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The Lens of Women


I own a pole dancing and aerial studio. There I said it! Normally when I start off with someone new it’s always “ I own an aerial studio” because that’s safe. Aerial is cool, it’s Cirque Du Soliel and prestigious. Pole is seedy and dirty and immediately invokes a certain perception. So normally I leave it out and as I begin talking and getting to know someone I finally fess up. It’s not because I’m ashamed, it’s because people can be judgmental as all hell! But that’s not what this is about although it’s important to know.

What I do for a living can be extremely healing, empowering and therapeutic for many people, women in particular. Women come in often thinking there’s no way in hell they can do this because their not super skinny, not super fit or flexible, they don’t think their young enough or coordinated, sexy, graceful or any of the other 5 million things they focus on. This is their space to learn that they are strong, beautiful, sexy, graceful and anything else they strive to be and I’ve worked really hard to create that feeling and a space that offers this. So on a night like tonight when yet another male photographer comes in to shoot pictures for an upcoming article I immediately get tense. Why you ask? I’ll tell you why! It’s because every freakin time without fail the dude that comes in, chats with me to go over the class, lighting, etc.  and I explain my vision and goal for my studio and wait.

I wait to see one thing and that is if he’ll here me and focus on capturing a bit of all the beautiful women in my studio or will he focus on the 2% that are young twenties and look like they could be a Victoria’s Secret model. I love all my students and each one deserves to shine but the problem with focusing on “the hot girls” isn’t about the girls themselves, it’s about this idea that they are the only ones worthy of being seen. That is infuriating to me as someone that constantly tells students they are amazing and sees them as the beautiful goddesses they all are. Yes the ones that look like models or professional aerialists are beautiful and should feel that way but they are not the only version of beauty in this world. Yet they are who often gets focused on and that is why so many women have issues seeing themselves as worthy and safe to hold space in our society. The ones who are showcased often are showcased in a way that makes them look like a sex doll. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a male photographer or videographer at a pole show, competition or expo and you look at pictures afterwards or video and there’s always a zoom in on their asses and pussies. God help her if she’s touching herself or making the face doing a sexy routine because that will definitely be zoomed in on.

It happens every time and while yes most of us are showing off for the performance because we can and should be able to it doesn’t mean we want to get back a bunch of crotch shots or stills that could be used for the cover of a porn. We’re expressing ourselves in a way that is for us, not for some dude to publish so other dudes can jerk off to it. But every time that is how we’re represented but that’s not the worst of it. Because for any of us that are curvy ladies, not in our 20s or even 30s, don’t look like a playmate we end up getting very little shot of us. We’ll go through pictures days after the event is over and notice that the hot girls have many frames and there will be two, maybe three of us. It’s heartbreaking because it sends a message to us immediately that we aren’t worthy of being seen. We are less than and should be hidden.

But this doesn’t just happen in my industry, it happens everywhere and it’s disgusting. How often do we see an ad campaign and there’s one token plus size model or black model or model that is alternative in some way. The way they are captured is usually all the same and it’s always done in a way that doesn’t say sexy or hot or beautiful. Then the hot girls, the conventional beauties are shown as being well…doable. Now I do understand that it is a step forward to even see a model or women pictured that does not fit the standard and for that I’m glad but we need to do better. Yes, the person or company hiring the photographer or videographer needs to do better in advocating for what they want and make sure it represents all women in a way that values them. But what about the photographers that don’t listen, like tonight.

After I explained what my studio was about and what to do and not do the photographer got to work. When he first came in he was nice enough but it immediately turned south. One of my 2% students was in. She’s a beautiful mid twenties that is a performer and has the body of one. In the hour he was taking pictures he focused 90% of his time on her. He even got in the way of another student just to shoot this one. I had to ask him to back up because my other student wasn’t speaking up and not able to enjoy the class in the way she wanted. I was livid as I started watching these women who support and cheer each other on and themselves become one by one withdrawn and insecure. These women were essentially being told by this guy that they didn’t matter, they weren’t important and had less value and it broke my heart. I wanted to scream but I kept my composure and pulled him aside to explain I wanted to see the diversity in women of my studio represented. The response I got was the typical “I’m going to go with the best shot”. That’s douche for “I’m going to submit the ones of the one I’d bang if I was younger and not married”.  It left a horrible taste in my mouth and a promise to speak to the editor.

I wish I could say this isn’t the norm but it is. Women are often valued or undervalued based solely on their aesthetic. We are so conditioned to see a tall, slim, tanned blonde when we think of a bikini model because that’s typically what we’re given. The women who look like that aren’t to blame or at fault and should never be judged for the way they look. But they also shouldn’t be seen as better then simply for that. We are constantly being told who and what we are and if we matter or not based on the images we see everyday and narrative those images give us. Men, we are not a commodity and we do get to matter whether you are attracted to us or not. You make an assumption that we even want you when you decide you want us. You make an assumption that we aren’t beautiful because you have decided what beautiful is without looking at us as more then our bodies. Yes, men are visual creatures but when a photographer goes in to do a shoot for a magazine he’s assuming all men find the same aesthetic beautiful and that’s not true at all. Men, like women, can be attracted to women of all different shapes and sizes and ages but that’s not the point.

The point is we aren’t here for you to decide if we’re attractive enough to be seen or not. We’re here to be seen and when you come into a space that’s safe in a world where most of us fear being assaulted, harassed, judged please understand how special it is for women to have a space where no one is less then. So often we are pitted against each other or taught that some of us deserve to shine and some of us deserve to hide away unseen and unheard. It’s hard to find spaces where we can all belong and tampering with that can destroy hours if not years of work. I can’t wait for the day when the women we see represented daily looks like the beautiful collage that represents our society. Until then, gentlemen get your cameras out of our asses and pussies and  stop giving the rest of us a pitiful two or three shots as a consolation prize for breathing.
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Self Protection/Self Sabotage

Most of us have experienced self sabotage in our lives and most of us are aware on some level we do it. It may be with relationships, money, health. Whatever it is it can be a viscous cycle of getting so close to a goal or stage in our lives we want and then watching it all crash down around us. Why do we do it though? It never feels good when we see it happen and it never leaves us any better off then we were before. In fact, the longer we continue this ugly process of giving ourselves a little of what we truly want and then pushing it away everything gets worse and worse and worse. From there we have two choices, either get to the root of why this is happening and do something about or spend the rest of our lives never having what we really desire. Yes that sounds extreme but we’ve all come across someone we’ve seen living just a miserable existence and wondering what the fuck went wrong. Most likely it was a lot of things that just build up to create a mountain of failures, disappointments, set backs, hurts and they got so weighed down they never tried to get back up. Sounds sad as hell right? It is and it happens to too many people.

But why does it happen, what starts it all? It’s usually one hurt stemming from either a single event or person in our lives and most likely at a younger age. Many of us aren’t quite aware of what that incident was or if we are we aren’t cognizant enough to understand all the ways that person or event is effecting our lives. For me, money has always been an issue. I have struggled to get myself to a financial place I have dreamed of or wanted. I’ve gone through consistent cycles where I’ve attracted money, maybe not quite the amount I wanted but definitely more than what I had been making, and then the next month watched myself make even less than I normally do till the point that it evens out. It’s defeating and add stresses like not bringing in enough to cover bills, cover rent, worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to get my daughter anything for Christmas, feeling like a failure for not being where I wanted at any stage in my life it’s overwhelming. I didn’t quite always understand why this was happening though. Not until I dove deeper into self discovery and really started working on myself.

I have done several coaching programs, read countless books, followed dozens of podcasts and YouTube videos of different speakers and coaches. My three personal favorites out of all of them are Lisa Nichols, Layla Martin and Regena Thomashauer aka Mama Gena. Male coaches I can enjoy but their energy never quite spoke to me the way these incredible women have and each have taught me similar things in different ways or very different things but all related to similar areas of my life. But all three have promoted living your truth and living in joy. As I’ve learned from them I started understanding how deeply my lack of self love and self belief went and knew it effected why I wasn’t having the success in my business that I wanted to have, why my romantic relationships always ended up being catastrophes, why I didn’t feel like I had the kind of friendships I always wanted and the list goes on and on. I knew those feelings were there but I couldn’t quite get to the root of them to overcome them and “fix them” (there’s a reason I’m putting that in quotes by the way). I just felt stuck and like something was in me that I desperately wanted and needed to clear out. It felt as if physical muck was just sitting inside my chest and throat and I wanted to reach in and pull it out.

But I had no idea how or what this all really was until I learned an exercise doing Lisa’s Abundance Now course and a similar exercise in Layla Martin’s VITA Coach Certification ( I highly recommend both). The exercises have the same goal but different techniques. Both exercises are all about discovering with clarity why you have the blocks you have. Blocks are those lovely little things holding you back and most of us again have an understanding that we have them but we don’t always understand the root of them. Many coaches or personal development courses talk about moving past blocks and getting into an abundant mindset. The problem I have found with a lot of others is while their promoting a mindset change they aren’t dealing with your current mindset and what created so all those self sabotage issues aren’t actually being faced. But with Lisa, Layla and Mama Gena I started facing the things that held me back and discovered something just fucking mind blowing! I discovered that this all came from a place of self protection.

I spent so much time trying to fight past my demons and fix them which wasn’t working and I was never moving past them. But when I did some work to sit with and meet my shadow self I realized she was the little girl still inside me that was hurt because her mother never really loved her, saw her or cared about her. That little girl so desperately wanted her mother to value her and hear her and never felt cared about. I have a wonderful father who encouraged me to shine but the woman in my life who was supposed to be the most influential and most important didn’t care. So I grew up feeling unseen and unimportant and being someone that serves women in my daily profession it now makes so much sense why things just weren’t working. How could I surround myself with women to help them heal, grow, thrive and become empowered when deep down I felt none of that because I was still waiting for someone to make me feel and experience all those things about myself? I couldn’t! I don’t have a relationship with my mother given her toxicity which I’ll go deeper later on how to deal with removing people from your life. However, I have done a lot of work and still do meeting that shadow side and giving it space to express itself.

Our shadow side isn’t something we can get rid or fix because it’s part of us. We can meet it, talk to it to understand why it’s created all those blocks and behaviors that hold us back and give it space to feel heard and loved. Doing that is absolutely necessary in working past them to have what you really want. For me, I have come to and understanding with my shadow side and allow myself to converse with it so as anything comes up for me I can understand what’s really going on. It’s not easy and requires facing things like massive insecurity, feeling like I can’t be my authentic self for fear of being rejected or unheard but it’s so worth it in the end. I may not have everything I want yet but my overall joy in life is so much better. I’ve done work with my shadow self through meditating and visualizing that part of me and asking it questions, I’ve written the question why over and over while thinking of a block to get answers out, I’ve written letters to myself to give it love and apologize for ignoring it. Each time I do that or anything else I start to feel more connected, more vibrant and alive.

If you haven’t done anything like this for yourself try it. It’ll feel weird at first but it’s so worth it. I also highly recommend checking out the incredible coaches and their books and if you’re in the Columbus Ohio area I’d love to have you join me for my Sensual Power course where we start diving in and beginning the journey of self love ❤

The song that’s taken me throughout my journey!
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Rediscovering Magic

Franklin Park Conservatory

When I was young I loved Christmas lights. Seeing hundreds of twinkling lights in multi-colored brilliance always made me feel some spark of magic inside. It’s the same feeling from a grand fireworks display or wishing upon a shooting star. Kids have this spectacular ability to experience magic in the smallest, most innocent things in life. It’s what allows them to believe in Santa, fairies and magical realms they could slip into just inside their closet. I can’t tell you how often I played in my closet as a kid and had this entire world imagined that was a combination of Candy Land and The Nutcracker. My imagination had no bounds and I had absolutely no problem telling my dad or anyone else about this make believe world I’d created within my young mind. All young kids have this unfailing capacity to be not only proud of their imaginings but they will defend them vehemently.

Somewhere along the line though we stop believing in the magic of the world around us and stop imagining what could be. Someone makes fun of us or demands we grow up and there’s this cruel notion that to be an adult we are no longer aloud to dream or believe in magic. We become cynical and jaded as we stop trying to be the person we fantasized about becoming when we were young. It happens every time and we wonder why so often in our adulthood why we just kinda feel like blah about everything! Our idea of fun is to plan out a vacation once a year if we’re lucky that stresses us the fuck out to plan, we don’t enjoy it entirely because we’re so stressed about making sure we do all the activities and then we come home no better except now we’re really freakin annoyed at the idea of having to back to work. How is that living? It’s not!

Our existence isn’t meant to be one where we just go through the motions with little bursts of joy and magic. We’re meant to live a full life and that life includes magic. Feeling the pure ecstasy of magic can transform how we live our lives and the great part is there isn’t one way to do it. We all find sheer joy in different things and all that’s necessary is to figure out what they are. Once you do, find a way to incorporate them in your life regularly. You may not be able to go see Christmas lights and fireworks year round but you can sure as hell hang twinkle lights in your home, get out and appreciate the miracle of nature, have random dance parties in your living room simply because. Whatever you do just make it part of your life. When we’re in a state of joy and wonder we experience so many changes in varied aspects of ours lives. So make a list of yours and figure out what you can do to feel the magic!

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Love Thyself

The hardest thing in life sometimes is to love yourself truly. I mean, really love yourself and all of you. Every dark spot that holds all your failures, all the things you’re embarrassed or ashamed by as well as all the successes, moments you felt like you did or said something that made you genuinely proud of yourself. Everything all rolled up into the unique package that is you without anyone or anything saying anything different. Loving yourself that deeply for most of us is a challenge, and I will put money down right now that says some part of you thinks that’s an arrogant ass thing, loving all of yourself like the goddess you are. Most of us find the idea of that kind of love for oneself to be almost a vile concept because it sounds like what I’m saying is to believe you can do no wrong cause your just that awesome. There’s a catch to this idea. It doesn’t mean you’re unaware of your flaws and failings. It means that despite those things, you still love and believe in yourself and forgive yourself. It means you understand the dark sides of yourself, embrace them, and learn from them in the most gentle and loving way possible to continually grow and be the best version of you that you can be.

That kind of love is powerful, and sadly most of us aren’t taught to feel that type of deep self-adoration. If we are, there’s always outside forces challenging that, and many of us fall prey to those forces. We all have a moment in our life that started the catalyst for a path of self-hatred and disdain. But those moments or people or even that one person who told us we weren’t shit isn’t the one to blame for lack of self-love. Sure they helped it along and probably fueled it forward, picking up other toxic people and situations that beat us down. The real culprit is what wasn’t ingrained in us from day one. Many of us started life with a loving parent or two who thought the world of us. Not everyone had that, and that sets you back, but even when you do, it doesn’t ensure true self-love. It’s because that lesson of love is taught when things are easy. We’re born, and instantly we are perfect and beautiful and hearing that message, and yes, we are perfect and beautiful for being. However, what happens when we start growing and we make mistakes like knocking over a vase and breaking it, coloring on the walls, cutting off our hair with safety scissors (did that one and there’s a pic to prove it). Yes, these are everyday childhood things, and of course, our parents have to teach us not to do them because that’s their job and it’s how we learn. But as we keep growing and aging, we don’t have that person there to remind us that just because we screw up doesn’t mean we’re a shitty person. Just because we do stupid things sometimes doesn’t make us foolish, and sometimes you need to make a mistake to learn and grow.

Even if we get that, there’s still part of ourselves that feels instant guilt and regret making mistakes. Trust me, even with the most helpful role models; we can still struggle with that. This is coming from a woman whose meditation teaching father always told me when I was young that making mistakes was part of life. He said what’s most important is to take the lesson they give and learn from them. Yep, he’s pretty brilliant, I know, but do you think that wholly sunk in? Hell no! Because my subconscious still struggled, and I also had a shitty ass mom that berated me for even the slightest perceived mistake. She once kicked me out at the age of six, and to this day, I can’t tell you what at six years old I’d done to earn getting kicked out in a not so good neighborhood I might add. All I do know is I packed my strawberry shortcake suitcase probably with some stuffed animals and went to the curb cause I didn’t know how to get to my dad’s house or call him. So you could say I had two very opposing voices growing up and for those wondering, don’t worry, my dad was called. He picked me up as he did every other time I got kicked out until I stopped going to her house altogether. There’s an old saying about feeding the right wolf, and you’d think because, while my dad has his flaws, he showed and taught me unconditional love, I’d have listened to my dad. You’d be wrong because I grew to be hard on myself, and the moment someone didn’t like me, or I screwed up or wasn’t as good at something as someone else, I perceived myself as a bad person, stupid or not good enough. I only allowed myself to get so far ahead and let all the wrong voices to get in my head.

Why did I do this? Because I feed the wrong wolf and that wolf would be the one associated with my mother. I wanted desperately for her to love me. I wanted to be seen and appreciated by her and I never really was. As an adult it’s easy to say well fuck her she was an asshole. Yeah, she was, but child me just wanted her mommy to show her she mattered. I never got that and as I grew up adult me had some real fucked up romantic relationships with partners just like her. This is where we get self love screwed up. We search and search for outside validation to prove we’re worthy of love never quite finding what makes us feel whole. Because nothing and no one outside of us can make us feel that. I see friends who can’t stay single for more than five minutes because they’re just desperate to have something to fill a void. We don’t get reminded as we start growing up that our own self love is the most important love we’ll ever experience. As women, we are still taught by society that our worth is determined by the world. Men are taught that they only have value if they’re “a real man”.

No matter what we’re told at birth we stop hearing those messages early on that by existing we have value. I’m not promoting telling people they matter just because and never have to do anything in life. Definitely not advocating for a generation sitting around going “well I’m awesome so guess I don’t need to do anything”. Not at all but imagine if we all learned that each of were uniquely special and mattered from day one and continued hearing that. Imagine what would happen if we all just really loved ourselves and believed in ourselves as we entered adulthood. We would have a generation of people that dared to dream, respected each person in the world because they would understand that each person is special. It’d be pretty hard for this world to be as fucked up as it can be like that right?

It’s almost as if Mr. Rogers was onto something way back. He knew the importance of self love and he promoted it daily. Like many other people in my generation, I watched him religiously and was enamored with him and his messages. The only problem is he was fighting a world saying something very different. Society is a big entity and yes it’s hard to fight but more and more people are waking up and understanding why we have to change the way we see ourselves and each other. But how do we do it? Fred sadly isn’t here anymore to continue his beautiful show but his messages are still out there and we can learn from them. He never hid from discussing the dark things and that is a first step. Have a conversation with the dark parts of yourself and figure out why they exist and what they’ve been attempting to protect you from. They exist for a reason and instead of this idea that you need to just focus on good things and becoming better love and integrate the shadowy parts too. If you don’t they’ll keep ruling your life and you’ll keep getting into bad relationships, underachieving, holding yourself back and whatever else you do that doesn’t help you. Have a conversation and embrace what you’ve learned from those parts of you. Love your failures and short comings. When you can do that you can start really loving yourself and I promise your life will transform before your eyes!

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My mind is my body’s enemy

Coach Val here with a little story for you ladies! Back in 2009 I was two years into running my very first business, the first ever dedicated pole dancing and aerial arts studio right here in Columbus, Ohio. I was finally in my very own location, booking out tons of classes, being asked to perform for events and every single day of my life doing what I loved all while raising the most incredible little girl in the whole world. You wanna talk empowerment, how about an educated female business owner happily raising her daughter on her own. I was also fit and strong and flexible and just in my late twenties. Below is a picture of me at that time and while I may not have had a figure competitor physique or a size 2 I look at that picture today and feel a mix of pride and sympathy. 3e12ab8d-128f-4d28-958a-419d1d49ee1b

Now you may be thinking “girl what the hell are you feeling sympathy for if I tried that I’d be on my way to the hospital?!” Ladies, here’s where what we don’t see is more important than what we do. Yes, that image is strength and grace and sex appeal but what you don’t see is a woman slowly beating herself down, listening to horrible people tell her horrible things. What you don’t see is a woman who looked at that picture when it was first taken and thought she needed to loose weight, her stomach was fat, she wasn’t strong enough, she had too many stretch marks on her stomach and the list goes on. That woman ten years ago beat herself up over everything she saw wrong in that picture and you want to know why?  Because when I’d been performing for a band a few women had made comments about my stomach and I couldn’t let it go. Because women in my industry were doing pole tricks I couldn’t yet do and I let myself feel inferior to them. Because a few douchebag men had rejected me as not good enough to date so I believed if I just made my body better then I’d be good enough.

I let so many unnecessary and unworthy voices fill my head and put so much pressure on myself to be something more than I was that I forgot I was already amazing. I may not have been able to do certain gravity defying tricks but I was an amazing teacher and was told repeatedly what captivating performer I was. I let all those voices and thoughts creep into my head until over the years they filled it and I lived in a state of self doubt and a lack of self worth sprinkled with moments superficial confidence and faked self love. I spent everyday of my life trying to teach women to love themselves and their bodies and all the while I would cut myself down and let every mean comment fill me.

After years of this it destroyed my sense of self worth, my weight fluctuated, my business struggled, when I did date I dated unworthy men, I allowed people into my life who I knew weren’t good for me or helping me and ignored or lost contact with the ones who were. I shut them out and slowly shut down until I broke. I was doing ok as a mother but also unintentionally teaching my daughter to doubt herself and not let herself shine but she saw it all. The image I presented to the world and the one that I kept closed off. She saw me succeed and she saw me hide in a bathroom crying because I felt so worthless. My mind had become an enemy that I lived in everyday and even though I had periods where I’d do better, feel better it was just never 100%. It was a horrible thing for my wonderful daughter to watch and a lesson I work hard to correct.

So what happened to start changing this? Well you knowing the whole thing about the darkest night of the soul? Yeah, I lived that! My relationship with my fiancé had collapsed, my business was tanking and I’d had several people in it who were just not good for me at all and hadn’t been but I’d put them in positions I shouldn’t have and it blew up. On top of this, a few injuries I’d had just kept adding up to the point I was living in constant pain and I’d lost any sense of femininity, all my creativity and joy. My body was a wreck, my mind was a wreck and my life was a wreck. I finally hit the worst depression of my life and couldn’t get myself out. After that horrible background I picked myself up, with the support of my daughter and my dad I got myself into therapy, did some life coaching classes and started finding my voice again. This time though my real voice and I started looking back and seeing those old images of myself in a clear light.

Once I began healing I started writing a lot, figuring out where I’d gotten all these horrible stories about myself and working to replace them. I also started working on getting back in touch with myself and my body. I made the decision to be completely and utterly selfish and stop putting pressure on myself to do or love things I no longer did or maybe never did. I started finding things that genuinely made me happy, wearing things that genuinely made me feel good, doing things that I genuinely wanted to. I also started moving my body again but in ways I hadn’t truly in years that was all about loving and celebrating my femininity. That movement slowly started waking things up in me that hadn’t been awake in years or possibly ever if I’m being honest. That movement started teaching me something so important. It taught me to love myself, really love myself. Love my curves, my stretch marks that I was blessed with from giving birth to my beautiful daughter, love my flaws, my assets, all of it for better or worse.

Through all the pain and suffering I found a way for me to heal my relationship with my body that was uniquely mine. I learned to see where I am as worthy and even if I work to improve it I still love it for what it is. I decided though that I didn’t want to just do this for me anymore. I’ve spent 15 years teaching women and seeing their own struggles with their bodies and self image and I knew for me to be happy I needed to be back in a place where I was helping women do the same. I knew I wanted to be part of the change in women feeling beautiful, strong, sexy, confidence, vibrant and unapologetic. I wanted to see women shining and living in a state of self love so strong that every time they looked in the mirror they saw more gorgeous then bad and appreciated who they are. So I started writing and reaching out to women who wanted to do the same and I started delevoping what I did for me into a class I could give to women. I wanted a way to not just teach a dance but also a meditative practice that helps each women really get in tune with her body.

Once I had it all written out I knew it was time to act on it and through that Her Veil was created with my two other amazing coaches and our tribe was formed. Now all that’s left is to give it to each of you so all of you are able to clear those voices out of your heads that tell you your not enough and let yourselves shine bright!