I grew up overweight. I loved chocolate ice cream way too much and liked sports and physical activity way too little. Video games were my exercise of choice.
It didn’t help that I had body dysmorphia starting when my breasts became noticeable. Of course, it took me another twenty years or so to realize that’s what the problem was, but I finally did figure it out.
Because of my budding breasts, I found exercise to be excruciating. I hated bras with a passion, and cried when I finally had to give in and wear one all the time. I didn’t want to undress in front of others, because I was ashamed of my breasts. I felt like I was deformed. But the teasing never happened (thank goodness) and a lot of those problems went underground.
I tried to be a good little girly girl and took dance classes. I started with ballet and jazz, but I was far too fat to fit in. I was shamed out of dance classes because of my size. Let that sink in a little. I was a kid – six or seven years old – and was considered too fat to dance. That is shameful.
Karate was way more my speed, and I managed to slim down a bit in high school. I became known as the “elven assassin” because of my skill in karate and my looks (slim face, prominent ears).
But I ballooned up again when I was put on a medication that made me an eating machine. All I wanted to do was eat. As I was finishing one meal, all I could think about was dessert or what I was going to be eating for the next meal.
Luckily for me, I ended up marrying a man for whom weight did not matter. I was at my heaviest for our wedding, which made me very sad.
Despite my good fortune, I still hated my body. It was too heavy, my breasts were huge (and had stretch marks all over them due to my rapid weight gain), and I had no way to lose weight. Because of my condition, I could no longer do karate (I tried and had to go to the hospital afterwards). I would die rather than face the humiliation of going to a gym. Besides, I couldn’t commit to that sort of thing. Gyms are gross and inconvenient, and wasn’t about to put my body on display for anyone.
And then I found dance again. Specifically belly dance. Here was an exercise I could do without sending myself to the ER. I didn’t have to go to the gym. My teacher didn’t have a “perfect” body, and most of the students didn’t either. I could go to classes or learn by DVD at home (though as a dance teacher I can’t really recommend this unless supplemented by an in-person teacher) and still lose weight. I could choose when and where I displayed my body (if at all).
What is even more wonderful about belly dance? Most communities (not all, sadly) are supportive of all body types. I know big belly dancers, and I know tiny ones. I know men and women, both cis and trans*, who are welcomed and celebrated, who perform professionally. I know gay, straight, and bi dancers (and I’m positive there are asexual dancers out there, but that doesn’t usually come up). There are young dancers and old dancers, and the old ones are not pushed to the side but are welcomed as experienced sages. In short, belly dance is (mostly) the most body positive art form, exercise, and dance style that I can find anywhere.
Belly dance helped me get in touch with my feminine side. Before belly dance, I was shy and a tomboy (without the sports). No one, now, would ever mistake me out of belly dance gear as overtly “feminine” but at least now I feel like I can be feminine if I want to be. It still feels like drag (and I jokingly call it belly dance drag) but at least I don’t feel humiliated when in a dress.
I still struggle with body dysmorphia, but I’ve learned so much about myself and how the body works along the way. I’m still not “skinny” by any stretch of the imagination, but at least I’m way healthier than I used to be. I’ve found my people, and I’ve found myself, and that’s the healthiest way to live your life.