I saw this on a T-shirt at the American Circus Educators Conference in Montreal this summer, and it has stayed with me. What a fortunate thing it is to walk into the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts every day, and be surrounded by women who compete with how many pullups they can do, not with how few calories they can consume.
Circus has taught me that the important thing about the body is what it can do. Whether it fits into society’s traditional image of beauty is unimportant. Take one look at that woman inverting herself on the trapeze, climbing a rope, or balancing in a handstand – and tell me that isn’t beautiful. It doesn’t matter in the least what she’s wearing or what she weighs – those muscles, in their effort and control, their sweat and their engagement – those are beautiful. Those show off a woman who has power in her world.
My life was changed by circus nearly twenty years ago. On my first day of aerials class (I had signed up for a two-week intensive, with no idea what I was getting myself into at circus school) I was tossed up a rope by my merciless coach, and run through pull-ups, tuck-ups to pike, and sit-ups on the trapeze bar. And when I woke up on Day 2 – and couldn’t lift my arms, but somehow had to make it back to aerials class – that is when I began to learn about strength.
Circus people train hard. They seek perfection in pointed toes and well-executed flips. They are tough on themselves over poor practice days, over mental barriers and stage fright and self-promotion. But there is no nonsense when it comes to proper fuel. What drives us is the build of strength and skills.
“Strong is the new skinny” – I like this slogan because it’s saying that in the next generation of women, we might all care a whole lot more about how far we can run and how much weight we can lift, rather than our jeans size. The men in our lives already celebrate our strength – they are the first to cheer when we make it to the top of that rope or cross that finish line. Now we just have to give ourselves the same permission to celebrate.
Ladies photographed for this blog post, congratulations on your hard work, and your beauty, and thank you for being role models.