Puberty – it can easily comprise some of the most awkward, uncomfortable years of your life.
But how about going through all of it whilst wearing a leotard?
I spent about ten years at quite a competitive dance college, starting when I was four years old and working my way up through the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus. I loved it at times, and hated it at times. But there was one aspect of the ballerina life I’ll never forget – the body insecurity it breeds.
Whilst for most teenage girls, the years of feeling insecure and negative about your changing body starts when you’re in your early teens, because of ballet, it started when I was ten.
I remember the moment so clearly.
My ballet teacher was leading the class in some barre work and was correcting our posture, as usual, before the exercise began.
Then she made one final comment.
“Swifty,” she said, “Suck in that kangaroo pouch you’ve got there. You look like a pregnant woman.”
Just to repeat, I was ten years old. And I had just started going through puberty.
I remember how much that comment stung at the time. I was so incredibly embarrassed. My teacher had said that in front of the entire class and then carried on as if nothing had happened.
I don't remember much from when I was ten, but I'll never forget that.
As a little girl, wearing skin tight leotards wasn't too much of an issue. Then puberty started, and I started to get boobs, which, all of a sudden, did not fit inside my leotard in the way I wanted them to.
And then my little tummy pooch - that we all have - started growing. I had lumps on my body where there wasn't before, and I had nothing to hide them under. Nothing but a small blue piece of fabric and some skin-coloured tights.
All of a sudden, I had to be self-conscious about lifting my arms above my head (which you do a lot of in ballet, unsurprisingly), because there was hair growing under my arms where there hadn't been before.
And then came my period. I cannot possibly describe to you how awkward I found having my period in a leotard was at the time. I was completely terrified of tampons and so a pad - concealed as best as I could by my stockings, leotard and bike shorts - had to do. I remember counting down the minutes until those classes were over.
Finally, there were the diet concerns. I remember going to my after school classes and being given money by my mum to get some afternoon tea. I would buy a delicious pastry from the bakery, come into the college to eat it before class, and then see the older, full-time students eating carrot sticks and plain rice crackers. I felt so embarrassed that I would put it away and eat it in secret between classes.
Ballet made going through puberty so much harder because of how body conscious the whole discipline forces you to be from such a young age. From the moment my teacher so publicly shamed me for my growing body, I couldn't look at myself without being critical ever again.
The ballet world was harsh, competitive and intense. It made your feet bleed and your muscles ache.
But all of that is bearable when you compare it to how negative of an effect it can have on a young girl's body image. Whilst not all experiences were as bad as mine, the ballet world can breed a dangerous obsession with having a very specific body type, which is desperately thin. Eating disorders are rife within the professional world.
Ballet is still a beautiful art form and I have so much respect for the dancer's that work hard to perform for other's enjoyment - but my own experience in the ballet world made me realise that everything, including something as wonderful as dance, comes at a price.