Bearing weight and baring my teeth.

I consider myself lucky. I was raised in a household where weight wasn’t an issue. My parents never commented on my size, and they always put great emphasis on self-esteem, positive body image, and self-respect.  I am also lucky because I am naturally petite.  I am, by far, not a skinny skinny girl, but I am mostly happy with my size, and many others refer to me as being “tiny”.

Herein lies the issue.

What does it mean that I, at 5’2″ and 130 pounds, am getting comments on my performance videos that I “look like [I’ve] had a baby”, or that someone on a popular bellydance forum suggested that I am a “larger” dancer?  I am secure enough in my own self-image that I’m only mildly offended by these comments, but the implications of the comments really bother me.

Why is it that if someone is 5’2″ and 130 pounds that she is considered “larger”?  Seriously.  What is wrong with our own self-image as women when a we see little belly jiggle in a fellow dancer and consider her, for lack of a better term, “fat”?  As I sit here in my Size Small shirt and my Size 6 Short jeans, I wonder, how damaged are we as a gender?  And when will we stop projecting our warped view of the women’s bodies on our peers, teachers, and mentors?  No WONDER there is an epidemic of skewed and negative self-image among women in this country (I’m in the United States, so international readers might have a different perspective).

On one hand, I am appalled.  I am appalled that I am considered “large”.  I am not large. I know I am not conventionally skinny, but I am not large.  And if you think that I am large, then I seriously suggest that you re-evaluate your perception of the female form.

On the other hand… if I am considered to be a “larger” and still internationally-known performer and instructor, maybe that can inspire my fellow dancers, give them hope that you don’t have to be 100 pounds or less to be a success.  For some reason, some dancers see me as some anomaly, the “normal”-sized dancer who made it big.  Frankly, I never even considered this concept to be unusual at all.  I dance, and I want to dance well.  I teach, and I want to teach well.  Isn’t that what matters?

I am hardly a scholar of women’s studies, so I understand that this topic runs deep… but if you ever looked at me, or any other dancer and thought, “she’s larger…”, please catch yourself, reflect on your reaction, and ask yourself, “why do I think this, and [more importantly], why do I care, and how is this perception affecting my like or dislike of this dancer?”

And with that I leave you a video of Miasia, a dancer who will rock your socks off…. and who does happen to be larger.  And I don’t care, because my jaw is on the floor every time I see her dance.  Watch and let your body-image issues melt away….

 

Comments: 17

Leave a reply »

 
 
 

I’m a male dancer and, to quote Peter Griffin, “men aren’t fat – only fat women are fat,” so I’ve never really had to deal with this issue. The double-standard really shocks me.

I was recently told I was “skinny, but not anorexically so,” and then the person apologized, because some men apparently see being skinny as insulting.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I can kind of feel your pain, but I will probably never truly know what it feels like to hear people speculating about if you’ve had kids or not.

P.S. I jiggle, and I’m proud.

P.P.S. That is one skilled lady. I wish the video were better quality.

 

Reply

 

[…] Weight Issues Posted on April 28, 2010 by Brice Ashta Dancer Asharah has a thoughtful new post about weight in the dance world. I found the post insightful, because I always thought weight […]

 

Reply

 

It’s really a shame when this kind of stuff happens, especially between women. One of the things I love about this dance form is that anyone of any size or shape can do it and do it well. Honestly, I would say a majority of the most captivating/skillful dancers I’ve seen have been on the “larger” side.

I haven’t heard these kinds of comments in person (though I read them plenty on the internet), except from men. Men I take to shows can be quite vocal about the dancers’ bodies. I like to think that, because they know nothing of dance and/or technique, they pay attention to only one thing. But I cut them too much slack, don’t I? And if women of all sizes can’t band together and support each other, no matter what size we are, why should men (or the public in general, for that matter) treat us any better?

 

Reply

 

I have a beautiful large lady in my classes, who has been studying with me for years. She is over 6′ tall and just under 300 lbs. SHE’S GORGEOUS! She is graceful, has lovely technique, muscular control and form, she undulates beautifully and I love her energy and just being around her. Plus she’s funny as hell! I can’t wait to get her on a stage performing, for all the world to see her in her glory! I love her SO MUCH and am proud to be her teacher!

 

Reply

 

Ah, the result of the illusion of anonymity the internet brings us… 😉

Further expanding my comment on Twitter:

I don’t allow comments on my youtube performance videos, and it’s a shame that I don’t feel comfortable having them. I’d dearly love to have the concrit from my peers. But that’s just it; I just want the constructive criticism and the support, not jeers from uneducated people who automatically believe that thin=fit and that thin is the only way good bellydancers can be shaped.

The frustrating part? I know better, rationally. Artemis used to say to me, “embrace the jiggle”, and I know she’s right. But I didn’t have the benefit of a supportive household (my dad and I were anorexic, my smaller-shaped family was rude about my larger frame,) so in spite of my head knowing that size shouldn’t matter, I still struggle with acceptance of my shape. Therefore, I don’t think I could just let the youtube comments roll off me. Maybe someday I could, sure. I dearly want to. But today is not that day.

I know I’m not alone in this, too. I think a large percentage of us are learning to become more accepting of ourselves, but it’s an ongoing process, and we’re not finished yet.

Fundamentally, it seems like we’re doing a serious disservice to our community by allowing size even be a qualifier when discussing a dancer. (“She’s good for a larger dancer.” UGH.) I wish we could make honest strides toward being more size-blind, but I’m not sure how to do that yet. The only idea I’ve had is to talk more about the individuality of *all* our bodies, and the implications of that in terms of our best movement vocabularies and how we paint shapes in space with our dance. Because that’s a highly individual thing for each of us, and contributes greatly to our respective styles. I’d be interested to see what integrating that idea into our dance trainings could do for our communities; maybe if we stopped thinking in terms of thin and fat, we could start focusing on each dancer’s talents and fortés, about what makes each of us unique.

Make sense?

 

Reply

 

I wish I could say “You’re kidding?!”, but I guess I can’t. I danced for you in Gothenburg in October and trust me, larger is not a word that could be used about you in my part of the universe. Inspiring, awesome, artistic, talented, dramatic – yes. I don’t really care about people’s physiques, but the two words that spring to mind are gorgeous and tiny. At 5’9”, and slim, I probably looked like a giant next to you. But who cares?

Weight comments about a dancer, instead of looking at the dance itself, fall into the “you’ve got to be kidding” category of reactions for me. But they’re not a joke, or rather they are – a very cruel one. I just DON’T GET how so many women are so incredibly overcritical to their sisters’ appearance, and take every opportunity to flaunt their own physical insecurities and projecting them onto others. Because it is about projection, and twisted ideals, and a sad focus on trivialities, on the things that don’t really matter, instead of on the important things. I want to grab those women by the hair and have them stand naked in front of a mirror and ask what it is they hate so much about their own gorgeous bodies to make them so critical to others. But that’s me – 25 years of EDs mean I’m now allergic to the freaking stereotypical “norm” and twisted ideals that too many women mindlessly buy into.

Come on, sisters, let’s get real. Very few real women are size 0, and I sure as hell am glad to not see very many size 0 dancers. I’m surprised at how many incredibly toned tribal dancers there are, but that doesn’t mean it makes them better or more beautiful. To me, dance is a celebration of the body, no matter its shape. When I look at a dancer, I see passion, intensity, drama, performance, technique, control; I see undulations, shimmies, isolation – not jiggly bits and non-jiggly bits. What’s WRONG with you if you look at a performance and criticise the dancer’s size???

~L

 

Reply

 

Hear! Hear! And what a wonderful dance!

As a rubenesque dancer myself I have had to deal with this on occasion. I have received various comments (the majority of which are positive or provide creative criticism) but one of the worst was; “WOW! For a plus size gal, you sure can dance!”

I gave up dance for a couple of years because I felt like there was NO WAY I would ever be able to continue doing it and be taken seriously. And then I found bellydance and for the most part I have felt well supported and appreciated for just being a dancer.

But I have also seen lovely dancers who are smaller than me driven away by the simplest little comments that shatter their fragile self respect by making reference to her size. Such a shame!

My journey as a dancer has finally led me to accepting that I ultimately dance first and formost for the way it makes me feel. And as a performer I then also dance to take my audience on a journey to a place that transcends mundane perceptions so that they are impacted emotionally and feel it so keenly that they are only aware of that feeling…

So, I know I am fortunate to have discovered that BEFORE it stopped me dancing forever and I work everyday to try and help other dancers (regardless of size and ability) to discover that as well.

See the video link below for one of the dance related projects I am involved in that really seems to help people connect with dance positively…regardless of anything else :)
http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2010/04/16/2875412.htm

 

Reply

 

I’m shocked! I can’t believe they say you’re “big”. Who is the standard? Jodie Kidd? If a woman can’t have a healthy constitution without being called “big”, then we’re in serious trouble. A normal female body has some fat tissue on it. End of story. To make that an issue, addressing the “normal” women with the need to lose weight, is sick. Asharah, I’m so glad that you point this madness out, and I posted this link on my fan page on FB too. I want people to read it, and think.

 

Reply

 

I think many people mistake ‘curvy’ for ‘large’. I think having the curves works better for dancers, IMHO. There’s more visual appeal (from a musical point of view). I’m not a dancer, I’m just a musician, so what do I know? :-) But I like the visual aspect the dance gives to music and it shouldn’t matter if you are big or small, it’s the dance that is important.

 

Reply

 

Oh, you’ve hit a good nerve! Ditto on the above comments about your sassy self…I get weird comments all the time, but they come from BOTH sides. “You’re soooo skinny, how do YOU bellydance?” and “You’re so CURVY.” This just shows me that beyond the horribly warped, over-tansprayed, ironed hair, overgymmed diet pill beauty Holy Grail, there are also individual women with their own healthy or unhealthy views of what a Woman should look like and why. Bellydance saved me from an eating disorder and a self-abusive downward spiral; I have met confident, sexy women of all sizes in this community. I think the world needs a Reset, and it’s people like us who will help it along.

And Abby, you just can’t do nothin bout Tacky 😉 I remember Rachel Brice coming in for a Charlotte NC workshop years ago; she had put on a bit of weight eating yummy bread and cheese in France, but I was frankly in awe of her figure – it was curvalicious. Some IDIOT in the classroom goes “Wow Rachel, are you pregnant??” She laughed it off, but damn! TACKY.

I love you, I’ve always thought you have an awesome body!

 

Reply

 

I think a stick figure girl belly dancing looks wrong. To me, belly dancers (any dancers really) need to have CURVES! Some dancers have more generous curves than others, but that’s not the point of this comment! :)

I agree with most of the comments above. There are people out there who feel that to have bones pushing against your skin is healthy and that any level of curviness is wrong. Women are suppose to be curvy. A little bit of roundness never hurt anybody. So long as you keep yourself well (healthy eating, exercise etc) then it shouldn’t matter what size you are.

 

Reply

 

I started bellydancing because I hated my body and had all but stopped eating for a month or two beforehand. I had put on weight from my senior year of high school to my freshmen year of college. I lost a lot of it by changing my eating habits but still wasn’t happy. I was ruining myself because I thought I had to have a six pack like everyone else seemed to have. Then I started bellydancing. Not only were there girls of all shapes, but all ages as well. It’s taught me to learn to love my body. And when I dance and get all hot and sweaty, the muscles in my stomach pooch out more and I don’t mind one bit.

To me, the only time that seeing someone who is overweight bothers me, is when I know that they aren’t taking care of themselves. I know that they eat fast food everyday in huge amounts and then never workout or get any form of exercise going. They could still be little and it would bother me to see that. Mostly because I have to work so hard to keep a healthy body and it’s not good to be around people who tempt you back to not caring.

However, I love watching larger women and older ladies dance. To me, they’re working against stereotypes and help me get over any shallowness. They’re beautiful too just like all those skinny fit girls. It’s being around women like that who make me love my body more.

And no, I don’t think you are a big girl Asharah. You have so much control over your body and your movements that it is mind blowing. And for everyone yahoo out there that wants to leave a lame comment like that on your video, know that there are tons of dancers out there that love and respect you for the strong woman and dancer that you are.

 

Reply

 

Really, this is not about waist-size… This is about frustrated ladies who:

a) have decided they were not to be professional belly dancer because of their body complex (and so, you have no right to be, you evil “large” woman)

b) are frustrated because of a long-lasting never-working diet

c) are anorexic (and therefor, you are pretty fat compare to them)

d) are in their “week”

e) pretty much all of these answer

I know personally one dancer who have made comments of these sort and I can ensure you she’s not an happy human being. I pity them, and will send them to hell if they dare try again one of their “comments”…

Keep on riding your fat XD

Gen

 

Reply

 

Wow, almost every time I read something you say it hits home… Love you girl <3

Anyhow, I've always thought you were a very tiny girl… I get very self conscious about my weight, especially before performances. We never see ourselves the same way others do. I'm 5'0 132 lbs…. not far from the dancer I admire and think is very slim lol, aren’t we so silly! I have in the past year come to terms with my weight (don't care about lbs, just want to be fit) I'm lucky enough to be married to a personal trainer who has helped me get fit. I don't starve myself or deprive myself of the yummy stuff, I just stay active. I dance- a lot, I power walk and I do my husbands 45min abs class three times a week. Lol now all I get self conscious about before performing is those damn shaky hands!

 

Reply

 

I’ve experienced comments like that when I was at my largest-size 12. It was hurtful because I was aware that it was meant to be an insult. I asked myself, in what context would the size of the dancer be significant, particularly when the size was not really notable? Size 12 is a very popular size. And I’m 5’6″. Very ordinary. And that I’ve given birth? Who gives a rat’s ass?

The only possible reason that such comments come from women’s mouths would be that they are searching long hard for some snippy remark to make about an (obviously) fabulous dancer. I think that these women, even if they are rail-skinny and don’t struggle with their weight have some self confidence issue with themselves because if they did not, any comments they made would at least be relevant to the performance. Maybe they have ugly faces, maybe they are jealous because they can’t dance, maybe they’ve suffered from years of insults and verbal abuse, maybe they are insecure that the dancer might steal their man using hip shimmies…

The fact that they chose to talk about the dancer’s weight can be construed as since they couldn’t find any other flaws to point out, i.e. costume, skill, beauty, or overall performance, they had to put forth so much effort to be mean to someone for no apparent reason.

 

Reply

 

So, I know that this post is a few months old… But as I’m just discovering your blog, I figured I would respond :)

I’ve had the same exact issue… And I’m about the same size as you are… I’m 5’3 and range from about 125-130… depending on the time of the month. I’ve had a video of mine posted on a web forum, without my permission, with the sole purpose of slandering my image. I found comments ranging from “Fat Greasy Haired Bimbo”, “Chubby Drunken Train wreck”, some comments saying that I should be embarrassed that I would even consider revealing my stomach and dancing, and so forth and so on.

I ended up completely humiliated by the time I was done reading the forum. It really put a downer on my self esteem, even though I have a decent hourglass figure, and I have decent abdominal muscles showing.

I’ve always considered curvy (not in the derogatory way… but with an hourglass, and with hips) belly dancers to be more appealing as well… They have hips to move… And it represents the dance better (in my opinion, at least).

I’ve been disgusted by the ways that people view beauty now a days… What with the whole “You’re fat if you’re not under a size 2” ideals that everyone puts out. It’s not healthy, and the fact that women with gorgeous bodies still get insulted and slandered because they aren’t a size 2 is just… extremely unfortunate.

-Soraya

 

Reply

 

[…] so wise and humble, earthy and spirited at the same time that it leaves me wowed. A while ago she wrote a piece about body image that just makes me happy and proud for those who don’t see their flesh as being a […]

 

Reply

 
Leave a Reply
 
  (will not be published)