Monday, May 16, 2016

Bumps and Grinds and the Bulge in the Mirror

When I started burlesque a few weeks ago, I imagined having funny stories to tell or how I would magically feel better in my own skin after a couple of weeks. The only funny story is that I started to sit down on and get up from the toilet with my butt sticking out and I did the same thing in Target stooping down to look at something on a lower shelf. I guess that could be slightly entertaining to anyone watching.

The thing I abhor about dance classes/gyms/yoga is the giant mirror on one wall. It's necessary to ensure you're using proper form and all that, blah, blah, blah. But it's also a reflection of how you look in that particular moment of time. Usually not the best moment. Workout clothes. Little or no makeup. No cute shoes. Bad hair. Sweat.

With burlesque, there is the added element of trying to appear "sexy." Boobs up and forward, shoulders back, back arched, butt out. Even this isn't that bad because, come on, what girl hasn't posed to find her best angle in a mirror? But then add movement to that. Add boobs out, hand on hip, bend over, stick that ass out, arch that back, and - OH GOD!! WHY is my stomach laying on my LEG??? This is not a good look!! This is a TERRIBLE look!! How many people are seeing this right now? This is exactly why I shouldn't have done this. Right here. Evidence that I am NOT sexy. Nope, nope, not even a little. I need a mask and a muumuu and a triple cocktail.

And that, because of what has been ingrained in me since I was a walking, talking member of society, is what I remember in the days after. That is my self-image for weeks after. The girl who can't suck her stomach in enough to keep it from touching her thigh. Who wants to see that? I mean, I don't have thigh gap and I'm good with that. It's hard to peel a stocking from your hand if you can't squeeze it between your thighs. Thigh gap is gross. But can I have a gap between my thigh and my belly? For fuck's sake??

So, no. No, I have not learned to love my body and its flaws by looking at myself during a class. Even if the song that is repeated over and over for the routine we are learning contains lyrics pontificating the virtue of confidence. Nope. It's not happening.

I'll tell you why it isn't happening. Yes, most of it comes from my inside voice. My inside critic. My inside bitch who wants to limit my happiness. It also comes from messages I've received during my life. Things like, "If you stand like that, your legs will bend the wrong way." "Did you ever break your nose? It looks like you did." "Do you EVER eat??" (This was when I was very young and very thin, a place I will never return to and don't really want to anyway, but it was still a message that I wasn't measuring up to an invisible standard.) "There's no way you still wear a size 4."

It also comes from every image we see in magazines, movies, the media, online, and on and on. There is one body type on magazine covers. There is one body type in movies and on the red carpet. There is one body type in music. There are billboards for losing weight. There are too many diet fads to count, sugar-free this and "light" that and research upon research of how to avoid killing yourself while still breathing air.

What, then, is the reason I have fallen in love with burlesque and my community in particular? Listen and I will sing you the song of the strippers.

I went to a couple of burlesque shows before I started taking classes. I have been to a handful since then. What I noticed the first times resonates with me now and that is that there are different body types on that stage. Rail thin. Chubby. Tiny boobs and flat asses and big boobs and flat asses. Toned bodies. Rolls, bumps, even dreaded cellulite. Round butts, long legs, short legs, tattoos, colored hair, shaved heads, and anything in between. The girls from two acts can be completely different and yet they have one thing in common. They're ALL fucking sexy. They're sexy because they're beautiful and what makes them beautiful is that they are talented and confident and they're all individuals.

When I see someone with my body type on stage in sparkles and glitter, shimmying and twisting and bending and teasing and getting roars of approval from the audience? I can't think of anything more validating. And when I see someone with more rolls than mine or dimply knees, I do not think, "At least I'm not that big!" Instead, I covet her curves and I envy her spirit, that in those moments, she is ALL woman, in every sense of the word.

This community I have found myself in goes beyond that. Performances aren't the pinnacle. Or they are, in a sense, but the real magic is what these women do every day, on a normal basis. They support each other. They cheer one another on. I've been part of group discussions where we've basically vomited out what we think is ugliest about ourselves and there has been no judgment. None. It's a perfectly safe, comforting, cozy den of acceptance. Behind the pink door nothing really changes but also everything changes. We don't turn into unicorns. I'm not getting on stage tomorrow. Nobody is turning the world upside down. Rather, we are changing each other's worlds. With a smile, with cheers, with a small "amen, sister." With understanding and compassion.

Will I still stare at the food baby I carry everywhere and will it to disappear? Yeah. Honestly, I will. When I try on the dress that looks so good on the hanger but squeezes in uncomfortable and obvious places, I'll admit to some self-loathing. But I'm learning to love other women's bodies. And since so many of them look more like mine than not, and definitely more like mine than anything this society has tried to force on me, I'm learning to love my body also. Or at least appreciate it.

Or to know that if someone else looks fucking hot in that pink plastic dress even though she has a tiny bit of back fat showing over the top, then screw it. I can be that hot too.
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