A while ago I came across a picture of a dancer that kind of changed a lot of things for me.
It was after looking at a plethora of impossibly beautiful pictures of belly dancers, many of them artistic and inspirational, but some of them so airbrushed you have to wonder what the reaction of their clients would be when they see the dancers in the flesh.
And then there she was, looking alive and strong, graceful and proud… and real. She made me glad to be a woman, made me believe I could be something more.
I don’t find the recent trend of publicising pictures of women’s scarred stomachs particularly helpful in learning to accept my own.‘Oh, look, there a millions of other women with the same saggy skin and wrinkles like me. We must be beautiful.’It’s just another form of objectification, where we focus on the body not on the person.
What I do like are the images of women doing incredible and beautiful things with their bodies, and oh, they happen to have stretch marks. The scars are not hidden but they become an aside. You notice them but you are much more taken by the talents, the skills, and the personalities of the women. They’re not letting fear of criticism stop them from doing what they love, from sharing their gifts with the world.
That’s when I see what I think of as warrior women. Life has marked them, but they keep fighting. They have been through battles and have earned the respect of the tribe. They teach the younger women that beauty doesn’t end when you are no longer smooth and perky, that the inner person you have developed does show through. These women are my role-models.
Belly dancing is helping me to accept myself in a way that nothing else has.
Being in a class with women at all stages of life and seeing what dance brings out of them – it’s an experience all women should have.
The moments when you catch yourself in the mirror and realise it is you moving like that – you can’t buy this.
Walking along and being aware of the sway of your hips and feeling a rush of love for your beautiful body – that is how you are meant to feel.
In my short story Unphotoshopped (a work in progress), I tried to capture what the picture taught me in some advice the main character receives from her drummer:
‘He told me quite firmly that if I danced thinking about my imperfections, that’s what my audience would see; if I danced with joy and to give a gift to people, that’s what would be noticed.’
So here’s a picture of me doing what I love. (If – like I probably would – you want to scrutinise it closely for stretch marks, just know that it was a gentle light that afternoon.)