Angelina Jolie had it in for me

Charni used belly dance to help her feel good during pregnancy

Charni used belly dance to help her feel good during pregnancy

In 2006, while pregnant with my first child, I was convinced that Angelina Jolie had it in for me and was taunting me. Not very rational, as I know she was unaware of my existence, however, I happened to be pregnant with my first child at the exact same time that she was with hers. I’m talking due dates the same and everything. So in the beginning, while I was dealing with tiredness, nausea and sore breasts, I would see her grinning on the cover of a magazine with Brad. As her bump expanded with mine, her slimness was applauded, she was asked for health advice and would go to gala nights looking carefree and glamourous, while I navigated maternity wear and stretch marks.

Angelina Jolie's first pregnancy was at the same time as Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online

Angelina Jolie’s first pregnancy was at the same time as Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online

Was it fair for me to compare? No. She had staff to take care of housework, errands, cooking, plenty of money firmly in the bank, plus personal trainers, and a team of people to glam her up to go to the gala events.

The question was – how could I not compare? When a celebrity is pregnant, she is often snapped looking great and the media comments on it favourably, with Scarlett Johanssen being the favourite at the moment.

Scarlett's curves have been emphasised by pregancy the media has pointed out.

Scarlett’s curves have been emphasised by pregancy the media has pointed out.

Notably, Catherine Zeta Jones, Milla Jovovich and Charlotte Church were criticised for gaining too much weight during a pregnancy – since when did the media become obstetricians?

Catherine Zeta-Jones was critisised by the media for gaining "too much" weight during her pregancy.

The media was quick to point out Mila's weight gain during her pregnancy
The media was quick to point out Mila’s weight gain during her pregnancy

So I had a choice, I could dislike a woman who was probably going through her own set of insecurities and health issues, as well as feeling pressure from the media to look good, or I could work out how to deal with this on my own terms and ignore the magazines.

So I turned to belly dance. I had been a belly dancer for a number of years at this stage already teaching for three years with Happy Hips Belly Dance here in Melbourne. I started to focus on how the pregnant curves of my body enhanced my dancing. I became aware of how the baby behaved during different moves (he seemed to like the gentle shimmies the best). My belly rolls looked amazing, though I had to reassure my students that it would not hurt the baby (no matter how hard you pull your tummy muscles in, they are not strong enough to hurt the baby especially through the amniotic fluid cushion). I found the regular exercise was great for keeping fit and my morale improved. So I started researching more about how this dance form was used for thousands of years in the Middle East as preparation for birth and recovery afterwards.

One of my main reliable sources of information about bellydance; the dance ethnologist Morocco (Caroline Varga Dinicu) also known as “Aunt Rocky”, was able to witness a very private birthing in a Berber tribe in Morocco known as “dancing the baby into the world”. Going in “undercover”, she was privileged to be a part of a sacred circle of women dancing and singing around the birthing mother. The movements and singing gave her a sense of comfort, well-being as well as encouraging her to do different movements for the different phases of the birth.

Morocco or "Aunt Rocky" got a rare glimpse into the traditional way to "dance a baby into the world" in a Middle Eastern Tribe.

Morocco or “Aunt Rocky” got a rare glimpse into the traditional way to “dance a baby into the world” in a Middle Eastern Tribe.

Aunt Rocky, accounts how in is this modern age, a lot of birthing classes focus on relaxation – the idea being that a tense and scared birthing mother is more likely to experience complications and longer labour, hypno-birthing is becoming more popular with the same idea . The women in the tribe, did not know that they were causing an hypnotic state during labour, and the women also didn’t know that birth was supposed to be scary and painful. As a result, it was joyful, and the birthing woman, without any medical intervention, simply squatted over a hollow in the ground and safely birthed twin boys and then the placentas. According to Aunt Rocky, the only sign of strain was the “perspiration soaking her hair and forehead”.

I myself ended up using many belly dance moves during labour as I found it a great way to ease the back aches, plus it gave me a way to move through the contractions and something to focus on. Many times, I didn’t consciously pick a move to do, I just moved however it felt right at the time – maybe some of them even echoed the women in the Moroccan tribe?

I would think that if it was suggested to any of these Moroccan women that they should spend their pregnancy focussed on looking svelte, lean and fit, they would laugh loudly and long.

Did Angelina Jolie have belly dance in her life? Probably not – hey – maybe she is envious of me!

Teenage-hood can be so cruel

The inspiring Lizzie Velasquez

The inspiring Lizzie Velasquez

When I hit puberty, I despaired when my hips widened and my bottom started storing fat – I felt hideous. My cousin would gleefully point out the cellulite on my thighs and bottom, so I felt very self-conscious. I felt this way all through my teens until at age 19 I discovered bellydance and found a place where my figure is “perfect”.

Sometimes I ask myself what would have happened if I had discovered belly dance at 12 or 13. Would I have sailed through my teens with confidence? On the flip side, what would have happened if, instead of finding belly dance in my late teens, I had found a video of myself with the label “Biggest bottomed girl in the world” with 5 million views and thousands of comments telling me how fat and ugly I was. What would you do if this happened to you?

Lizzie knows how to overcome self-esteem issues and use what makes her different into an "asset".

Lizzie knows how to overcome self-esteem issues and use what makes her different into an “asset”.

Well this happened to 17 year old Lizzie Velasquez, who found an 8 second silent video of herself labelled “the ugliest women in the world”. The comments encouraged her to kill herself or that somebody should remove her from this world with a burning torch. Lizzie has a rare syndrome which means she can never gain weight, is compleltely blind in one eye and visually impaired in the other. She has never weighed more than around 30 kgs. What did Lizzie do after seeing this video? Well, first she cried buckets. Then she decided to take a stand and be defined by what she wanted to be defined by, and turn her syndrome into an asset. She became a motivational speaker, an author of motivational books, she completed college, and is about to be part of a documentary movie about her life which she funded through a kick-start project.

Watch her inspirational TedxAustin Women video:

Or read more at her website.

So my hat is off to you, Lizzie. A big bum doesn’t look like such a big obstacle anymore!