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I had a heartbreaking conversation the other night with a lively young woman who had just a few minutes before been enjoying herself in class, wearing a luminous smile as she twirled and spun around. She stopped me after class to talk a bit, and in the middle of our chat she said nervously, “What happens if someone doesn’t feel it? Sexy or confident? I mean, I know I’m not pretty.” She looked me right in the eyes as she said it, and I know she meant it.   I was completely taken aback. A dozen competing thoughts whirled around in my head as I wondered just how to respond to this woman. A horrible if-then chart unfolded in my head. Standards of beauty are purely a function of culture and society, and why do culture and society get to decide what physical traits make someone appealing or pleasing? Does being pretty make you more valuable as a human being? Of course not. But tell that to someone who doesn’t see herself as pretty. Or to someone who has been told straight out that she’s not pretty enough, which in turn somehow makes her not worthy enough. Not worthy enough for what? It doesn’t matter. If even one time you’ve felt like you were on the outside looking in because of your physical appearance, you have been in this woman’s shoes. I wanted to tell her “But yes, yes, you are pretty” and at the same time I realized that would ring hollow to her. And if I told her that, then wasn’t I buying into the whole beauty = worth bullshit? In the end, what I told her was something to the effect of this: pole dancing does a lot of things to transform a woman. I have seen it happen time and again. For most of us, confidence is a happy by-product of what we do. We get stronger, and with that physical strength comes an appreciation of what we are capable of. So until you learn to accept your own beauty, under your own definitions of what it means to be beautiful, enjoy your woman-ness through dance. Thrive within it. Explore what it is to be a woman. Appreciate what you can, and try your best to ignore the voice of doubt. It’s loud. I know it’s loud. I hope she heard — really heard — my words. And now I’m asking those of you reading this to start a revolution with me. Look beyond the physical in yourself, so that you can look beyond the physical in others. Make an effort to APPRECIATE yourself. Dare I say, make an effort to LOVE yourself.

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