Butterflies, Belly Dancing, and Lena Dunham

I started a belly dancing class this week.

Let me give you a moment to let that sink in.

Have you recovered? Does it seem as shocking to you as it does to me?

Here is the simple reason I signed up for this class..

I’ve hated my body for years–years, I tell you–and I’m tired of it. I was never the skinny kid. I was never the petite girl. I was pudgy. I was tall.  Big boned. I did not resemble the women in magazines or in movies. I’ve spent years comparing myself to other women and their bodies and always finding myself on the losing side. Carrying around all of this self loathing and doubt is exhausting.

I’m done with it. Or, I want to be done with it.

I want to be able to go to the lake with my family and not avoid actually going near the water because I hate wearing swimsuits. I want to be able to enjoy the outdoors on a hot summer day without being fully clothed because someone might see my thighs. I want to be able to dance at weddings and not be convinced the entire dance floor is laughing at me.

Done, I say.

This is not a plea for you to all very kindly tell me I am beautiful or whatever. Please. Seriously. Do not do that. This has nothing to do with how other people see me. This is about how I see myself. So while I appreciate people’s kind comments, the dissonance between how I have felt about myself and how others have seen me has not helped me move forward on this.

I’m blogging about this publicly for accountability. When you catch me making comments that suggest I might still be harboring hate for my body, you can tell me, “remember how you are done hating your body?”

And so I signed up for belly dancing. Looking at my own body in a mirror for an hour in a public dance class about did me in. But I did it. And I had fun, even. And I hope that after a few more weeks, with some practice, (there’s that word again!) I might actually be re-wiring those messages in my head that have not served me well all these years.

Will let you know how it turns out, but don’t expect any public exhibitions of belly dancing. Baby steps, people.

caterpillar-to-butterfly-2

This has not been a quick realization for me. I sort of blogged about it in this post. It started this summer after I got back from General Assembly. At GA (for you non-Presbyterians–General Assembly is the national meeting of our denomination. I was Boise Presbytery’s clergy commissioner to last summer’s Assembly) I learned some things about myself and my own giftedness. I am eternally grateful for the people who helped bring all that about. But about a week after I had returned from GA, still processing the experience, I had an epiphany of sorts.

I was hiking in Sun Valley. I was thankful to be out on the trails. I was lost in my thoughts, but wondering why the image of a butterfly had been with me after GA. I’m not really the butterfly–dot your “I” with hearts– kind of girl, but I kept thinking of butterflies. I felt like I had stepped out of a cocoon after GA and was wondering why that was my image, my metaphor.

So, I’m hiking and wondering. And I start seeing butterflies. Lots of them. And one landed on the brim of my baseball hat. One landed on my sleeve. One was on the cuff of my jeans. They were swarming all around me. And I stopped. And I swallowed my terror that I was about to be a victim of the first ever butterfly attack on a human. And I was one with the butterflies. They were beautiful, the way the sunlight both shone through and reflected off their wings. They seemed so ephemeral, with those paper thin wings. It was a grace-filled moment and I remain thankful for it.

But it didn’t last long. While my butterfly sisters and I were communing, a dog came bounding down the path and didn’t seem to care at all about the epiphany in process. He moved through in a second and left BUTTERFLY CARNAGE in his wake. Mangled bits of butterflies littered the trail. The butterflies vanished in a flash and I was left alone on the trail with the destruction.

And that is the reality of being a butterfly. It is dangerous. It is fragile.

But it is also beautiful and allows you views and vistas you can’t see when wrapped in a cocoon. So the belly dancing is a part of my butterfly experience too. Because my self-loathing and disdain for my own body left me wrapped in a cocoon of sorts. Not feeling able to move about and interact in the world. Done with that cocoon. Done.

And then there’s Lena Dunham. She is the creative force behind and the star in front of the show “Girls” on HBO. She is young. She appears to be fearless, although I’m sure that’s not quite true. But she fearlessly says important things and challenges our conceptions about how we should look, how we should interact with each other, how we live “moral” lives. I invite you to read this article about her.  Playboy Magazine asked her how she would feel if she woke up in the morning with the body of a Victoria Secret model, which was, I’m sure, their oh-so-subtle way of reminding her she doesn’t have the body of a Victoria Secret model….

Here is her reply:

I’d be really disoriented and wonder what had happened in the night,” Dunham responded. “I don’t think I’d like it very much. There would be all kinds of weird challenges to deal with that I don’t have to deal with now. I don’t want to go through life wondering if people are talking to me because I have a big rack. Not being the babest person in the world creates a nice barrier. The people who talk to you are the people who are interested in you. It must be a big burden in some ways to look that way and be in public.”

I am thankful for her and for her willingness to challenge us all (and me, specifically) with our body image ideals and problems. I’m thankful she doesn’t buy into the dominant cultural paradigm of thin, skinny=ideal, perfect.

And so I will try to pay attention to that paradigm and will try to set it aside as well. Because it is so exhausting to carry around. I saw the article this week about the human Barbie Doll and before I fell into despair, I remembered I was done with hating my body. Baby steps, right.

Wonder if I could get Lena Dunham to come to belly dance class with me?

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15 thoughts on “Butterflies, Belly Dancing, and Lena Dunham

  1. Belly dancing is supposed to be good for core strength or something, I read once.

    I think Dunham is right. When you’re not beautiful, you know your male friends like you for *you*. I’ve always appreciated this.

    And good luck on the self-loathing (my superego’s been in overdrive for weeks). I’ll look forward to hearing about your progress (and / or lack of same — no pressure).

  2. I think everyone, men included, have issues with the body they are in, even the Victoria Secret models, I bet, don’t think they are perfect when they look in the mirror.

    • I bet that is true. And, judging from the recent photoshopping fails, I bet many of the Victoria Secret models don’t even look like their photos do. But I am sure they share the same issues.

  3. You rock, pastor lady and friend! Though I DID go through a phase of bubble letters and making pretty “i’s” I am glad to be among real women with real minds and real bodies. Flutter away!!!

  4. I admire your courage – I would love to do something similar but I am not brave enough to do it alone. I am a BIG chicken about showing my body in any way unless I have trusted friends in tow. I cannot seem to get past it.
    I will be sending prayers and good vibes for you in this journey – go Marci!!

  5. I understand the body hatred. I even still understand it deeply, even though I’ve lost a substantial amount of weight.

    And, boy do I understand the dissonance you write about.

    I can’t wait to hear how this goes for you!

    • Jules, looking at back at my body loathing across the years, I realize the weight I was at rarely had anything to do with it. Regardless of how thin I might have been (relatively speaking) I was never thin enough.

      I threw out my scale a few years back. Might have been the best first step.

      • Yes. Just last night I was lying in bed almost in tears because with the weight loss in my thighs, my ‘saddle-bags’ are all the more obvious. I realize how sick and maladjusted that sounds…

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