I’m fat. Or at least according to conventional beauty norms I am. I honestly hate that word, even in this empowered, body positivity era, where women are taking ownership of the derogatory term. Calling yourself something hateful to spite the traditional use doesn’t negate the hate. It’s the same when my dad calls himself a Wop: I don’t get it. But, if it makes you feel powerful to control the negative language, go for it. I chose a different tactic.
Growing up, I had a mom who loved me, but didn’t always love herself. Self-confidence was something my brother learned from my dad, but I floundered, struggling to find a body-positive role model. I’ve always had a little jiggle to my wiggle and don’t remember a time when I wasn’t worried about my size. To provide a little context, my family priest commented on how fat I was when I was baptized. So, you know, there was that.
I went through elementary school, then high school, then university feeling inadequate. My mom would supply high waisted underwear or bodysuits to hide lumps and bumps, with critiques and helpful suggestions about how I could look better. She always meant well, but I couldn’t help but feel resentful, as if she had conveyed her insecurities onto me. I would join a gym, try this or that diet, and generally feel lousy about myself. The summer was always the worst.
I didn’t want to wear shorts and see my legs bulge out the sides or tank tops where my arms were blatantly on display. Then there were bathing suits. I couldn’t stand going to the pool or to the beach with my friends. If I did go, I would feign not wanting to swim, just so I could keep my shirt on a little longer. Now, I cringe thinking about all those missed opportunities.
When I was 20 years old, I was trying on new clothes for a trip to Italy. Shorts and tops that had looked good in the store suddenly seemed grotesque on me, especially when compared to the beautiful cousins I would be travelling with. I can’t describe the feeling of self-loathing that overwhelmed me. I genuinely hated my appearance.
Then I had an epiphany: I could continue to be miserable, or I could accept the body I had. Did I still want to change it? Lose some weight and look like a supermodel? Abso-fucking-lutely. I still do. But that’s not the body I have today. So, I promised myself that I would love the body I woke up with each morning, regardless of what it looks like.
There’s something to say about the idiom, “Fake it till you make it,” in all its cliché glory. Deciding to love myself didn’t mean it happened instantly; it just meant that I would act like it did. That meant no more scrutinising over pictures or picking at my clothes in the mirror. If I wanted to wear something, I wore it. But the true test and the moment that changed everything came from a dance class.
I was maid of honour in a wedding and was trying to plan a fun bachelorette party. Through some research, I learned you could host a private burlesque class. At this point, my burlesque knowledge was limited to a not-so-great Christina Aguilera movie, but it seemed like a fun time. We went, and it was so much fun that one of the other girls and I decided to sign up for classes. Unbeknownst to us, we signed up for a performance class.
A burlesque performance. In lingerie. On stage. In front of hundreds of people.
And it was amazing. Everything from the other women in the class to the actual performance was fantastic. Standing on stage, shimmying and dipping, finally gave me something I was always missing: actual body confidence. I felt sexy, listening to the audience holler and cheer, dancing on stage with other women who were putting themselves out there too. I had discovered something about myself I had always yearned for and felt like a badass bitch because of it.
Taking a burlesque dance class changed my perspective on what matters more: your appearance versus how you feel about your appearance. It wasn’t enough anymore to pretend I was happy with the way I looked. Instead, I decided to actually be happy about it. To appreciate every lump, bump and jiggle. I wear clothes I feel good in and refuse, absolutely refuse, to wear anything that requires any sort of special kind of underwear. Why would I have to be that uncomfortable to fit someone else’s image of pretty?
I’ve performed three times now and each time is as exhilarating as the first. I strut around in my skimpy outfit and feel like a million bucks. I just wish I could have let that insecure girl from ten years ago know how amazing it would feel to just join her friends and go swimming at the beach.
At least she knows now.