Recently making a transition from Dance Theatre of Harlem to Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Jenelle Figgins is a ballerina who celebrates ownership not only through dance but through her body. Growing up, Jenelle was surrounded by women that empowered her body shape: Her older sister Dionne Figgins was a ballerina as well as her dance mentor, and on top of that Jenelle's twin sister Samantha is also a professional ballerina. In my Body Celebration Interview, Jenelle reveals her secret to embracing her body shape.
Describe your body shape in 3 words?
Petite, athletic, ever changing.
Where is your favorite body feature?
I really love my lower abdomen. Lets super strong but feminine.
What made you go into your industry?
I decided to go into this industry, one, to take advantage of all the opportunities that are available as a professional dancer: travel, creativity, self-expression, and self-discovery. I’ve found out a lot about myself as a dancer, both physically and mentally, that came in the form of the most poetic challenges. Secondly, as I approached my accent into my life as a professional I thought it was important to maintain a sense of transparency in my work. Ballet has such a facade that comes out of the original concept that dancers are to be seen as otherworldly. I‘ve often felt that when looking at dancers they lose their humanity. We are able to do amazing things, things that most people cannot, but we are still people, so I aim to be as relatable as possible. Enforcing the idea that we all have the potential to do amazing things but at the end of the day, we are all the same. I think it’s really beautiful to see artists that can maintain an apparent and strong sense of self.
What have been the challenges you’ve faced about your body shape within your industry?
I've been blessed to not have many challenges presented from my industry itself but most of the challenges have been self-imposed. My industry, unfortunately, comes with a bit of body dysmorphia and hypercritical tendencies. Depending on the day I can feel extremely good about my body or criticize every little thing that seems out of place. Some days I love my butt, others I hate it. I feel fat some days even though I know that’s not true at all. I think a lot of dancers struggle with that but it’s often a total fabrication. I think it,s normal to go back and forth about the way you feel about your body but in this profession, it can be a bit obsessive.
At what point did you start to accept the changes within your body shape?
As I'm getting older and really coming into my womanhood, I still struggle with the classical aesthetic of my body, thinking that I'm too skinny and that I look like a child. I want to look like a woman with curves and not so boney but that’s an absurd idea because women come in all shapes and sizes. It’s an ongoing process to accept my body because it's always changing but I‘ve found more love for it recently because I know that regardless of my profession and ethnicity the body that I've been given is a beautiful one and it's a gift to know that.
Do you think within your culture/environment has changed attitudes towards accepting all types of the female body shape?
I've struggled a lot as a black women and ballet dancer because I want to fit into both ideas of body types and I straddle that line to at. I’ve recently found that its a waste of time, energy, and identity. When I go home the ﬁrst people just want to do is feed me because they think I'm too skinny and when I get in a studio or in my work I criticize myself about certain parts of my body being too big, i.e. my butt and thighs. It’s a conflicting feeling. Am I not thick enough? Is my butt getting in the way of my arabesque? Your environment and culture definitely informs your perception of what is beautiful but more so what is acceptable. My attitude has definitely changed as I‘ve come to love and not obsess over my own body but within the two communities, I exist in (professionally and culturally) I think that idea is changing subtly which is amazing. People are becoming more aware that there is not one standard of beautiful and even if it's a small advancement. progress is progress.
What would you tell your 15-year-old self about your body?
I'd tell my 15-year-old self that your body will be changing your entire life but it is yours and yours alone. I'd tell myself to not compare myself to others and not to try to fit into what the world thinks is acceptable. If you take care of it, pay attention to your health before your appearance and love it, it'll be everything you want it to be.
How do you celebrate your body shape?
I celebrate it in so many ways. I give attention to the minor things like putting on lotion, eating well, not speaking ill of it. I've stopped wearing bras and that is somehow empowering. I walk around my house in vintage slips and not for anyone but myself. I love my body and that alone is celebration enough.
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