ROMPER REAL TALK: COLLEEN WERNER
Colleen Werner is a plus-sized ballerina who is shaking things up in the traditionally exclusive world of dance.
She is also a fiercely passionate mental health advocate who is currently studying to become a Clinical Counsellor. We love Colleen’s online yoga practices, honest conversations about body image and her fave mindfulness tips like putting your legs up the wall (seriously, it works!) Dive in and learn more about this inspirational member of our #smashtessfam!
We are so excited to welcome you to the Romper Revolution! For those who don’t know you, could you share a little bit about yourself?
Absolutely! I’m 24, and am based in Nashville, TN. I’m a dancer, yoga teacher, and mental health therapy intern. I’m also an influencer and have the privilege of partnering with a number of brands. I’ll graduate with my Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in December and I’ll become a Licensed Professional Counselor. I’m interning at a wonderful group therapy practice called The Gaia Center for Embodied Healing, and I get to see individual therapy clients and also run therapy groups. I specialize primarily in eating disorders and trauma, and I also enjoy working with clients who struggle with anxiety, depression, and/or traits of borderline personality disorder.
You bravely speak openly about your mental health journey and how it has led you to work as an intern specializing in eating disorders and trauma. How has sharing your story helped your personal recovery and in turn allowed you to help others?
Sharing my own recovery story completely revolutionized my journey. Once I started talking to people about my struggles, I could no longer hide behind my eating disorder. I had so much more accountability and support. In addition, as I continued to share my story, the shame I held around my eating disorder started to decrease. I actually started sharing my recovery journey on Instagram long before I really talked about it with people in real life. I was able to find people who understood what I was going through when I wasn’t yet comfortable talking to my family and friends about it. Through sharing my recovery journey on social media, I’ve been able to connect with organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association, Project HEAL, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and Born This Way Foundation, all of which have allowed me to share my voice in major ways. As I started doing more advocacy work, I realized that I wanted to devote my life to helping others struggling with similar issues. While having lived experience of an eating disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and depression certainly wasn’t enough education or training on its own to become a mental health professional, it gives me an added layer of knowledge that my grad school textbooks and classes simply can’t.
As a professional ballerina, what changes have you seen or hope to see when it comes to inclusivity and representation in the dance industry?
I’ve started to see more dancewear brands expanding their sizing and take a more inclusive approach when selecting models and social media content. I’ve worked with a few dancewear brands such as Bunting Dancewear and Supuhr Designs on helping them make their leotards more suited to dancers with larger bodies. One of the most inspiring changes that I’ve been able to be a part of was being the first plus-size Gaynor Girl ambassador for the pointe shoe brand Gaynor Minden. In addition, some new, more inclusive dance companies have been popping up in the past few years. I’m a dancer with Black Sheep Ballet which is a virtual company that welcomes professional dance artists who have typically been pushed out of the traditional ballet world. I’m also on the board of directors of Contretemps Contemporary Ballet, which is a wonderful Chicago-based company.
I hope to see more mainstream companies, in particular ballet companies, taking action related to body inclusivity. There absolutely are dancers who are naturally very thin, and there’s nothing wrong with that! However, many other dancers are having to change their bodies to find their place in the ballet world. Many times ballet companies say they welcome all body types, when what they mean is that they are accepting of varying types of thinness/dancers who are slightly more muscular. Again, I want to be clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with dancers who are naturally very thin. They are beautiful and deserve to be celebrated for their talents – however, dancers in other bodies, particularly dancers in larger bodies, deserve to be too. I also want to see more dancewear brands move past just going up to XL or XXL—there are wonderful dancers in larger sizes that also deserve beautiful dancewear.
You have worked with some incredible companies, including Dove, who advocate challenging the status quo. What are some values you look for in a brand when working with them?
I love this question! Inclusivity - in terms of body size, body type, races, disabilities, ages, genders, etc. - is the most important value I look for when considering working with a brand.
It’s also important to me that brands value creating lasting relationships with influencers. have done one-off collaborations that have been great, but my most fulfilling partnerships have been ones that are long term. I love being able to truly connect with the folks behind the brand and see the value of my ongoing input.
Recently, you shared a post (in your Sunday Romper) about “legs up the wall”. How does this practice help you in reset and recharge during your busy workdays?
“Legs up the wall” or “Viparita Karani” is an amazing yoga pose that can help with soooo many things like headaches, lower back pain, leg/foot cramps, and hamstring tightness just to name a few. It can also help boost energy, which is why I love doing it between sessions.
You also teach body-positive virtual yoga classes! What advice would you give to folks who are new to yoga but interested in trying it out? (be sure to share where they can learn more and sign up for your classes!)
With our current age of technology, there are so many amazing resources out there for people who are new to yoga!
Some of my fave yoga IG accounts:
In addition, I also offer pay-what-you-can virtual yoga classes over Zoom! More info and current class offerings (they change week to week) can be found here: https://www.momoyoga.com/yogawithcolleen/
So many people are inspired by your story! Who/what inspires you?
One of my biggest sources of inspiration are my therapy clients. Seeing how hard they work to find healing always inspires me to continue working to be the best therapist I can be. I also am so inspired by the wonderful body liberation/body acceptance/body neutrality communities on Instagram. I’ve built friendships with incredible humans from around the world that I likely would have never connected with otherwise. Getting to see the amazing things everyone is doing and cheering them on along the way (and having them do the same for me) is so inspiring!
What are some of your favourite accounts to follow?
Oooh it’s so hard to narrow it down! I have so many faves, but here are a few:
Do you have any top reads, listens or watches to recommend to our Smash + Tess fam?
YES! I have a never-ending list of book recommendations!
Body Respect by Lindo Bacon
Radical Belonging by Lindo Bacon
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
Yoke by Jessamyn Stanley
The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris (caveat: there is some fatphobic language, however, many of the principles of the book are so impactful)
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield
Where can our readers find you and continue to follow along on your journey?
The best place to find me is on Instagram: @colleenmwerner!