The bellydancing was fabulous! The instructor, Sidonia, showed up with a rolling travel suitcase filled with part of her personal collection of be-coined and sequined hip scarves, and each of the 20'ish women in the class chose one to wear. It transformed us all from yoga-pant-wearing workout participants to wimmmmin, all of us with colorfully-wrapped hips ranging from squared and tiny to full and very rounded. Most of us in the middle of that range. We learned a few basic steps, we learned a few basic arm movements, then we strung them together in short dances. What was fabulous? Women not judging one another. Laughter. The beat of the music, some of it like a heartbeat, familiar as a heartbeat, filling us. The three or four moments where the steps felt so natural that I forgot it was a class, forgot I was "stepping" and just moved. And, of course, 20 butt-shaking women's dancing coins makes a sound that is, simply, fabulous.
Women are hard on other women, in my experience. I've been working at losing weight for about 22 months. It's slow going, and I no longer think those who bemoan the difficulty of losing weight once you pass 40 are slugs and laze-asses. For months, as the weight scraped itself off a pound at a time, in fits and jerks, there seemed no outward change in my appearance. Only I seemed to notice that I was fitting into, then shrinking out of, a series of sizes. But lately everyone is noticing, as though the last few pounds I've lost were the magic ones. I'm not done losing and I'm sure there will be more on this topic in future posts, but I have been musing about the questions of weight, body image, vanity.
The women in my family have generally had healthy doses of vanity in their characters. They were of that "type" that put on lipstick to make breakfast. They wore high heels with shorts. They didn't leave the house without checking their hair, lipstick, powder. I grew up thinking all women naturally smelled of AquaNet, lipstick and face powder with a light-to-liberal spray of some specific perfume. These women poked and prodded at their bellies and the thin pads of fat on their hips. They did not work out, they did not know about the muscle loss that attends aging without efforts to fight it. They merely drank more coffee, ate smaller pieces of pie and wished for their old bodies to return.
But - they were not, generally, heavy as women of my generation can become heavy. Most of them were not. The epidemic of obesity that is sweeping our country would have apalled these women. Not because of the health risks. I can't tell you how many times I heard "we're all going to die of something..." - the mantra of my smoking, cocktail-drinking, butter-eating predecessors. No - they'd be motivated not by health, but out of the risk to their wardrobes. I fought my weight as a girl - and I never remember my mother worrying about my health. I was the smart one, not the athlete. No sports. I sang, and acted in plays, and read books. I wrote stories and did math, memorized the periodic table and made people laugh. My mother worried about my looks, my ability to wear hip huggers or short skirts. I later realized that she worried about the world not seeing ME beyond the imperfection of my body. She marveled that, though I truly did WANT to wear the short skirts and tight Calvin Klein jeans that were "the" thing when I was in high school, it wasn't the kind of desire that moved me. I didn't discover that desire until my 20's, when I realized I liked the way being fit, and exercising, felt. Stubborn, I know.
My point? Most people are not motivated by fear. They are only made fearful, and frantic. Vanity seems to me to be born of fear, a fear that you don't measure up or that you will lose the measure of beauty you have. Pleasure and joy motivate. So what works for me is the simple thought that I will feel better and it will show in every line of my (imperfect but pretty awesome anyway) face and body if I simply move my body often and eat well. Great shoes do not hurt. I'm not immune to vanity's tug! :)
Still, there have been moments that I wished to possess a bit more of that vanity. It would maybe stop me from losing track of my physical self when my life gets crazy, or upsetting. Note to self: Life gets crazy, it always will. Must not react to that by abandoning the pleasures of movement.
Happy Heart Day. I'm thinking of rounded and gorgeously imperfect hips wrapped in fuschia and red and purple and black hip scarves, all stepping through a grapevine step, in a circle, while our hands and arms move in Pretty Lady sweeps, to music as familiar as a heartbeat, punctuated by laughter and the cheerful jingle of tiny coins.
Peace and great good thoughts!