I stood in the studio with my classmates this past spring. My teacher was talking about clothing on the body and how placement of the scarf on the hips was more flattering for the body. She was telling a story of a woman that had an “aha” moment and was able to see her own beauty with hips wrapped and belly exposed. As I stood there with my belly covered with my shirt and hip scarf around my waist, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that I was not wearing the scarf around my hips or showing my belly. I was not ready to take that next step of exposing it. Yes, for me it was exposing.
I have never shown my belly out in public for any of my adult life. I’ve kept it covered and hidden. I’ve always been very self-conscious of it. I was brought up that you do not jiggle and shake your body. You move with grace and try to look elegant at all times. This feeling about my body was compounded by boyfriends doing things like coming up behind me, grabbing my stomach and shaking it and saying you could lose a little; or being nicknamed chubs; or being told “if only you were skinny you would be a knock out”. Each time I was angry, but somewhere deep inside of me I chose to listen and believe all the bullshit they were doing and saying because, I thought that way about myself. The idea of exposing what felt like the most vulnerable part of my body. The most vulnerable part of my body! Not my breasts, not my vagina, for me, the most vulnerable part of my body was my belly. The thought of exposing it was a scary and intimidating.
I left that class inspired and fulfilled as in every dance class, but this time, I also left with that story. I carried that story of the woman moving her costume from her waist to her hips all through spring and into the summer. Then one day, while wearing yoga pants, I stood in front of my mirror and I stared at my body. I’m not sure how long I stood there and I don’t remember what I was thinking or how I felt. But all of the sudden, I pulled my t-shirt up above my belly button and I folded the waist high pant to just barely above my hips. It didn’t look so bad, I thought. I was still not where I wanted my body to be, but those critical thoughts that I used to have weren’t there. It was just an acknowledgment that my body is still in transition. Then I pulled my t-shirt tight and knotted it behind me. I saw the beginning of my hour glass figure coming back. The excitement started rising in me and I’m not sure why or how, but suddenly, my t-shirt was pulled up to just below my breasts. I felt…I felt… somethings I hadn’t felt about my body in a long time; Defiance; Empowerment; Individuality; Uniqueness; Beautiful and Love.
Then a memory came flooding back. Me, fourteen years old, buying my first (and only) bikini. At fourteen years of age, I was thick, curvy, and full figured. When I went onto that beach I felt defiance as the skinny girls looked over at me in perceived judgement and I felt defiance. It was my body and I loved it. That burgeoning love that had gotten swept away for so many years, was back and in that moment, I embodied that love. I grabbed my phone and I took a picture of me standing in the mirror. And then I sent it to my friends. I sent it out with trepidation and a bit of worry. But somewhere in my head, I heard fuck that worry. This was bold for me. I felt I was opening myself up possibly to receive criticism or worse judgement. What I received back was love. One said “I love your body and clean your mirror.” Another “You can see how much you’ve lost”
And I felt, “ok, I got this.”
Then fall came and classes started again. I stood in class. I looked at my not perfect body in the mirror. In my head, I began telling myself: I’m at where I’m at, and thank you, body. Thank you for carrying me through illness, death of loved ones, crappy food, anger, love, laughter, and happiness. I glanced around at all of these amazing Tuesday night ladies; carefree and beautiful in their one ways. I stood close to my things against the wall. I inhaled, slowing my breath. I wrapped the scarf around my waist, then moved it to my hips and folded down my pants to below the belly button. Then I knotted my t-shirt above the belly button. It felt fucking awesome. I felt free. I saw my body and all I could do was smile. And I’m sure that none of those amazingly fabulous women had any idea what was in my head or my heart, but I was grateful for them. Grateful for these non-judgmental beautiful women of all ages and sizes who saw me. Me, not my belly. I saw my teacher glance over at me. I could swear she noticed. It may have been just my head playing tricks, but I saw a smile ever so briefly cross her face and I like to think that she knew. I had taken another step. I had taken another step to accepting my body. Then we danced. And then we laughed. And then we danced some more. That night, I took another step towards reclaiming my free spirit.