Why we struggle with body image

Zoe McNulty, body image

Let me introduce myself.

My name is Zoe McNulty and I’m the Headmistress of School of Strut, “the sassiest school in the STRUTosphere” where we help women (not exclusively) to feel fabulous regardless of shape or size, through the medium of dance and I’ve been asked to write a few words about why we struggle with body image.

I’m a size 16/18 dancer and fitness instructor. My body shape has fluctuated wildly and pretty regularly over the last 20 years but thankfully my body shape and the judgement that comes along with it hasn’t stopped me from getting to the top of my game. In fact my body shape has literally shaped my career. With many doors being closed to me I’ve had to forge my own path and work with what my mama gave me.

I opted out of diet culture several years ago and I’ve spent the last two years really getting to grips with understanding Body Positivity (it’s a political movement) and embracing my body just as it with all its “flaws” (as others would describe them). But like many of us, my poor body image began in my childhood.

  • I owned and loved Barbies.
  • I think I went on my first diet around the age of 12. I learned how to count and cut calories.
  • Mum ran a slimming club.
  • I was chunkier than the other girls at dance school. My thighs were thicker and my tummy stuck out more than theirs.
  • Growing up I had always dreamed of being a backing dancer on Top of the Pops but when it came to deciding on a career I avoided the Commercial Dance scene for fear of being regularly body shamed.

These days even more so the “beauty ideal” bombards us daily, on the telly, in magazines, on products, advert hoardings and social media: a very narrow view of what beauty is – the natural ectomorph: tall, slim, long blond hair, blue eyes, smooth white skin (although what is more “fashionable” now is the Kim K “exaggerated butt, boobs and lips” look). Interestingly however, only 5% of the world’s population naturally have this look. Almost ALL images you see on a daily basis have been altered. No one actually looks like the person in the photo. Not even the person in the photo.

“Thin Privilege” is so prevalent within our culture that it is completely understandable as to why people are desperate to lose weight or so fearful of gaining weight. Thin privilege refers to how society is set up for thin/slim individuals moving the world being granted certain advantages over those who are not thin

But how did I overcome the need to be slimmer?

My journey began about 12 years ago. I started teaching high heel dance classes because I was asked to by the rather forward thinking chain of gyms I worked for. I noticed the immediate boost in body confidence felt by my participants of all shapes and sizes. Even though I was firmly established within the Fitness Industry which is all about setting future goals and getting visible results over time, it dawned on me that within the space of an hour, with some sassy dance moves and a little strutting, I could engender a more permanent and beneficial change than any amount of weight loss or body manipulation. In helping my clients to let go of inhibitions in a safe, friendly environment, they become far more open to the possibility that maybe, just maybe their bodies are ok. Just as they are.

I also began putting myself “out there” in order to prove myself right: that confidence can come from within, not because of others’ acceptance of you and in fact IN SPITE of others’ judgements. I entered a “swimsuit competition”: I found a body building competition with a sub category for curvy ladies and whilst I was nervous about getting my thighs out in public, I practiced what I preached and strutted the shizzle out of that stage. I won, in spite of not being the slimmest, youngest or prettiest.

More recently I went a step further and in my larger body (several years later and a couple of dress sizes bigger) I strutted through Trafalgar Square in my bra and thong for the Real Catwalk. This was organised by Khrystyana from America’s Next Top Model to campaign for diversity within the fashion industry. This was for me the final frontier: exposing my mid section which I had spent many years hiding and sculpting with ridiculous shape wear. My goodness, I can’t fully express how empowering it was! By the end of the afternoon I actually didn’t want to put my clothes back on.

I’m not saying that you need you to expose yourself in order to feel the benefits of body positivity.  But learning to love your body just as it is, right now will be one of the most beneficial things you will ever do. If not for yourself and the endless hours, months, decades you could save yourself worrying about your figure, then do it for the next generation. I promise you, a little strutting goes a long way!

You can join me at my next Strut Summit in Highgate, London on October 6th, 2:30pm-4:30pm. Tickets are still on sale at the early bird cost of £45 plus booking fee.


If you can’t make that, I have a monthly Strutology Social at Pineapple Dance Studios the last Friday of each month (next one:Sept 28th, 8pm-9pm, £20 plus booking fee).


And if you can’t make it to a live event, try my online trainings:


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