74. Look at Me

74. Look at Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Look at Me

There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good.

~Edwin Denby

I’m at a healthy weight, normal for my height. I know that having a belly is natural. I know that I shouldn’t compare myself to models in magazines. But still, when I look at myself, all I see is fat. I can’t see the figure my college roommate is jealous of, but I eye her flat stomach with envy. I want to be pretty and feel pretty. I want to look at myself in the mirror and not hate the way I look. But I can’t. I wear loose clothes and try to fade into the background.

But I’m tired of living this way and being this way. I want to change, yet I’m not sure how. A friend suggests belly dancing to me. She loves it and wants me to join. Belly dancing? I’d have to dance in front of people with my stomach exposed. I feel the anxiety immediately. But also, I feel a determination. I sign up.

I’m nervous at the first class, but at least we don’t expose our bellies. We learn a few moves. I’m surprised by how fun it is, how much I’m enjoying moving my body like this. It feels so natural, so right. Except . . . shimmies make me feel ashamed of my body. As my hips shimmy up and down, so does all of my fat. No escape from the truth. But, I feel happy; everyone is so positive, so accepting.

Before our first performance, we are asked to say something that we love about ourselves. I say “my eyes” and almost believe it.

For our first performance, I assume few people will show up. My campus is conservative, so I’m thinking they’d be offended by the bellies we reveal. This soothes me, until it’s our turn. My heart speeds up and adrenaline floods me, slamming into me, turning me into a shaking wreck. I want to cover myself, cover my belly, cover my fat.

Don’t look at me.

It’s time. We walk on stage, and I plaster a smile on my face. I look at the audience — it’s jam-packed with strangers watching us, waiting. I want to hide my body.

Don’t look at me.

The music starts and we dance. We turn and shimmy; I’m a well-oiled dance machine. My face hurts from smiling; just get me out of here. I feel like I’m going to cry.

Don’t look at me.

The song finishes, and I want to run off the stage, but we walk. I cover up as soon as we’re off. I’m shaking, not all of it from the fear. I realize that it was exciting. I want to do it again.

I look in the mirror and see my eyes. They’re pretty.

The next performance, I decide to do a solo, to push myself. I want to feel that excitement again. I practice — my arms moving, their fat jiggling. I start to move them less; it’s bad enough with my stomach, I don’t want my arms to be stared at too.

My panic rises as I step onto the stage. I feel my smile wobble as I get into position. I try not to stare at all the faces upturned to me. I take a breath and feel my fat jiggle. I want to cringe off the stage, say it was all a mistake. There’s no one else to distract the audience from me, from my fat. The music starts and I fall into familiar steps, acutely conscious of when my fat moves. Each jiggle makes me feel like I’m a dancing Jell-O. As I walk off stage, I hear their clapping. Maybe I wasn’t a dancing Jell-O after all. Maybe, I was actually good.

I look in the mirror and see my arms. They are strong.

The next time we perform, I’m better prepared. I’ve practiced different moves, more complex. I feel my confidence growing, but still look down at my stomach and sigh. I do a solo again, this time with a shawl. Practice, practice, practice.

I stare out into the audience and feel the familiar fear fluttering in my stomach. It makes me tremble, makes my steps falter. I feel myself shrinking.

I dance, feeling sexy and desirable.

But everything evaporates as soon as the music starts. I dance, feeling sexy and desirable. I don’t see or feel my fat. All I feel is the music flowing through me and the strength and sensuality of my moves.

I don’t want this to end. When the music cuts off I linger a moment on stage. Caught up in emotions I’d never thought I’d feel. I walk off stage. I don’t cover up.

I look in the mirror and see a young woman. She has curves and she is beautiful.

~Maura Edwards

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