Body Positivity: What Burlesque Did For Me

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10340127_347679098746280_6963565833905337118_nYou hear a lot about people’s bodies. Not just now, in this day and age, but always. This is true of everyone, but especially women. You hear about unattainable beauty standards set by models and magazines and dolls, and whoever else. When someone stands up and says it’s okay to be bigger, you hear that they are promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, or that they should take better care of themselves. When someone is extremely thin they are told to “eat something” or referred to an eating disorder support group. No matter your size or level of fitness, you’re not safe from these indictments. Too thin, too fat, too short, too tall, even those who you would think are unimpeachable are not free from it. Here’s a harsh truth:

No matter how you look, someone (probably more than one someone) is not going to like it. There will be people who do not find you attractive. There will be people who think you can be healthier.

Here’s another:

They’re right.

All of these things are opinions that have absolutely nothing to do with you. If they don’t find you attractive, then they don’t. Someone else will or does. They think your waist is too small or too long, your eyes are too close together, or whatever they’ve chosen to focus on. It’s their opinion, it’s their baggage. They have a right to it, and they have the right to say it out loud. It isn’t polite or nice, but there are a lot of people in this world who aren’t polite or nice. The great thing about this universe is that they can’t make you listen to them or care about what it is they have to say. They’re right that you could be healthier too. We all could be. Even if you eat amazingly well, exercise constantly, and drink the exact amount of water you should, there’s something else you could do better for your body. Whether it’s stress, sleep, exercise, food, environment, none of us are perfect. The world isn’t perfect. It’s okay. I’m not saying give up on being a better you, I’m saying that listening to all of these other people who aren’t you, aren’t living your life, don’t get to see and judge every moment, doing that is starting in the wrong place. Tear it down, block it out, let it go. Start over.

This is the part that none of the people tearing you down are going to tell you. It’s none of their fucking business. Why are they trying to show concern for you? Why aren’t they just asking you how you feel, or if you’re having a good day/week/month/year/life? I have a lot of personal theories on why this is, most of them having to do with Schadenfreude, but let’s not get into that at the moment. I started wondering this about people when I was pregnant with my daughter. People would ask the most inane, rude, and thoughtless questions. “Was it planned?” Who asks that? Often the people who ask this question ask it first thing. Why? Does it matter? Why do you, coworker, family member, stranger on the street, suddenly want to know details of my sex life? It’s also pretty great when they start expecting you to give out very personal and graphic details about bodily functions and sleep habits, or start telling you what to do, whether you asked them for advice or not. It is seriously not any of your business how much weight I have gained or how I choose to lose it (or not!). And do not dare to tell me that I should just be grateful that you care enough to ask. Bull. You should care enough to treat me with respect.

Once my daughter was born I realized just how much this happens during every day life as well. Being over or underweight does not make what I eat or how much I exercise your business. My health is between myself and my doctor. Listing the perils of being my weight does not make me want to lose weight, it scares the crap out of me. I’m not going to list what I eat or my exercise regimen to prove my health to you. I’m not going to defend myself against your hurtful words and statements. I’m not going to do anything but ignore you, because it’s none of your business. This goes for everything about your body. Having a perceived flaw does not make it okay for the person perceiving said flaw to weigh in on your life choices or habits.

1799025_367998300047693_3256292727238750989_oMy hair is straight. My eyes are blue. My nose is small. My boobs are big. I am plus-sized. I have very wide feet… These are facts. Facts illustrated by adjectives that are just words. The words aren’t right, wrong, pretty, or ugly. They’re just words, and they describe me.

So, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s get to what this is really about. See, when I started burlesque, I sounded like basically every woman I’d ever met. I talked about needing to lose weight, about the size I wished I was, all of that. Then I started reading about and seeing, both in person and in media all of these beautiful men and women. They are all different sizes, colors, walks of life, and they all put on one heck of a show. I wanted to be them. I didn’t want to be their size or have their hair, or any of that. I wanted to do what they did. I remember having this moment, reading an article about World Famous BOB that had a lot of pictures in it. It was beautiful, and inspiring, and I wanted to be her. Then I scrolled down to the comments (I should have known better), and I saw that someone had written “Real burlesque dancers don’t look like that. Shameful.” It crushed me. Then I had an epiphany. Real burlesque dancers DO look like that. Well, some of them do. There is a burlesque performer to fit almost any body type or situation you can possibly think of. And this idea that burlesque is for every body is a new development is complete crap. I have a picture from the early 1900’s in my collection that is of an entire chorus of plus-sized burlesque girls. I have a poster for a classic showgirl in my closet that lists her weight as 160 lbs. Not exactly a size zero.

It wasn’t an immediate transformation, but I started to let go of the idea that I needed to lose weight. That wasn’t the goal I needed to make for myself. What I really wanted was not to lose weight, but to be a better burlesque performer. I wanted to up my game, and when I sat down to figure out what that meant, my weight had absolutely nothing to do with it. While I found it difficult to motivate myself to exercise before, I now found myself doing push-ups every day (to build upper body strength), doing stretches (to increase flexibility), riding a stationary bike (to increase my stamina). None of it was to be healthier or to lose weight, all of it was because I tried to do a dance move or skill I wanted to perform and found it difficult or impossible, so I did these things to get me to that goal. I have to tell you, I haven’t lost a pound. I may have even gained some. I don’t know, I don’t weight myself anymore. What I do know is that I’ve seen progress in the areas I wanted to target most, and they weren’t body parts, but skills and abilities. Had I been focused on losing weight or inches, or even dropping dress sizes, I would have lost my motivation ages ago, but instead, those aren’t my goals, and that’s not what any of this is about. It’s about being able to do what I want with my body, to have it reliably obey me.

11004606_403221763192013_6795384163213074024_oI found myself starting to care less and less about things like love handles and stretch marks, and more about things like balance and my creaky knees. My confidence soared. I wasn’t trying to match any type of “look”. I was trying to accomplish something real. Sure, there were days when I wished I was smaller, mostly because some piece of clothing I liked didn’t come in my size, but then I did something else. I thought about the time that I was super thin. I haven’t been overweight all my life. The thing is, even when I was thin, and I fit into all of these clothes I admire on models, I didn’t wear them. Why? Because even when I was thin, I still had the same body type I have now. I was still the same basic shape. I’ve never had much of a waist, I’ve always been a bit square with really long legs for my height. Certain clothes have never looked good on me, and they never will, no matter what my size is. Is it a bummer that a lot of cool clothes that would look good on me don’t come in my size? Yes. But here’s the thing. I know how to sew. I can make clothes in any style I wish that look good on me. Anyone can. Suddenly the whole world is open to you, it’s your oyster. Do what you want. Be you. Don’t know how to sew? Learn. Have ugly, ill-fitting clothes altered. Throw out things that look dumpy on you. Come out of your chrysalis butterfly!

Instead of focusing on how you want to look, focus on what you want to do and who you want to be. If the way you look changes by way of that transformation, fine, great, but don’t let it define you. Break down what you want into real, attainable goals. Anything (almost) is possible with practice. You may just be surprised at what you can do. Burlesque surprised me. This very visual art form gave me the gift of separating who I am and what I do from how I look, and the ability to see the goals I really want, instead of artificial ones that don’t mean anything. You can do it too. Everyone can.

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