Every Body is an Aerial Body

January 2024


Clare Liedstrand

Clare Liedstrand

Between seemingly endless highlight reels on social media and the pressure to commit to a resolution, the new year can be a pretty stressful time. If you haven’t had a perfect year, which, let’s face it, most of us haven’t, it can be draining to watch everyone’s glamorous highlight reel on social media, especially when it’s followed by a long list of resolutions. Resolutions can be a helpful tool for accountability in one’s journey of self-improvement, but they can often put a lot of pressure on people and promote unhealthy lifestyle changes. Whether you’re starting your aerial journey or getting back to it, it’s especially important to be kind to yourself this time of year.

For those of us returning to the studio after the holiday break, it can feel daunting and disappointing if our progress isn’t where it was before. Many of us (me included) are recovering from winter colds, jet-lagged by long journeys, or simply out of practice. Taking breaks from exercise, and life, to spend time with our loved ones and get some rest are certainly worthwhile, but it can be difficult to return to our routines after. Sometimes it feels like getting back in the groove of things can be just as difficult as starting in the first place because we expect to be able to pick up right where we left off. But progress isn’t linear, and no matter how hard we work, nobody stays at 100% every day. Even if you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to, a bad training day still counts as progress, even if it feels like we’ve taken a step backwards sometimes.

Many of us may be going to the studio for the first time this January. According to a poll by Forbes magazine, the top three new year’s resolutions for 2024 were to exercise more, lose weight, and improve diet. While there’s nothing wrong with encouraging a healthy lifestyle, I think it’s more important than ever that we take care about how we have these conversations. The prevalence of eating disorders is rising in the UK, especially among teenagers and even children, with social media being a driving factor for many individuals. So many of the conversations about exercise, both online and off, focus on dramatic weight loss transformations and how your body looks, but as someone who suffers from an eating disorder, I think it’s essential that we shift the conversation towards how exercise can make us feel and how it can improve our mental and physical health.

When I started my aerial journey, I had a very unhealthy relationship with exercise and food, but aerial has given me the tools to heal. I have Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID, which is an eating disorder involving the restriction of one’s diet to a limited number of foods, which can result in nutritional deficiencies and weight changes. At the height of my eating disorder, I was severely underweight, to the point where my bones hurt when I laid down and my hair started falling out. To be that thin is extremely limiting. Being dizzy, nauseous, and exhausted all the time sucked the fun out of life and made otherwise enjoyable activities into chores. I spent years just wishing I could rest and no matter how much I did, it was never enough.

Aerial was the ideal environment for me to start enjoying exercise. At Flying Fantastic, there’s a wonderfully supportive environment where everyone is rooting for each other, rather than competing with each other. It feels like it’s more about having fun and getting some exercise, rather than trying to score points or compete with others. Every aerial studio that I’ve been to has been an incredibly supportive environment. 

I find aerial to be incredibly useful for reducing stress, even after leaving the studio. It may seem contradictory that flying through the air and falling towards the ground would reduce stress, but I think that it can break the mental link between the feeling of anxiety and the idea that something bad is inevitable. With anxiety, there is the fear that something bad is coming and you can’t stop it. When you do a drop in silks or slings, you have to override the feeling of fear by letting go and having faith that your apparatus will catch you. In doing so, you separate the feeling of falling with the fear of falling. It teaches your body and mind that the physical and mental experience of anxiety isn’t a predictor of the future. Landing safely starts to feel like a more realistic outcome and, over time, quiets the anxious voice in your head. Sometimes, learning to fall is just as important as learning to fly. 

To move my body deliberately and with purpose taught me that my body is capable of strength, something I never thought would be possible for me. I had never thought of myself as an athletic person and I had always been pretty out of shape, so I had normalised feeling tired and sick all the time, assuming everyone else felt the same way but was just better at dealing with it than me. Exercise has the incredible power of regulation; my sleep, appetite, and mood are all much more predictable and manageable because of exercise. 

No matter what body you have today, it’s not more important or valuable than the one you had yesterday or the one you will have tomorrow. Body positivity can, and should, mean loving your body not just for its outward appearance, but loving what our body does for us every day, loving how our body feels when we care for it, and loving what our body makes us capable of. My new-found strength taught me that my body is more than an inconvenient flesh sack moving my brain from one location to another. It is something that can create joy in movement, in dance, in sport, and in art. My body gives me the strength to walk the streets of great cities and climb mountains, and while I appreciate the view, I’ve grown to care more for the journey, and the privilege that it’s one I’m able to take at all. Every body is an aerial body, it just takes the courage to begin.

If you think you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, here are some resources: BEAT Eating Disorders and Helplines

Clare Liedstrand is a London-based American writer with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a background in mental health research. She is an amateur pole dancer and aerialist, focusing on flying trapeze and spin pole. She has been featured on the digital magazine Inspire the Mind and their podcast, at the Back of Your Mind, for her eating disorder advocacy. Read more via the links below:
How aerial arts saved me from my eating disorder
ARFID: The eating disorder you haven't heard of
Listen to Clare on the At the Back of Your Mind podcast

BEAT Eating Disorders - ARFID
Forbes - New Year Resolution Statistics
Forbes - Eating Disorders in Children
ARFID Awareness UK