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Misty Copeland on why she loves her 'ripped' back: 'I see my strength as beauty'

Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theatre's first African-American female principal, urges women "to have a positive view of yourself."
/ Source: TODAY

Ballerina Misty Copelandis the first African-American female principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre's 75-year existence. For "Love Your Body" week, TODAY Style is sharing her wise words about what she finds most beautiful about the way she looks.

One of the first really big, really special opportunities I had with American Ballet Theatre was dancing the role of the firebird in the ballet of the same name. This was a very different style of movement than I was used to, since I had to use my arms as though they were wings.

I worked so hard to get it just right. I practiced the flight movements over and over and tried to be as "bird-like" as possible. Over time, I saw a new, different type of muscle emerge in my back.

It’s pretty crazy to see the literal transformation of your muscles as you physically become a character. Your body actually transforms. As my back muscles grew, I felt my whole sense of self changing; I felt myself becoming a bird. I would look in the mirror during rehearsal and almost expect feathers to begin popping out of my shoulder blades, "Black Swan" style.

I know that a lot of people would pick their legs or their eyes or something as their favorite body part, but for me, I really do have to pick my back. When I'm in my best shape, my back is the most ripped part of my body. But it's so much more than that.

It’s a really incredible thing when you see hard work appear in beautiful ways. When you can really see it.

I've put so much effort into taking care of what's called the "port de bras," or the carriage of the arms. That's something I've had to work on for a long time now. I'm not the most elegant in the way that I use my arms, but my back is a beautiful representation of the hard work I've put in and the way I've see my dreams of dance come to life.

It's so important to accept each and every part of your body, especially those parts that society doesn't initially see as beautiful. It's important to accept them as beautiful in your own eyes. In this day and age, you have to have a positive view of yourself. You have to try and not be like anyone else.

I see my strength as beauty. It's powerful, and it's more so than something that I happen to be born with or something that society's already deemed as beautiful.

I was born with a natural ability to do ballet — that’s why I was able to start so late and still get to this point. But being a black woman and entering into this career, into this very white world, I had to work so hard to prove myself.

The patience of waiting 16 years before I rose to principal dancer (it's very rare to wait that long) and the hard work I've put into it is so beautiful — even more so than something that’s just been given to you.

As told to TODAY's Rebekah Lowin.

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This article was originally published on Oct. 18, 2016 on