So Tonight I Took My Top Off

Note: If you are grossed out by a less than ideal female form in any way, with its bumps, lumps, and fluff, come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about pimento cheese. Today we’re talking about something very different.

Mkay. I’m in the business of having a food blog, not getting wrapped up in body image. But, years of gender studies classes, dance classes struggling with my weight being fat, and some interesting pieces I’ve been reading in the blogosphere lately have had me wanting to talk. So I’m going to talk. It’s a bit disjointed, but I’m tired and I can’t go to bed until I’ve put this out there.

I’ve always been a big girl. I remember dreading my dance recitals, not because I hated performing, but because I hated the potbelly that hung out of my spandex outfit, because my teachers always put us in two-piece outfits, and I invariably had to stand next to some wisp of a girl. I had to pretend when I got on stage that I was one of them, and I did a pretty good job. I could always forget it until I saw the pictures. In dance class, I always wanted to cover my belly with a skirt or dance with an oversized shirt over my leotard, but I always got in trouble for it.

I was smaller in high school but never thin. I remember a boyfriend patting what I affectionately refer to now as my front-butt, an affliction I thought only women who had children were supposed to have and I have had since I can remember. He said, “If only you could just lose this.”

Indeed. If only.

I have had stretch marks since I was 13. I am 5’6” and I weigh 165 pounds. I am pasty white and fluffy, puffy and fuzzy. I have an unsightly scar on my lower back.

And tonight, I took my top off.

Let me explain. I take pole dancing classes and bellydancing classes. As I work out more, my body is changing. I’m not losing weight or getting thinner or losing inches. My posture is changing. I look like I’ve dropped ten pounds simply because I now have muscles that keep my ribcage lifted off my hips. As I’ve progressed through pole dancing levels, I’ve started wearing less and less to class, not because we’re strippers but because you need your skin available to help you grip the pole.

In bellydance, I wear a long skirt. I usually wear short skirts because my legs look wonderful and my stomach does not. I’ve been having trouble with the undulations, which is when you move your chest and stomach in an S motion. You can’t see whether the form is right unless your belly is out there.

A couple weeks ago, I bought the first sportsbra I’ve ever owned, and I bought it in purple to match my shimmy belt. I’ve looked at it for the last few weeks and thought, “When I’m thinner, I’ll dance in that at class.” But, I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea lately. I’m completely against waiting to do much of anything these days, especially when I look back at pictures of me from a few years ago.

I’m 15-20 pounds lighter than I was at my heaviest and the pictures I see of me then make me cringe – not because of how heavy I was, but because of the look on my face. I look washed out and lost. I wasn’t sad because I was heavy – I was heavy because I was sad and lost in my life, trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. In pictures, I was fading into the background. Not surprisingly, when I got myself together, I got into a bit better shape. It’s hard to take care of yourself when you’re in a deep depression, and the self-loathing you feel plus the pressure you can sometimes feel from others can make it far worse.

At any rate, I’ve often looked back at pictures of me when I was much smaller and realized that all the time I thought I was fat, behemoth, whatever, that I was actually perfectly gorgeous and didn’t realize it. Who’s to say what I’ll think when I look back on pictures of me now?

I’m fat, and I say often that I’m a fat girl. When I say that, I don’t mean that I’m huge or grossly overweight. I mean that I f*cking love cake and pie and biscuits and cheeseburgers, and I don’t apologize for it. I’m just letting you know that I will steal your next-to-last girl scout cookie, and I will show up at your house with a cake and we will eat the hell out of it. I am not ashamed of that one bit. I was caught off guard at my friend’s baby shower two weeks ago because most of the women barely ate and were disappointed we didn’t have Diet Coke. It was a damn celebration, and I ate like it was a family reunion.

Do I need to drop some pounds? Yes. Do I watch what I eat so that my muffintop doesn’t turn into a popover and send me into type II diabetes? Yes. Do I want to get back into the clothes I was wearing two years ago? Of course. Is it making me sad or f*cking up my quality of life? Not if I don’t let it.

I’m 28 years old, and I’m ready to be f*cking done with insecurity. So tonight, I put on the purple sportsbra under my t-shirt and headed to my class. On the way there, I thought about whether or not I’d take my t-shirt off. When I got there, it was just me and the teacher and her daughter. My teacher is in her 40s and is a knockout. She always dances in her sportsbra and belt and skirt.

So I took my top off. I could see my body moving, and it wasn’t the atrocity I imagined it to be when I stood in my bedroom earlier, critiquing my backfat and small chest. I looked like any other woman working out. The f*cked up thing is not that I took my top off, but that I spent so much time hemming and hawing about whether or not I’d do it.

Do I flinch when I see the 400 pound woman in spandex at WalMart? Yes. I’m a bad person in that respect. Do I flinch when I see myself with my fuzzy, fluffy belly while I’m undulating  and learning hip drops?

Not anymore.

I’m done with feeling bad about my weight and waiting to do things “when I’m thin.” Eff that. I could drop dead tomorrow. Yeah, eventually, some weight will come off. I can lose weight quickly — it requires subsisting on vegetables, working out an hour a day, having headaches, and getting pissy. I can also be healthy. That involves foods in moderation, working out as much as I can without upsetting my life, sleeping well, avoiding too much dairy and sugar and eating mostly grains, fruits, and vegetables.

I’ve been keeping up with What I Weigh Today, and Joy is coming to terms with her worries about her weight. When I started to read her blog, I found myself relieved that someone else weighed herself daily and parsed why her weight fluctuated as it did. In the last few weeks, I’ve made myself stop weighing so often and stopped worrying about whether I’m retaining water or a cinderblock. I’m reminding myself that my working out and dietary changes are not about dropping weight like a Tijuana crack whore, but about being healthier in the long run and feeling better. It looks like Joy and I are in very similar spots.

I read an article awhile back in some horrid women’s magazine about a woman who had plastic surgery because of her gut. Honestly, her gut was half the size of mine and she’s in her fifties. She spent thousands of dollars on plastic surgery, and the after picture really looked no different, though she claims she was thrilled, and maybe she was. I kept thinking, I’d have avoided the pain and taken a trip to remember with Mr. B or my friends or my family… hell with how I look in a pair of jeans.

I went back to pole class after a year hiatus this past September. I wanted to lose weight first, but told myself to forget it. I’ve never been one to lack confidence, but dancing again has helped my confidence soar. It’s not just a sexual thing — that was never why, and still isn’t why, I pole dance.  Trust me, when you find your formerly out-of-shape self doing backward spins and flipping upside down on a brass pole and holding your own weight that way, you realize you can take on damn near anything you’re handed, and do it in heels and lipstick, and almost anyone is capable of this. And you don’t have to beat yourself up because you ate cake and cheese toast for dinner, or because you don’t look right in the outfit.

You just have to stop waiting and go ahead and do it. And, you’ll be so happy, you might just take your top off. I’m not apologizing for the fluffy layer of nougat anymore, and if you don’t like seeing me in my bellydance outfit, just pretend we’re at WalMart.

4 Responses

  1. Julie says:

    I loved, loved, loved this blog. Well said by one of the most beautiful women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing – both inside and out. I’m glad you’re embracing it!!

  2. Melissa says:

    Dear Dancing Queen,

    I’m proud of you for taking your top off. I’m prouder of you for writing so eloquently about it, and I’m proudest of you for being a smart and strong woman who goes to a pole dancing class and eats well and likes it. It’s not easy to be a girl who wants to have her cake in this life and eat it, too — but I’m glad that I choose friends that like the way cake tastes more than the way it looks on the shelf.

    It’s interesting how much women choose to be thin, and sometimes secretly choose thinness over the other attributes that they more publicly desire more. We all talk about how much we want to be stronger and how we value “health” over “thinness.” Because let’s make no mistake — the celebrities we see in magazines are not healthy. They’re emaciated. They’re a mere 200 calories, at most, away from a cardiac arrest. And yet these are the pictures we take to salons, to stores — the pictures we emulate.

    I wish I had been in your dance classes. I don’t know if we would have made each other feel better, but I like to think we would have. I don’t know if I was ever overweight, but I always felt like I was.* I had a belly, and I always wore a skirt to my classes. I hated my costumes, too. I used to suck in as much as I could for pictures, but you can’t suck in while you’re dancing. I have that belly to this day. I know now that it’s the way my body is. I know because I had it at my heaviest, and I know because I had it after I lost about 45 pounds. I don’t know if I’ll ever get it to go away.

    Here’s what I learned: when I was at my thinnest, I was weak. I remind myself of that now that I am slightly heavier, because I want to value strength over weakness, be it physical, mental, or emotional. These are the strengths you embodied (Pun!) when you took your top off.

    What you did was amazing. I might just buy a bikini this year, because you are inspiring.

    *Oh and those stretch marks ? Here, too. We should start a support group.

    -Linda Blair

  3. kvlm says:

    brilliant. absolutely brilliant.

  4. “I wasn’t sad because I was heavy – I was heavy because I was sad and lost in my life, trying to figure out what the hell I was doing.” Well put—that’s how I felt several years ago, as well. The ~15 pounds I gained last year stemmed from a new emotional roller coaster, too.

    I think it’s awesome you took off your top. My group workout on Thursday was so hardcore most of the guys ended up shirtless, no matter what their chests, bellies, and backs looked like. Did I strip down to my sports bra? No. Was it because of how my belly looks? Definitely was part of it.

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