I had my first belly dance performance last weekend. Let me tell you, nothing tests your body-positivity more than having your belly out on stage alongside 14 identically-dressed women, all of whom are smaller than you. I wanted to come through that with flying colors and then post right afterwards about how size acceptance had allowed me to sail through the performance with nary a negative thought.
Observe that it’s now Thursday and I’m just now writing the post. It took me that long to process what really did happen — because I had a great time, and I did happily shake my gut all around on stage, but I felt very aware all weekend of the role that fat plays in dance and performance. I couldn’t banish it; I was always noticing whether I was the first fat person to go on stage, whether I was the fattest person performing, whether the fat women were sent to the back in the choreography. I noticed that one of the student companies, the tribal one, had plenty of fat women, but the cabaret group — which is supposed to be more feminine and pretty — had none. There were thicker women, but they were still fairly slender, with smooth tummies and no real rolls. And (here’s the embarrassing part) I was painfully aware of the way that some moves only looked good on these women — women whose tummies were smooth, whose every muscle twitch was evident, and whose body movements were more classically graceful. (In my particular association, and probably that of a lot of people, “more classically graceful” means “closer to a ballerina.”)
So I came out of the performance fired up about doing some tribal for next year’s show — I love their costumes, too. But I also came out feeling like my fat, or more to the point my body shape and the fact that I rock the double bubble (i.e. I have a distinct upper belly roll when standing), would hinder my progression in dance. I came out thinking “maybe if I were just a little fat all over, these moves would look right on me, and I could get into any student company I wanted… but with the way I’m shaped, how far can I really go?”
Thus, you can imagine that I had no idea how to write about the experience for the blog. I figured I would just not mention it at all, and in fact I felt like enough of a hypocrite that I avoided the movement entirely for most of this week. But eventually I realized that even this self-consciousness represented an enormous improvement over where I would have been even a couple of years ago. Not only was I willing to have my belly out on stage without once apologizing in the first place, but even the way I got down on myself was a total coup. I came out of the performance worried about maybe 15 cubic inches of belly and whether they would have a genuine effect on my dance abilities — not about the “fact” that I was a generally fat lazy clumsy slob who couldn’t possibly be any good until she was thin. (I mean, I am very aware of being lazy and a bit of a slob, but that’s got nothing to do with fat.) A few years ago, a challenge like this might have sent me completely off the rails, if I undertook it in the first place. Being secure enough about my body to wonder, more or less objectively, whether a single part of it would pose a hindrance — while simultaneously wiggling it unconcernedly in public? That’s a really, really big deal.
It’s important that we give ourselves credit for small improvements, the little strides we make in liking ourselves. You can’t expect to be Kate right off the bat, because not even Kate is Kate; she’s got moments of being down on her body just like anyone. When you notice yourself backsliding into negative body talk and thought, ask yourself: Am I better at liking and forgiving and not being judgmental about myself than I used to be? Isn’t it already better that I notice the negativity in the first place, instead of accepting it as my due as fat woman? Am I giving myself enough credit for how far I’ve come, or am I making positivity into a new club to beat myself with?
Nobody likes every part of herself every day, but isn’t it enough not to hate every part of yourself every day? I know I did that for a long time, and you probably did too, and we’re all getting constant messages saying that’s how we’re supposed to live, and I think we deserve credit for every day we resist.
(Oh, and as a fat-positive dancer friend pointed out, the tummy roll probably won’t hinder me unless I’m only trying to dance well in the same way that a thin dancer dances well. Some moves don’t look as good with fat, and others look better with it. Trying on dance is like trying on pants; you just have to find the one that looks right on your body. So don’t let my brief negativity discourage those of you who are interested in belly dance!)