The dancer reveals how body-shaming comments knocked her confidence for years.

By By Sharna Burgess as told to Renee Cherry
April 30, 2018
Photo: Gabriel Montagnani

I was around 14 the first time I was body-shamed. At my dance studio, our coach would line us up to be weighed in front of one another every Tuesday. Every week, I would get on the scale, and every week he would tell me-in front of everyone-that I had to lose more weight. So every Tuesday I'd starve myself all day, get told I was too heavy, and cry at home because I didn't like my body and was worried it would hold back my dancing potential.

Despite my worries, I was successful enough to make a career out of dancing. Still, throughout my teens and 20s, my body insecurities stuck with me. I still didn't like my body; I just put on a brave face and pretended I was comfortable with myself.

When I joined Dancing with the Stars, I had a lot more eyes on me, and thus more people ready to comment on my image. During my second year on the show, I made the rookie mistake of Googling myself and found myself in a deep dark hole on the web. I came across a forum of people who were not a fan of me-and they didn't just tear apart my skill level. They wrote that I wasn't attractive enough to be on DWTS, compared me to the other girls on the show, and said that I needed to eat just a little bit less. Reading their comments took me back to the embarrassment of standing on the scale at 14. (Related: Anna Victoria Has a Message for Anyone Who Says They "Prefer" Her Body to Look a Certain Way)

Photo: Mat Hayward / Getty Images

Seeing those comments knocked my confidence-and affected my behavior. I started wearing baggier clothes to rehearsal since I'd be on camera. And when I read comments that my body's too masculine-still a common critique-I stuck to the treadmill at the gym because I thought anything else would make me more muscular. I was consumed with thoughts like people think I'm not attractive, and people think I need to eat less, instead of focusing on what I was doing. Because for all the 100 beautiful, positive things people write about you, the negative comments are the ones that stick with you. (Related: Why Body-Shaming Is Such a Big Problem and What You Can Do to Stop It)

It wasn't until I reached my 30s a few years ago that I was able to accept my body shape in spite of what people say about it. Even if I feel like firing back when I come across a negative comment, they don't knock my confidence the way they used to. I've learned to understand that strong is beautiful and have come to love that I share Xena the Warrior Princess' body type.

It's not easy to change your outlook and how you react to negative comments about your body, but I've finally been able to do it. I'm entertaining people and making them happy, and no amount of online hate can take that away.

Catch Sharna Burgess partnering with Josh Norman on Dancing with the Stars: Athletes.