Blog Posts

#BopoBallerina: How I Overcame Ballet’s Body Standards and Inspired Others

Article via Dance.com

I’m a dancer, and I’m an advocate for mental health, body-positivity and self-love. But even just a year ago, when anyone asked what I do, I simply said: “I’m a dancer.”

I recently launched the #BopoBallerina campaign as an effort to break the norms of dance-body types. And I want to share with Dance.com why I have.

For most of my teenage years, I was convinced the only thing I wanted to be was a dancer. My entire life revolved around dance. I was convinced that if I didn’t fit the typical dancer stereotype, I wasn’t worthy and couldn’t succeed as a dancer.

I started dancing when I was 3 years old. But I didn’t find my true love for dance until I was 13, when I left my recreational dance studio to delve into the world of competitive dance. After a summer ballet intensive at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, I switched studios again for more intensive training. At 16, I found Jennifer Napolitano’s School of Performing Arts on Long Island, NY. I joined their competition company and immediately clicked with their staff, especially the ballet teacher, Mrs. Claudia Marinescu.

As I grew more serious about dance, I started to struggle with my body. But it’s a struggle I’ve had to various degrees since I was little. I can remember dieting as young as 9 or 10 years old.

Negative thoughts continued as I noticed the “ideal dancer body” that the industry promotes. I have features that are considered desirable for dancers, such as well-arched feet, open hips and long, flexible, hyperextended legs.

What I don’t have naturally is a thin “ballerina body.” I was convinced that if I achieved this ideal, I would be a better dancer, get more attention, no longer hate my body, be healthier and land more featured roles. What started out as a simple diet ended up turning into an eating disorder and overwhelming anxiety that consumed my life for years.

For a while, I was convinced I was being healthy because people praised me for my weight loss. Little did they know, I was staying up late planning and tracking every bite of food — which was an amount far less than what anyone, especially someone as active as me, should be eating. I was weighing myself several times per day. I would spend large amounts of time figuring out exercises I could do to burn the few calories I ate. I was often lightheaded and felt weak during my dance classes. But I thought that was a normal part of “dieting.”
I began to get more attention because I was getting closer to the “ideal dancer body.”

What I was doing was far from ideal. No number on the scale would ever be low enough, and I wasn’t going to stop until I was “perfect.” The only thing these disordered behaviors did was consume my life with an unending level of self-hate. In addition, along with developing an unhealthy lifestyle, my anxiety was no longer that I would be dancing in the back, as in the corps de ballet. People often forget that eating disorders are legitimate mental illnesses. Also, in many cases, people who struggle with eating disorders have other co-occurring mental illnesses. In my case, I also struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Today, I am in a much healthier place, both mind and body. After finally recognizing that I no longer wanted to live my life trying to change my body, I’ve decided to change the world instead!

I can be more than just a dancer, and making that discovery has been more fulfilling than my mental illnesses ever will be.

I started Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in September, and it changed my life. I realized I didn’t need to live in a cycle of fear, self-hate and anxiety. I learned that hating my body wasn’t something I needed to do and the behaviors I was engaging in were not healthy. I’m still in therapy and, at each session, I am able to realize the progress I am making.

I have realized the beauty of imperfection and that striving to attain perfection will never make me happy. I have learned to start embracing my body for what it is and to no longer spend every moment trying to make it something it’s not. I have learned the power of vulnerability, authenticity and that being real is always better (and more relatable) than trying to portray a perfect life.

I’m currently a member of Long2 Dance Company, a contemporary company in New York that focuses on activism in dance. It’s a diverse company filled with talented dancers, and I am grateful for how they’ve supported my journey!

One of my proudest achievements that I’ve made since committing to recovery is my Instagram account/blog, @leenahlovesherself. It is dedicated to sharing my real life — the good, the bad and the in-between. On it, I preach my message of self-love, body-love, body-positivity and mental health advocacy. I strive to make my page inclusive for all types of people with all types of bodies.

I’ve had the privilege of having my campaign covered by Yahoo, A Plus, Dailymotion, National Eating Disorders Association, several international news sites and here on Dance.com!

Dance is an incredibly beautiful art and sport, and all people deserve to experience it, regardless of what they look like. It’s dangerous to only represent one body type in dance companies, brands and ads. Dancers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities, and it’s time for change. By perpetuating this ideal, we are making the dance world an unhealthy, unsafe place to be.

So now when someone asks me to introduce myself, I say: I’m a dancer, I’m a mental health/body-positivity/self-love advocate, I’m devoted to using dance to make a difference, and I’m determined to make the dance community a place where ALL feel safe, included, loved and welcome.

What is DBT?

Article via The Odyssey.

I am part of the 1 in 4 adults worldwide who struggle with mental illness. This past September I started Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and it has completely changed my life.

DBT was developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Marsha Linehan. It falls under the umbrella of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It pays particular attention to the psychosocial aspects of treatment, and as a result it is able to help people who struggle with intense emotions.

DBT has four modules: mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Within these four modules, there are many skills. Mindfulness is all about living in and valuing the present moment. Emotion regulation is about understanding the model of emotions, learning how to modify emotions when they are causing distress, and learning how to reduce emotional vulnerability. Distress tolerance is about building crisis survival skills. Interpersonal effectiveness is about how to interact with people in a healthier way and learning how to more effectively navigate relationships. One of the missions of DBT is to “build a life worth living.” Through learning DBT skills, people are able to learn how to navigate suffering in a more constructive, less painful way, and they are able to create lives that are very fulfilling.

Often, DBT is done in a group setting as well as on an individual basis, but sometimes (like in my case) it’s done solely on an individual basis. I meet with my therapist once a week for 45 minutes. Each week I have different homework assignments to complete based on the different skills that I’m working on that particular week, and those assignments tend to direct our session.

The only type of therapy I have done is DBT so I can’t speak for other forms of therapy, however, I find DBT to be incredibly effective and helpful. In just 7 months, I have managed to turn my life around. I have built a wide array of skills to use in many situations (I use a number of them daily!) that have allowed me to handle my struggles in a much more effective manner. It’s allowing me to tackle the roots of the issues, instead of just trying to push them away and forget about them like I did in the past.

While I have come a long way since I started DBT, I definitely still have a lot of hard work to do. I still struggle often, and I definitely still have bad days. However, I’m now learning that struggling isn’t weakness, and that therapy isn’t something to be ashamed of. Mental health is just important as physical health, and I am striving to raise awareness this Mental Health Month.

To find a therapist in your area, check out Psychology Today.

Why Mental Health Awareness Month Is So Important To Me

Article via The Odyssey.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year it is especially important to me.

This is my first Mental Health Awareness Month where I consider myself to be in recovery from my struggles with mental illness.

For many years, I suffered from an eating disorder and overwhelming anxiety. Starting when I was a little girl, I struggled with my body image and also had many perfectionistic tendencies. I started dancing at three years old, and as I got older, I got more serious about dance. However, as I got more and more serious about dance, my relationship with my body continued to get worse and worse. I was convinced that if I lost weight and had the ideal “ballerina body” I would be a much better dancer, I would get more attention, I would get more featured roles, and I would love myself more. As I lost more weight, I received lots of praise because people thought that what I was doing was healthy and that I was finally getting closer to that “ballerina body.”

However, there was nothing healthy about what I was doing in the least. What started out as a seemingly innocent diet turned into an all-out war with my body and mind. For years, I convinced myself that what I was doing was healthy and normal. My thought processes were very distorted. I thought that constantly feeling guilty, ashamed, and overwhelmed was just something I had to accept. I thought that my deeply rooted self hate was a normal part of life, and I figured it was just going to be that way forever. However, I was very wrong.

After many years of struggling silently, this past September I decided that enough was enough and I finally reached out for help and started Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). When I first started therapy, I was extremely ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was in therapy, and I was afraid that if I talked about going to therapy people would think that I was crazy or would judge me. For a while, I only talked about it with a few close friends. However, as I started to embrace the journey of therapy, I learned that I wasn’t alone. I learned that many people struggle in the way I do and that choosing to embrace vulnerability was the only way to fully start the healing process. I’ve learned to embrace my life for what it is, even when it feels like a mess. I’ve learned that perfection is impossible, and constantly striving for it will never bring me as much joy as just being who I am will.

Today, I’m still in therapy. I’m in a much healthier place (both mind and body) than I was 7 months ago, but I still have work to do! I still have my very difficult days, but I also have really good days. I’m learning to validate my emotions and my struggles, even when I’m really frustrated with myself. I’m gaining skills to navigate my anxiety, and I’m learning to heal my relationship with my body and food.
I have learned that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Because of the huge stigma our society has around mental illness, so many people aren’t educated properly on what it is, and so many people who are suffering don’t reach out for help, or can’t get help because of barriers that are in the way.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am part of the 1 in 4 adults who struggle with mental illness. I’m doing everything I can to help stop the stigma and bring more awareness to this incredibly important topic. To learn more about mental illness or to find help in your area, please visit www.nami.org.

I’m Back!

Wow, it’s been a while!
After a bit of an absence, I’ve finally prioritized coming back to this blog, so welcome to my new and improved website!

After having the incredible privilege of many media outlets covering my #BopoBallerina campaign and my story, I have some amazing new opportunities that I can’t wait to share with you all soon! The power of embracing vulnerability and speaking my truth is really blessing me, and I am so grateful.

I am really proud of myself and the progress that I have made lately, and I am very excited to dedicate more of my time to this blog!

 

You Have the Power to Change Someone’s Life

“If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” – Fred Rogers

For the longest time, I was convinced that my presence was unimportant and didn’t impact anyone. I didn’t think that anything I did could possibly make a difference in someone’s life. I didn’t think that I was special or had anything to offer to the world. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.


This past summer I started my second Instagram account because I wanted to connect to a different community of people. I wanted to share many different aspects of my life, from the food I make and eat, to my school experiences, to my self-love journey. I figured that I wouldn’t attract much of an audience, but decided to start the account anyway. It started out small, and it has gradually grown to over 1000 followers!


Each day when people comment that they are inspired by me or message me and say that something I said/did made a positive impact on their life, I feel so powerful! I never realized how just by living my life and sharing my story I could help change someone else’s life. I have been able to build some great friendships and find unconditional support through some of the wonderful people I’ve connected with through my blog/Instagram. I have always struggled with “fitting in” and making friends, so being able to connect with people who have similar (and not similar!) struggles has been a very heartwarming experience for me.


You never know the true impact you can have on someone’s life. Even if you don’t think your presence matters, I promise it matters to many people, especially me! I learn and gain something from each person who enters my life, and I love being able to connect with people everyday. Never underestimate how much you can change someone’s life (even your own!)

35 Things I Learned in 2016

There are only a few days left in 2016, and it’s hard to believe that it’s already almost over. This year has flown by. It has definitely had lots of ups and downs, all of which have taught me something valuable. Here’s a list of some of the most important things I’ve learned this year:

  1. Trying to be “productive” 24/7 is completely unnecessary and dangerous. There is immense value in relaxation.

  2. Self-care needs to be a top priority, ESPECIALLY when you think you don’t have enough time for it.

  3. You need to be your own best friend.

  4. Forgiveness must be earned; it is not owed.

  5. Reading for pleasure is a great form of relaxation.

  6. Try new foods as you mature – your taste buds change, and you may end up loving things you used to hate.

  7. Being authentic is more important than just being nice.

  8. Presence will always be more important than presents.

  9. Dogs will usually make you happier than most humans.

  10. Honesty in relationships is key.

  11. Always remember to eat, even when you’re overwhelmed with responsibilities.

  12. Drink plenty of water.

  13. Sleep is extremely important. While staying up late on a night before an early class may seem appealing at the time, you’ll be much happier if you’re getting 8-9 hours of sleep, I promise.

  14. There is no “normal” body type.

  15. Your best is all you can do, and your best is enough.

  16. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned. Learn to take everything as it comes and be more flexible.

  17. It’s completely fine to eat things that people consider junk food. It’s all about balance.

  18. Your body is not the enemy.

  19. You don’t need to explain yourself to anyone.

  20. You are more than enough.

  21. Live your life the way you want, not the way anyone else thinks you should.

  22. Clothing sizes are bullshit.

  23. Coloring isn’t only for little kids.

  24. Reaching out for help is a sign of true strength.

  25. Going to therapy isn’t shameful.

  26. School and grades are important, but they aren’t everything.

  27. Even on the days where getting out of bed feels impossible, get up and show up.

  28. Mashed potatoes are completely acceptable as a breakfast food.

  29. Frozen bananas make smoothies better.

  30. Yoga is good for the soul and the body.

  31. Mindfulness should be a lifestyle, not just something you do when meditating.

  32. Never try cooking with moscato in place of dry white wine.

  33. It’s completely okay for your goals and dreams to change, even if it’s something you’ve been working towards for many years.

  34. Sprinkles make everything better.

  35. Always listen to your gut instinct.

So, there’s my lengthy list of some of the knowledge I’ve gained throughout this crazy year. I hope you took something from it, and I’d love to hear some of the things you’ve learned in 2016 – comment below!

xoxo, Colleen

(PS, check me out on Instagram at @leenahlovesherself to get a glimpse into my life!)         

November Goals

Happy November everyone!

I can’t believe October is already over, and 2016 is starting to wrap up. There’s less than a month until Thanksgiving, and before we know it Christmas and New Years will be here!

Since it’s a new month, I’ve decided now would be a good time to set some new goals. Here are my four goals for the month of November:

1. Be on time more!

 I know that for me being on time is a huge struggle. No matter how early I wake up or how quickly I try to move, I always seem to be running out the door a few minutes late. This month, I hope to start kicking this habit to the curb!

2. Worry about chemistry less

One of the courses I’m taking this semester is chemistry. It’s a huge challenge for me, and it is a big trigger for my anxiety. I worry about it endlessly, and it’s really becoming unhealthy. This month, I hope to worry less about chemistry and start focusing more on what really matters. 

3. Live in the moment 

As I’ve said before, I’m currently in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). One of the modules of DBT is mindfulness, and I’m working really hard to start living a mindful life. I tend to live in the past and future, so this month I want to focus on staying in the moment. 

4. Keep moving forward in the process of starting an I Am That Girl chapter at Hunter College

I Am That Girl is an awesome organization centered around shifting girl culture from catty/competitive to uplifting/encouraging and providing a safe space for girls to connect and realize they aren’t alone. I’m currently a member of the NYC community chapter, however I’ve decided that I want to start a chapter at my school since there isn’t one already and I feel like it could help make a huge impact on my fellow classmates. I did a video interview last night (!!) and I’m excited for the next steps.
So, those are my goals for the month ahead. What are some of yours? Comment below and click this link to connect with me on Facebook

xoxo Colleen

There’s A Reason For Everything 

I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve heard the belabored saying “everything happens for a reason.” 

Well, today I’m here to tell it to you again! However, I’m putting a slight spin on it. Today my saying is “every emotion happens for a reason.”

I’m currently going for dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT consists of four modules, and one of these modules is called Emotion Regulation. The first homework assignment my therapist gave me for this module was a worksheet titled “Myths About Emotions.” Basically, there’s a list of 20 different myths. One of these is “emotions can just happen for no reason.” My task was to create a statement challenging these myths. 

My challenge statement for this myth is “there is a reason for every emotion, even if I don’t know it right now.” 

Even though I didn’t realize it at first, I tend to operate from this myth quite a bit. In fact, even this past week I was saying to myself “I’m sad and anxious for no reason and I hate it.” However, when I told my therapist that and we started breaking down different things that occurred throughout the week, I realized that there were plenty of things causing my emotions. 

Karen Salmansohn said,

“The hardest thing about “everything happens for a reason” is waiting for that reason to show up.”

It’s sometimes frustrating in the moment when we can’t seem to figure out why is triggering a certain feeling, but don’t fret, there is always a reason for everything, and while you may not know it now, I promise you will soon, and finding out what’s triggering a feeling is the first step to working through the feeling!

Have an incredible weekend,

xoxo Colleen

Sweet Megan Baking Co.

Happy FriYAY everyone! After a long week, I’m so excited that it’s the weekend finally.

Since Halloween is this coming Monday, I felt it would be appropriate to do a pumpkin related product review!

When I volunteered at the Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Expo back on October 16th in New Jersey, I was lucky enough to sample some SUPER delicious gluten free and allergen friendly products! The ONLY purchase I made throughout my whole time walking around at the expo was from Sweet Megan Baking Company. Every item they produce is free of the Top 8 Common Allergens! For those of you who don’t know, the top 8 are: wheat, dairy, peanut, soy, eggs, tree nuts, and shellfish. The products are also gluten free! Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats (unless grown to be certified gluten free). I purchased three items from their booth which were a personal size pizza crust, edible chocolate chip cookie dough, and edible pumpkin spice cookie dough! However, today I will only be reviewing the edible pumpkin spice cookie dough.

The cookie dough has very few ingredients, and it’s free of all sorts of unhealthy chemicals and preservatives that are sometimes found in typical store bought cookie dough, and since it is free from eggs, you can eat it straight from the jar! Another added perk is that if you want, you can bake this cookie dough. I, however, prefer to just eat it straight from the jar because I am OBSESSED with cookie dough. It has a great texture and it isn’t overly sweet or overly filled with spices like some pumpkin spice products tend to be. I love everything pumpkin, so I was so happy to find a pumpkin product that I didn’t have to worry about getting sick from because of my gluten intolerance! It is also awesome that so many people can enjoy products from Sweet Megan since they are top 8 free. Their prices are very reasonable, and the products are AMAZING, so you should definitely check them out this holiday season!

Have a wonderful Friday everyone,

xoxo Colleen

Midterm Blues

So, it’s that time of year again.

Halfway through the fall semester, the holidays are coming, and stress is raging.

I have tons of tests and projects due, I’m trying to keep up with the difficulty of even just the general coursework of my classes, I’m about to start rehearsals with the pre-professional dance company that I’m a part of (woo!), it’s time to make course selections for the spring semester, I’m trying to find time to spend with my boyfriend, and oh yeah I’m also trying to breathe.

On top of this all, this past week has been a huge struggle for me emotionally and mentally.

I struggle with anxiety. Lately, my anxiety has been at an all-time high, and I’ve also had a lot of very low moods. I cried at least once (usually twice) every day in the past seven days. I can see where the anxiety is coming from (well, at least some of it. There’s some of it that just pops up, and that’s a whole different story), however it is difficult for me to accept it nonetheless. It is also becoming increasingly difficult for me to accept my low moods. For the longest time, I’ve been brainwashed into believing the idea that everything always needs to/should be okay, crying makes you weak, and you shouldn’t share the sad/low parts of your life. However, I’m learning that this is completely false.

All emotions are valid and important, even the painful ones. Without sadness, we cannot know happiness. Without fear, there’s no excitement. We have to feel the negative in order to feel the positive. My therapist is working on showing me that “good” and “bad” are words that really have no meaning, especially in the realm of emotions. All emotions are valuable, and if you suppress any, you suppress them all.

So, while crying on the train for “no reason” yesterday may have made me feel silly, it’s a completely normal expression of emotions. There’s no reason to apologize for feeling, ever. Never let anyone tell you your emotions and feelings aren’t real or aren’t valid because you are the only one who can know how you feel, and you are the only one who gets to decide that.

I’m still annoyed with myself for how I’ve been feeling lately, however I’m trying to just accept it and move on. Life has all sorts of phases, and we need them all to discover who we are. I may be going through a rough patch, however it will only serve to make me a stronger person.

So, today I challenge you to be okay with how you’re feeling. I’m not asking you to love it, praise it, or rejoice in it. I’m simply asking you to be okay with it. Sometimes starting out small is the best way to get into something because easing into things can feel much more natural than diving in head first with no life vest.

Embrace all of your feelings, because they are all so valid and important.

xoxo Colleen