My name is Melody, and I’ve been belly dancing for about four years.

I’ve noticed a lot of changes in myself since starting to dance, and one of the biggest has been how I view my body. I am a small woman, reasonably thin, but I grew up with an anorexic mother who told me she was “worried” about my weight when I was at 115 lbs, and spent a lot of time warning me that I would have to workout a lot for the rest of my life if I didn’t want to become fat. At 125 lbs as a young adult, I wore a lot of baggy clothes and spent a lot of time with my arms crossed in front of me, hoping I could disguise my body. Some therapy helped me get through a lot of that, but like a lot of childhood emotional damage, there’s been a small niggle in the back of my mind, the worry that as much as I want to be okay with how I look, I am — well — chubby.

Then I started belly dance.

The first thing that struck me was how women of all body types came to my classes, stood upright with their arms away from their bodies, and frickin’ danced. The second thing that struck me was how beautiful those different body types are when you see them in motion. A still photo of a model doesn’t show you her grace, her strength, her agility, her sass — it just DOESN’T. And that’s how the world views women out walking around in real life. We aren’t still shots of ourselves, no matter how we might pose in the mirror and judge what bulges out or doesn’t bulge enough. Have you ever done that? I have. A lot.

So watching the many different shapes and sizes of women in my class dancing and seeing how awesome the female body — ALL female bodies — are in motion, I started watching myself. And started watching how I move, how I flow, how strong I am or what muscle needs toning, which moves are hard and which ones come naturally, and how much I improve from class to class. Suddenly any softness or bulginess in places I didn’t want became a non-issue. So my tummy is a bit round. Watch how I can roll it in a body wave! It looks way more elegant in motion than simply still-shot.

There was a day when I was in the middle of therapy that I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror I didn’t know was there and thought, wow, that girl is really pretty. When I realized a second later it was a mirror, not some other girl, whole worlds opened up inside my head. Changes began to take place, the sorts of changes that eventually led me to decide that I too, could belly dance. Something similar happened while dancing in class one day — there was a line of us in front of a mirror practicing a move. I try not to watch myself in class too much, I tend to get muddled with the image of what I’m doing and what I’m trying to get my brain and body to do. So I was looking up and down the line at the other girls, and my eye caught a glimpse of a girl who really had it down. I didn’t notice that her breasts were small, her hips too wide, her tummy not very flat — I noticed that she was fucking nailing this drill, and her moves were hot.

It was me.

I’m kind of a big mouth, so I probably squealed when I noticed that. Announced, “oh, I think I’m getting it!” at the top of my voice. It was so much more than that, though.

My relationship with mirrors has changed. I still look at myself, but now I do some quick snake arms or a body roll bottom-to-top. I smile at myself. I wink, sometimes. I check my posture. If my belly is looking really saggy or annoying, I try to vibrate my abs, something I haven’t been able to do yet, but it’s fun trying, and it’s more fun to see how I’m very slowly starting to get it instead of worrying about my tummy being too round. Sometimes I strike a muscle-builder pose, and note how I can see muscles I couldn’t see before. It’s more about what my body can do than how it looks. And it’s capable of a lot more than I used to give it credit for.

Melody Taylor’s short works have appeared in various local publications and her first novel, “In the Dark,” was recently released. She has been belly dancing for four years and plans to keep doing it until her hips give out.

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