Back Talk with Toi Valentine, Aerialist

Entrepreneur, Designer & Aerialist

I recently left design consultancy firm IDEO to start a business Me Time with my co-founders. Me Time is designed to help parents find short-term childcare. I'm also an aerialist. 

Beauty and Intensity of Aerial Acrobatics

Aerial performance is rooted in acrobatics if you're familiar with Cirque du Soleil. There are different apparatuses. There are people who work on rope, or silks and fabric. The whole premise is that you're in the air and performing around this apparatus. It's both physical and artistic. I've been an aerialist for over five years, and my focus is in silks. 

Addressing Posture & Back Challenges

Because we have back-related issues that run in my family, I'm more aware of pain in my upper back.

As an aerialist what I've noticed over time, is that so much of it requires upper body strength. The focus is on your shoulders, neck, and your trapezius muscle. You end up rounding your arms and shoulders a lot around the apparatus. This causes a need for heightened attention to constantly roll back your shoulders. 

So, we do a lot of training when we're up in the air to strengthen our backs. The reason for this is that so many of us (aerialists) get tension headaches caused by tightness in the back of the neck. 

I had shoulder reconstructive surgery years ago, which means I don't have optimal range in motion. If I'm leaning forward for too long, the shoulder in which I had reconstructive surgery will lean out even more, causing me pain on that side. 

Posture is a Challenge for Aerialists

As an aerialist, so much of what we do is holding onto an apparatus. A lot of the foundational moves that you train in requires you to have this hollow curved body shape. This contrived shape helps you stay up in the air, but also creates speed when you're dropping.

Aerialists naturally arch their outer shoulders to create this hugging form. You're also holding up your entire body weight, so you have all this tension below your shoulders.

Aerialists have Limited Clothing Options

I'm always looking for clothes that I can wear for both aerial and for going out afterwards. Aerial has a very specific material need. We have to be very thoughtful on what we wear. The material can't be too slick because you need traction in order not to slide off an apparatus.

I also have to think about coverage around my shoulders. There's a lot of activewear out there that is loose and baggy, which I can't wear. What I end up having to do is wearing skintight clothes or leotards, which I don't feel comfortable wearing to the coffee shop afterwards. So, I always have to bring a spare change of clothes. I want to be able to wear something I can wear out.

Challenge with Finding a Great Bra

I'm also on this mission to find a great bra. I've tried ThirdLove, True & Co., LuluLemon, and Outdoor Voices. I can't wear normal bras, so I usually wear sports bras or bralettes. The problem with all these bras is that they pull your shoulders down, and I can feel it. I can also feel the digging of the seams in the back. 

Kinflyte Feels Different & Supportive

I love how it (Kinflyte) feels, I love the material. Everything feels like it's the right size for me. It was easy to put on. I like the seams, and I like the fit, together with the bra and the high-waisted underwear.

The shoulders feel very open. I can tell the straps aren't going anywhere. I'm not worried that the straps will fall off.  

Final Word: Our Bodies Change All the Time

I have a hard time with sizing systems. I've gone to Nordstrom's or Victoria's Secret when I was a teenager, and they all say we'll measure you and they have it down to some exact science. I realized it's a marketing thing.

What I prefer are sizes that tend to flex in different directions because how I hold weight changes so hormonally, down to the time of month. I've worn bras that may feel uncomfortable certain times of the month, and other times feel too loose. I actually Marie Kondo'd all my bras, and now I only have four bras. 

Interviewed by Vivian Lee