Nikki Dowling – Muscle Can Be Inspiration

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“She gets compliments on her muscular arms by people my age.”

Nikki Dowling

Activities: Pole Dancing and Weight training

Q: Give me a bit of background history. Where are you from?

I am originally from a small town called Greenwich in upstate New York. It’s located about an hour north of Albany. It’s a very beautiful but very boring place and I was eager to leave so I could live in a place where there was more going on, so in 2007 I left to attend New York University. I graduated with a degree in journalism and went on to work as an associate editor/education reporter for a small weekly paper in the Northwest part of the Bronx called The Riverdale Press. While I was there, I won a few national awards for my work on inner-city schools and learned a lot about the problems facing the underprivileged in New York.

This fall, I will be attending Columbia University. I am going back to school to work on my Master’s in Social Work. I was really inspired by the things I saw as a journalist and I would like to help in a more direct way.

Q: Did you play sports in high school?

I played a ton of sports in high school. I was the number one ranked player on my tennis team junior and senior year. My dad, who is an incredible tennis player, taught me everything I know. He was a club champion when he lived in NYC decades ago and although he’s in his 60s, he still plays regularly. It’s amazing because he’s had two hip replacements but is still competitive. In fact, to this day, I cannot return his serve.

I also boxed, kickboxed, belly danced, ran, did yoga and Pilates. I was inspired to stay active by my mother. When I was little, she was very overweight and one day she saw a photograph of herself and made the decision to lose it all. She began eating right and exercising regularly, and achieved her goal. She runs every day and does lots of conditioning. She gets compliments on her muscular arms by people my age. Recently, she was in a bad car accident and broke her elbow and foot. A lot of people would have succumbed to the injury but she found alternative ways to stay fit. She wakes up early to take spinning classes and goes on long hikes with her dog. Her perseverance and grit is hugely inspiring to me.

Q: What is your exercise of choice?

Pole dancing is my favorite exercise. I love the way it combines strength and endurance with grace, fluidity, flexibility and even sexiness. It’s really great for upper body and core strength.

Q: How did you get started?

About a year ago, I was at a party and there was a pole there. Some of my friends were playing around on it and when I walked over they decided to hoist me up. I sort of got halfway up and then posed in a really awkward way. It was a disaster. But, having seen other pole dancers, I thought it was something that would be really awesome to get good at it. I started taking classes and was instantly hooked.

Q: Do you lift weights?

I lift weights regularly and I love it. I think there is a lot of pressure on women to be thin and not “bulk up” and I find that really unfortunate. It’s a very sexist way of looking at the female body.

Q: Do you feel being active has had an impact on your life? If so, in what way?

Being active has had a huge impact on my life. Not only has it transformed my body, it has helped my emotional state tremendously. I struggle with some mental health issues and I find that after a workout I am much calmer, more centered and happier. It’s a huge stress reliever. It also helps with self-confidence. Plus, I get compliments on my body and that’s pretty awesome!

Q: What is your definition of fit?

Defining fit is pretty tough because it’s so different for so many people. I try not to judge other people’s level of health and athleticism. I will say that for me, fit is feeling good about my body and being able to do all the things I want to do without thinking about whether I’m in good enough shape to do them. My health is never a hindrance for me and that’s really important.

Q: What is your definition of beautiful?

I cannot speak for men but I can say that as a woman, I am really shocked by how harshly women criticize other women’s bodies. The number of times I’ve heard things like, “she’s too skinny” or “she looks like a man” or “she needs to lose weight” is really astronomical. Society’s obsession with trying to define beauty in terms of physical appearance is really problematic. The most attractive people are the ones who are empowered enough that they don’t have to degrade others based on what they see. That kind of strength and self-confidence is really beautiful.