Killing ’em with kindness: Responding to criticism
The body love movement is on the rise, and we’re seeing more and more people embrace diversity, body positivity, and other affirming messages. If you’re hanging out with the right people, and reading the right blogs (like this one, obviously), it can be easy to forget that there are still a lot of people out there who think it’s OK to criticize somebody’s body. And when that criticism is lobbed at you, it can be hard to know how to react, especially while maintaining your professional image.
My name is Sophia Ravenna and I am here to help! I used to write a blog called “Politely Worded” and I love to come up with nice ways to tell people that they’re out of line. So let’s look at a few possible scenarios.
1) A stranger posts a nasty comment on your YouTube video, blog post, or Facebook page. This is the easiest one! You do not have to address trolls, and you do not have to let them have a voice on your media. You delete that comment and go on with your day. Don’t even give it a second thought. Ok, I say that, but I know it’s going to linger in your mind. I had a mini-meltdown in class once because I had some horrible negative self-talk going on in my head due to a really mean comment left on YouTube earlier that morning. So if you can’t brush it off, take some time for yourself and do whatever helps you recover best, whether it’s writing down your thoughts, or meditating on something positive, or dancing out your anger, or having a nice cup of tea.
2) Someone walks up to you after a show and makes a snarky comment about your appearance. If at all possible, give them a level stare and say calmly “Why would you say that?” Calling people on their behavior usually catches them off-guard and does not give them the reaction they wanted. If they follow up with something like “Oh, I’ve just never seen a fat belly dancer before!” you can smile sweetly and say “Well, now you have. I hope you enjoyed the show. Oh look, there’s my friend, gotta go!” and extract yourself from the situation.
3) Someone makes a mean comment to you about one of your fellow belly dancers. Don’t you hate this? It’s so rude to assume that we’re going to be OK with you trash-talking our fellow performers. I usually like to say “Actually, I think she’s a beautiful belly dancer and I loved her performance tonight.” Even if I happen to not actually get along with someone, or don’t like their style, I will find something nice to say about them because it’s horribly unprofessional to gossip with an audience member and feeds the impression that female performing artists are all catty divas.
4) A friend or family member expresses surprise that someone of your size/age/gender/race/appearance/whatever could be a belly dancer. This is a good opportunity to smile and say “Well, obviously my clients feel differently!” If you’re not a professional performer, you can let that rude person know about belly dance’s social roots, and how “over there” pretty much everyone gets up and dances without any thought to their size or age.
5) Hecklers shout at you while on stage. Keep dancing! If you’re in a restaurant, you can make an obvious show of turning away from them and dancing towards more pleasant audience members. You can make it clear without a word that you will not put up with their abuse, without interrupting the show for everyone else.
6) Someone is being downright abusive, trying to pick a fight with you, saying awful things about you, or another belly dancer, or dancers in general, or women in general. In cases like this, your safety comes first! Say “Excuse me, I need to go take care of something” and then scurry over to the nearest group of your friends, or the bouncer, manager, event organizer or someone else authorized to deal with it. Subtly point out the person who was giving you trouble and explain the issue. When someone is that belligerent, there’s usually nothing you can say to defuse them (especially if they’re drunk). Don’t hesitate to ask someone to walk you to your car at the end of the night, just in case.
In all situations, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to make excuses for yourself. Your dance speaks for itself, and if someone in the audience, or in your life, is more focused on some aspect of your body than your artform, the problem lies with them, not with you.