I had laparoscopic surgery recently — and that means one of the small openings was through my bellybutton — and once they were done they closed it back up. I never really thought about my bellybutton all that much before, but now it’s different, it’s changed, and that caught my attention. Which got me thinking — our bodies change in little ways all the time, and quite often the changes mean something about us is visually different. Some of those changes we initiate, and some of them just sort of happen, but both sorts can have some pretty profound psychological impact — or be brought about by deeply rooted feelings.
Our body’s shapes, lines and shades are affected by so many things: pregnancy, weight changes (even small ones), choice of activities, gravity, time, exposure to the sun, surgery, tattoos, illness, piercings and a myriad of other everyday things. It’s really a constant and ongoing process, yet so often we as human beings, and even more specifically as women, find ourselves in the depths of despair over changes in our body’s appearance that we haven’t consciously initiated.
As belly dancers there are sometimes reasons why these changes have an even more profound effect on us. Worries about how we’ll look in a certain costume or type of costume can surface from a new scar, or a change in body shape. For dancers who earn their living with restaurant gigs, the comparison between your own body and the body of the next dancer competing for that gig can be worrisome as age and gravity have their way. We all need to make our own decisions about how we deal with things like this, but making those choices from a well informed, mentally healthy place, is I think, terribly important.
In a society where we get bombarded with messages from TV, magazines, radio, friends, family and yes, even strangers about how only a certain body shape and size is beautiful, being well informed and heck, mentally healthy about our conscious choices for our body can be a big challenge. For many, those often subliminal messages can go to war with their own self-esteem and when your chosen art form includes the presence of your body, like belly dancing certainly does, the instinct to make your body conform to that shape and size criteria at any cost can be even more overwhelming. Worries about what the audience, other dancers and restaurant owners will think can have a huge affect on the choices we make. So how do we go about maintaining a healthy mindset in this churning sea of potential pitfalls?
For many of us, dancing helps. It’s likely one of the reasons we started dancing in the first place — because the freedom we feel when moving our body through familiar patterns that bend, stretch and physically warm us, empowers or even relaxes us (not to mention it releases endorphins, which always help our mental outlook!). We can also choose to work to adopt a mindset that helps. We can think about how these hard won “battle scars” are proof that we have survived this far and have gained skill, knowledge, ability and understanding along with the changes in our bodies. The mind is a powerful tool, and given the chance, can really help lead us in a good direction.
When we notice that our choice to bring children into our lives caused our bellies to be a little softer, we can choose to focus on the joy that we were able to conceive, carry and birth such a precious gift. When we discover a passion for an activity that means our thighs or our arms get bigger and more muscular we can bask in the joy the activity bring us, and embrace the fact that we’re active which is good for our bodies. When gravity and time mean our once perky breasts point a bit further south, we can focus on the fact that we have two healthy breasts that have stood the test of our time here on earth. Every time we find our focus straying to our body’s failure to stay the same as it was, we can make a conscious effort to change our focus, and over time, with repetition, the new, proud messages we are feeding ourselves will take root.
Human beings where not meant to be unchanging — we learn, we expand our thoughts and change our opinions about things. We experience new things, we travel through life in these bodies and they change — it’s what we were designed to do, and it’s a good thing. With a healthy mental perspective it’s easier to educate ourselves and make good choices for ourselves. To approach decisions about what’s right for us, in our bodies, with knowledge, rather than with emotionally driven impulses.
Many of us fall part way between the place where we’ve bought into the subliminal messages completely and the one where we have a truly consistent healthy perspective on our own body’s beauty. We even fluctuate between them depending on all sorts of influences. The more mentally healthy we are about our own body’s beauty the more confidence we exude and the more appealing we appear to others, which in belly dance is certainly a huge asset. So, instead of mourning the bellybutton I’ve lost, I will embrace the bellybutton I now have — and be glad that my surgery went well, that modern medicine could do such a miraculous thing as remove my gallbladder through my bellybutton, and celebrate that I’m on my way back to health and much more dancing!
I hope you too will find little ways, every day, to celebrate the body you’re dancing in.