Love yourself this Valentine’s Day

written by Andalee on February 13, 2013 in Healthy for life and Plus size belly dancers with no comments
Photo of Andalee by Bonnie Stanley

Photo by Bonnie Stanley

I posted this blog entry on my personal website one year ago and I think it bears re-posting here. It was really the turning point in my journey to self-love and self-acceptance. I still work every day to shed the expectations of our narrow-minded societal standards, but I am making progress and I don’t ever plan on looking back.

I’m not really a Valentine’s Day celebrator (much to my fiancé’s [now husband's] relief), but I did want to share a special Valentine’s Day message about how important it is to cherish yourself and love yourself as you are today. Right now.

As a part of my day job, I write and design health education brochures for women. At a recent focus group I organized, nearly all of the women gravitated toward one particular brochure called, “Show your love.” The brochure concept shows a woman hugging herself and the message is that of loving and nurturing yourself. The idea is that if you focus on your mind, body and spirit, then you will make healthier choices in your life. The group really got me thinking about how many women in our culture are hungry for self-love and nurturing, and how hard it is to really find it, especially when it comes to size/body acceptance.

A few months ago, I started following a blog called, Dances with Fat, written by Ragen Chastain, a full-sized professional dancer and fat activist. She takes a direct no-nonsense approach to dispelling myths about obesity (especially the obesity epidemic), weight and health correlations, and the problem of social stigma.

I was forced to face a lot of my demons and preconceived notions and as someone who has worked in public health for over five years, I also started to question my role in educating women about “Healthy Weight” (Chastain maintains that there is no such thing as a healthy weight). I am now 100% on board with the fat love parade and my new-found passion is to learn how practice size-acceptance with myself and to share that with others…

And here’s where belly dance comes in. Chastain has a large following of belly dancers who read and comment on her blog. Many are students, some are professionals. All of them talk about loving the art form because of how it embraces women (and men, too!) of all shapes and sizes. And it’s true! Belly dance is way more accepting of a range of body types than almost any other form of dancing. It’s something almost anyone can do!

However, there are some of us who are professional dancers, and who put ourselves out there as hired entertainers and this is where things start to get tricky. When it comes to the commercial aspect of professional belly dancing, the size acceptance field narrows (although it’s still not as narrow as other dance forms). Let’s face it, when it comes to hiring a belly dancer for a performance, the general public often has a specific view of how a belly dancer should look…Exotic; thin BUT curvy; long, dark hair; etc. And I certainly don’t fit into most of those categories.

Over the last few years, as my weight has fluctuated, I have noticed a steady decline in the amount of inquiries and bookings that I have received. This can be attributed to many things, such as the economy, the saturation in the market, marketing and even my dance style, but because I suffer from body image issues, I almost always attribute it to my size. I tend to think that I don’t get hired because I am large woman. I know deep down that that is not always true, but the insecure voice in my head can sometimes be the loudest.

[Case in point: An elderly man came up to me after a performance and asked me, “With all that dancing you do, how do you keep from losing weight?” I’m sure he was just trying to be friendly, but it came off as totally inappropriate. I, being mortified, defended myself by saying, “I just like to eat.”]

I also know that this struggle doesn’t only apply to me. I recently read a friend’s blog where she basically had to defend herself for being slender. She was being criticized for being tiny and was told on a few occasions that belly dancers should have some shape to them.

This is simply not fair! We get it from both sides. You’re either too thin, or too large. Society has deemed one particular body style to be acceptable for women and if you don’t fit into that mold, then you are defective. This infuriates me! It has my whole life really, but time and time again I have bought into the idea rather blindly. I think, “If I just lost 10 more pounds,then I would book gigs again,” or “I need to lose [x amount of weight] to be at a healthy size and then I’ll be pretty again.”

So now, I’m rather publicly making it my goal to learn how to love and appreciate my body as it is TODAY and as it was YESTERDAY and how it will be TOMORROW. I am a relatively healthy woman who loves to dance and share that dance with others. I refuse to try to drop 40 lbs in the 10 months between now and my wedding. I have limited the amount of paid gigs or performances that will I do until I know I can do them with confidence and not associate the outcome with my weight. I will not talk negatively about my body to myself or others. I honestly want to internalize the messages on the Dances with Fat blog and to work to end the social stigma of overweight and obese people. And that starts with me.

And you, too. You can work toward loving yourself today by participating in activities that nurture your mind, body and spirit. Dance if you want to dance. Sing. Write. Strut your stuff. Do what makes you feel like a whole person. There is only one you. You are worthy of love and respect. No matter what.

Love always,
Andalee

Originally posted: February 14, 2012 on AndaleeDance.com.

About Andalee

Andalee is the founder of Belly Dance at Any Size. She is an Oriental dancer and instructor based in Durham, NC. She has been dancing since 2005 and teaching since 2008. Her mission is to promote Oriental Dance (a.k.a. belly dance) as a respected and valid performance art.