I now have video proof of what I look like when dancing topless. It's not great.
"Oh, God, that's me?!"
BUT I'm trying REALLY hard to see it through a different lens.
Walk with me on this journey of positivity and pasties.
I don't have a lot of pictures of me looking free or sexy, and certainly none of me dancing. I've always felt too uncoordinated, too cumbersome and big, too large on top and small on bottom, too self-conscious. I was over thirty when I realized I actually really loved dancing...in clubs...in the dark...with tequila on board, but I haven't made much room for it since I had that discovery, and doing it sober with the lights on?? Sweet lawd.
I've written about it a lot before, how I've never been comfortable with my boobs, my body, with being a woman out in the world, with claiming any sort of sexiness or taking up space in that realm. Some combination of religious, conservative upbringing and my own bag of body issues has made me hold myself at arms' length. And, yeah, it's effected my relationship and my general self-esteem and identity. (I do recognize that my body has many privileged characteristics which mean that society lands less hate and violence on it than it does on others).
At 40, I decided I was going to claim my sexiness! I went to the mall to buy a cute little dress and....left with a(nother) beige sweater. I got boudoir pictures...and used the talents of the photographer for professional headshots instead, only taking this one lone pic of me in anything less than a shirt.
I hated the picture and hid it. This is the first time I'm showing anyone. I was ashamed because I was pale and wide and thought I looked like a linebacker. A good bra can only do so much when you dare to lie down- it took twenty minutes just to get my boobs to behave. I couldn't both put my arms up AND have cleavage. The photographer was standing over me on a ladder, going, "Can't you make them sit up more and look less like a teet omelette?" ( I might be paraphrasing, she's very nice). This was the best I could do.
I've been mad at myself from that day on that I played it safe and scared and judgmental. Fuck. I'm tired of hating on myself like this. I was an old dog trying to learn this new trick of embracing my body as it was and loving and being attracted to myself and getting over my hang-ups....and I was a very sneaky old dog who refused to learn any new tricks at all.
So then I wrote this article about getting your sexy mojo back after having kids, and one of the women I interviewed mentioned joining a burlesque troop and how much it increased her sense of self and sexiness. She showed up AS IS and started seeing herself in this hot, fresh, worthy new light. I wanted that.
I found a local burlesque teacher who turned out to be so much more- she's a fascinating, fantastic human whose mission is to empower women and help them release all this baggage and step into their most authentic, embodied selves. I REALLY wanted that. (Read her bio- she's an extremely interesting person and I wrote it!!)
A few weeks ago I started the12-week course where I develop my own burlesque act. I chose a song that is tender and powerful, and I'm dancing my grief and angst out every week over Zoom to a room full of empathetic, supportive women. I feel amazing while I'm doing it....and then I watch the video and see what I look like while I did it. The two don't match. "Oh, my God- that's me?!"
I see my breasts, now less omelettes and more soft boiled eggs with unmelted shredded cheese on top following a breast reduction that left me nasty scars from terrible healing. (YOU'RE WELCOME for the visual.) I see my flat ass and round torso and am furious with myself for being thirty pounds heavier than I've been most of my adult life and seventy pounds heavier than the way I picture my "should be body" (high school) in my head.
I recognize intellectually how impractical and unfair it is for me at forty-two to imagine I should look how I did when I was eighteen, and yet, still....every inch over that "norm" is a fail, every blunted corner on my would-be sharp body is a crime, every shirt that doesn't fit like it "should" or ways that I don't measure up to the ideal in my mind...it stings.....and I know I should be more evolved and have worked through this stuff, but the sting is still very present and personal and real. DAMMIT.
So. I carry on, I keep trying. I share this here, I talk to my therapist. I choreograph, I shop for pasties and undies. I pray that with enough encouragement and processing of the mental and physical scars (and plenty of glitter and false eyelashes), I'll be in a place where I can show up and do my dance, feel good about it, AND watch it later and say, "Oh my God, that's me!!" in an appreciative way.