does that even mean?

If we look at the Oxford dictionary definition of pole dancing (and perhaps the first meaning people think of) it’s quite obvious where some misunderstanding may occur: ‘Erotic dancing which involves swinging around a fixed pole’. So I understand why people might judge me if I say I’m a pole dancer, hence I always refer to myself as doing pole fitness.

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 8.11.37 pm

A move I’m still working on

If I fear the judgement of people thinking I’m a stripper, I might also have to be wary of some feminists, as the London Abused Women’s Centre made this statement in a Facebook post last September:

“Pole fitness emerged from pole dancing in strip clubs — where women, whether there by ‘choice’ or not, are sexually objectified by men. They are leered at and groped at by men who view them as objects for their own sexual gratification. Women and girls are also sex-trafficked into strip clubs and other areas of the sex trade. Pole fitness cannot be separated from this history and context.

Heavy, I know. I knew the implications of term ‘pole dance’ but I wasn’t aware pole fitness could also be considered ‘perpetuating sexism’. Am I a bad feminist for continuing to go to pole classes?

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 8.11.44 pmThis is from a couple of weeks ago

I guess it’s just personal opinion because to me pole is empowering. I feel strong because I can lift hold my whole body up with just my arms, cool because sometimes (if I stretch enough) I can get my head to touch my feet and I have never felt more comfortable in my own body (the fact that I feel able to show people photos of me doing pole in just a sports bra and shorts is evidence of that). To me feminism is about equality and is not related to my choice in sporting activities, but it would be interesting to hear from someone who thinks differently.

In terms of fitness, it’s really beneficial. It improves your strength and endurance as well as building lean muscle mass which increases your metabolic rate so you burn more calories at rest. It comes with all the usual side effects of exercise; stronger heart, stronger bones, helps prevent obesity, releases endorphins yadda yadda… it makes you feel good, makes you stronger and I feel cool as heck when I nail a move if I’m honest.

I love learning new moves on the pole and pushing the limits of my flexibility and strength even if it can be painful. I’m often bruised and sliding down the pole slowly, upside down, just to get to the ground because I can’t figure out which arm or leg I can take off the pole without falling to my death, is a regular occurrence.

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 8.14.27 pm

A painful move

I would absolutely recommend anyone (man or woman) who has the opportunity to try it to do so and if after reading all of this your worried about what people might think, all I can say is, if they’re going to judge you anyway, you might as well do whatever makes you happy.

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