by Kristen Ruggles
I’ve always been a big girl.
I come from big stock. My mother’s people are overweight, my father’s people are tall. I got both traits. Growing up a girl with a large, stocky, curvy body was tremendously embarrassing. I took up a lot of space. I once had a desk break while I was sitting in it at school. This didn’t help with the regular torment that I received for being a big girl.
My entire life was a struggle with trying to lose weight. In my quest to lose weight, I tried multiple calorie counting diets. I began to practice yoga. I lifted weights. I took cardio classes. I joined gyms. I swam. I tried everything. I had always been interested in belly dance, so that was my last-ditch effort.
I joined the fundamentals class at Hourglass belly dance, and went through the first session. Yes, I lost a little weight, and my muscles were sore, but I didn’t lose enough. I drilled the moves nightly. I tried desperately to take off that troublesome weight that just wouldn’t go anywhere.
And then we had our first dress rehearsal of the pieces we were going to perform for the show. I watched my big belly suddenly undulate delicately. I saw my flabby arms sway gracefully. I saw my overly ample hips move in a way I’d never seen them move before. My cheeks were flushed with happiness. My hair swung freely. Suddenly I was beautiful.
At our first show, I only heard compliments about how beautifully I danced. How graceful my arms were, how my movements flowed poetically. With every show, my dance sisters reiterated how beautiful it was when I danced. I began to see my body the way others saw the dance through me. It was beautiful.
I began to realize that my forward fold may not be as deep as others, but it was better than it was when I had started yoga. I noticed how I was slowly able to bench press more and more weight. I focused on whether or not I could feel the muscles in my thighs while doing a cardio workout. I began to shimmy for longer periods of time.
There are still days where I look at my body and don’t like what I see. But I am no longer disgusted by my shape. I am no longer intimidated by those with taut and fit bodies. I am eternally grateful to belly dance for teaching me not only an ancient art, but a deep appreciation for the things my body can do and for helping me look past the physical appearance of what my body is.