The sausage casing (aka belly cover)
I recently joined the Fit Fatties forum and much to my delight there is a group for belly dancers. One member posted a question about the dreaded belly cover–to wear them or not. A belly cover, also jokingly called a sausage casing, are essentially half-leotards made out of a firm mesh spandex. They come in all colors and sizes, and you can even get them with sleeves or leggings attached. The most popular belly covers are skin-tone colored and go up to the bra line.
The debate on the forum was whether or not us body-loving, fat “embracers” should wear belly covers if we are so proud of our curves. And it really is a conundrum for me. I wear belly covers sometimes. I know I should “flaunt it and be proud” but when I dance for the general public, I feel more secure wearing them. I tend to wear them when I am dancing at gigs, but I will even use them if I am having a bad body day for a regular community performance.
I remember the first time I wore a belly cover to a gig. I did not feel ashamed for covering myself up (granted this was before I found Health at Every Size and fat acceptance). I actually felt empowered. When people from the general public hire a belly dancer, they’re expecting a certain image. An image that focuses a lot on beauty–beautiful costume, beautiful hair, beautiful music, dancing and more. Make-up is also a huge part of being a belly dance performer and I don’t see wearing a belly cover as any different from make-up. I realize that I am conforming to a certain image, and certainly dancers have the right to choose how they portray themselves. I obviously feel more comfortable conforming to the “beautiful girl-next-door” belly dancing image and wearing a belly cover is a part of that “costume” for me.
Just check out the image posted on this page. The picture shows me wearing the same costume and the two photos were taken in the same year about 2-3 months apart from each other. Now, the one on the left is posed, while the other one is live, so that does make a difference. I am doing a little bit of sucking and posing to get those lines–but the picture has not been digitally altered to change my curves (unless the photographer did that, but I don’t think so). You can see how the one on the left is just a little more smooth and “make-uppy.” I do want to point out that while I like both pictures, I actually have a preference for the one on the right. I just look so happy and comfortable on stage. So what if my belly flops over my belt a little and that I have an extra roll around my rib cage? I look and feel beautiful in that picture…much more so than the posed picture on the right where you can see me over-thinking my pose and stature.
Even after learning about HAES, I still wear belly covers from time to time. I don’t usually wear them at haflas unless I am dancing with thin women–I am in a professional troupe with two other women, and let’s just say I’m the glamazon of the group. In those cases a belly cover just helps streamline the look. I never wear them for a shimmy party or in class/workshops. I have no problem showing my stomach around other women (who can often be each other’s worst critics.)
I do have some sort of battle with belly covers. I feel like I am acting like I am ashamed of my stomach when I wear them, but I feel so much more comfortable. It just slims down my lines and makes me feel more put together. I also like to wear them for modesty, just like I love to wear dresses when I dance. Belly dance costumes, while not super provocative, do show a lot of skin. It can even be seen as taboo for me to show as much cleavage as I do. Add some slits in my skirt, bare back and shoulders–not to mention lots of belly–and there’s a lot of skin showing that I am not used to showing. Belly covers, especially colorful ones that match my costume, are a great way to cover up a little more.
My biggest issues with belly covers though are how they are used to make women feel ashamed of their bodies, particularly the stomach which holds so much emotional and cultural baggage for many of us. I’ve heard some stories about troupe directors requiring dancers above a certain size to wear them–which is size-ist and completely wrong in my book. I’ve heard people say–even about themselves, “No one wants to see that!” How do you know no one wants to see that? How do you know that by showing your stretch marks or cellulite you aren’t secretly inspiring a quiet woman in the audience to try something new?
Wear a belly cover because you want to. Don’t wear them because you are afraid of haters. Or if you are afraid of haters be OK exploring that. I’m not perfect, especially on my journey to to accept my body as it is. Sometimes I mess up. Sometimes I need a belly cover like a security blanket. That’s OK for now. As long as I keep exploring my feelings, motivations and experiences with belly covers, costuming and the like the better off I’ll be.
As one poster on the Fit Fatties forum thread on belly covers put it:
“Not everyone wants to get out there and flaunt it. Not everyone wants to make a statement about bodies, and sizes, and acceptance. Sometimes, people just want to dance, and do their thing…and just enjoy it without it having to be about something bigger (pardon the pun). I think that’s totally ok. I think, often we tell each other how we “should” be or how we “should” feel, or what we “should” do. The only expectations we have to live up to….are the ones we place on ourselves.”