I’ve taken my first belly dancing class. I know several larger belly dancers, and Casey has written about her experience as well, and being able to see how graceful and beautiful they are, combined with an almost lifelong love of belly dancing started to get to me. So when my friend told me she was starting to give belly dance lessons this month I jumped on board. I went to my first lesson excited. It would be fun! Empowering! Energizing! I’d come away feeling great about myself and my body and loving how I learned to move!
Or, you know, maybe not.
When the other students showed up, it was clear that I was the largest woman there by far. The next size down might have been a size 10 or 12 (just guessing). I had always thought of belly dance as this awesome style of dance with a diversity of body sizes and I, for some reason, expected the class to be diverse as well. While the teacher was larger, she was still not as large as me.
So we all lined up in front of large standing mirrors. Then, the shame began. We learned snake arms first. She taught us how to “paint” with our hands as our arms moved. I felt clumsy, lumpy, uncoordinated, and, yes, fat. I know, I know, I am fat, but I felt like a giant. Among a group of skinny people, I always feel like a giant. I’m usually the tallest (and I was indeed the tallest student) and the largest. It makes me feel like a bull in a china shop. Huge and clumsy. It doesn’t help that I’m not all that graceful.
Anyway, we started learning a simple step, then we combined it with the snake arms. I didn’t get it at first, which made me feel even worse. Embarrassed. But mostly, I just hated looking at myself in the mirror. Everyone else looked great, but not me. I just looked like a waving blimp. Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. In fact I know I am. After all, at a size 12 I felt like a giant blimp most of the time too. I hated myself immensely and did all sorts of horrible damaging things to myself. Maybe I am a blimp now, but at least I’m a happy blimp, right?
Except for when I’m not so happy. Like during and after that class. So many childhood fears resurfaced. Were people looking at me? What if they see me looking stupid? After all, we know a fat person looking stupid is far worse than a thin person looking stupid. When my thin friends get hurt, for example, people rush to see if they’re alright. When a fat person gets hurt, everyone stops to laugh.So, me? I just felt like the stupid fat girl who everybody laughs at.
I came home that night feeling defeated, self-conscious, embarrassed, and never wanting to go back. Know what though? I’m totally going back. I’m going to finish my eight-week class. I’m gonna practice my shimmy, I’m gonna wear my leggings, I’m gonna do snake arms and I’m not going to let it defeat me.
Maybe I’ll take another class afterwards, maybe I won’t, but this is something I’m going to conquer. I’m going to cross it off of my list of things I want to do in my life. Because internalized fatphobia will not keep me from living my life and doing what I want to do. Screw you fatphobia! I’m fat and I’m still gonna shimmy my ass off!