Media and Magazines suck!

Belly dance students come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Research shows that belly dancers have fewer hang-ups about their bodies.

Belly dance students come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Research shows that belly dancers have fewer hang-ups about their bodies.

Rant alert! I am SICK to DEATH of seeing nothing but photoshopped images in the media! I know, I know, nothing radical or new about this rant, but as my daughter gets older, I find myself more and more protective of what she sees. Currently, she is very secure in the knowledge that has “a really cute bottom” (she says) and likes it when her bathers show it off (which in itself can be worrisome except she is soooo very proud that I am seeing it as a good thing). Now while she knows that she is also intelligent, kind, generous, a good problem solver and a confident reader, I am worried that in a few years when we move from cartoon based TV and movie viewing to “real” looking actors that she is going to change her view of herself. Growing up, I always looked for any signs of curves on female actors, wanting to feel “normal” as I always felt as if my thighs were enormous. And no matter how hard I looked, actresses didn’t seem to have wobbly bits or cellulite. Why the heck not?

I came across a very disturbing set of statistics from Raderprograms:

Women Are Dying to be Thin - Media Influence on Eating Disorders
Infographic provided by Rader Programs

Recently, Meaghan Kausman, went public about her outrage over an underwater photo in which she was wearing Fella Swim bathers, was used by Fella Swim on their own website, after photoshopping her body (and without permission). She was outraged and says she is a size 8 not a 4. Considering a size 8 is already quite petite, why would they feel the need to photoshop?

Meaghan is the daughter of body image campaigner Dr Rick Kausman, who advocates a ‘non-diet’ approach to health, and it’s refreshing his views seem to have been instilled in his daughter.

She told Cosmopolitan magazine: “Because of who my Dad is and the way I’ve been brought up, I’ve never felt any pressure to look a certain way. And if people can take one thing away from all of this it should be to love who you are, which I know can be hard, but it’s so important for people to feel comfortable in themselves and not to strive for something that doesn’t exist.

“That photo wasn’t me, and the reality is no one looks like that. It’s so important for people to realise how heavily photoshopped these kinds of images are.”

Here are the two photos see what you think:

Meaghan Kausman was photoshopped by the bikini makers without her permission.

Meaghan Kausman was photoshopped by the bikini makers without her permission.

You would have read my recent blog about the Feelings of a Plus Sized Bellydancer, why can’t our perceptions of beauty change? Yesterday, I found myself in a Facebook “discussion” about what constitutes “beauty”. One narrow-minded (yes that is a judgmental opinion!) person said that no-one over 40 who does not have tight skin and a thin physique should dance in public. You can imagine the hurt and outrage that ensued. The commenter actually honestly did not realise that she was being so hurtful until I sent her a personal message asking her to stop. She used the old “I’m just expressing my opinion” stance in defence. As I turn 40 next year, and am always advocating positive body-image, I found it extra offensive!

So this leads to the fact that my daughter is into Princesses (sigh) so, first, I showed her pictures of “real” Princesses without their finery on (Princess Eugene and Beatrice etc), and she was quite disappointed, but just said she preferred the “beautiful ones”. So when I steered her towards Merida in Brave, she says she likes Cinderella best (a doormat for a role modal NOOOOOO! Mind you, she hasn’t even seen the movie lol) Maybe I could stick these versions of the Disney Princesses into her books? Like this one of Jasmine:

Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin is much too tiny.

Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin is much too tiny.

 

This version of Jasmine from Aladdin shows a still slim, but less unhealthy looking Princess for our young girls.

This version of Jasmine from Aladdin shows a still slim, but less unhealthy looking Princess for our young girls.

And don’t get me started on female superheros costumes!

Lammily is a doll who has healthy proportions, and looks like she could do anything!

Lammily is a doll who has healthy proportions, and looks like she could do anything!

So what can I do to protect the self-esteem of my daughter? I guess the only things I can

do is read her empowering stories of Princesses rescuing themselves (A great list of Independent Princesses can be found on A Mighty Girl website), receive the realistically shaped Lammily Doll I ordered (see what kids think of her) praise her for attributes that are not to do with looks, but rather her ability to resolve situations and make good choices, and live as an example in showing pride in my curves. (And cross my fingers!)

Survivors wear their scars with pride

These breast cancer survivors in Taiwan performed belly dance at a Taiwan Breast Cancer Alliance Conference.

These breast cancer survivors in Taiwan performed belly dance at a Taiwan Breast Cancer Alliance Conference.

Women have started belly dance classes with me for a variety of reasons, offline or online. One of them is a way to celebrate life after Cancer. Especially “women’s cancers”. You spend so much time and energy feeling like your body is the enemy, you end up with parts missing, extra scars, and when you are one of the ones to beat it – then what? One way to learn to love your body again and celebrate the living body, with a new shape and a new mind, is to do something that gives you pride and pleasure. Belly dance is one way. This lady, Kellie Green, chose another.

I think she looks beautiful. Are you any less of a woman without breasts? (or scarred ones?) Without a uterus? Or ovaries? It may feel that way at first. But it’s not your female genitalia which makes you “female”.

Here’s what one of my student’s said about recovering from breast cancer: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years back when I was 31. Went through mastectomy (breast removal), chemotherapy and then a breast reconstruction. When I was planning my reconstruction, people said I was being stupid to go for another surgery since looks don’t matter. I agree looks don’t make me what I am but I did this to make myself happy. Today (with all the scars), I feel more happy with myself than I ever did and your classes are way of celebrating this love that I have developer for myself.
Thanks and Regards
Shruti Sharma”

Peace and happiness can come after the battle.

Peace and happiness can come after the battle.

The scars can run deeper than the skin. Some women opt for a complete breast reconstruction, some of these are not successful. Being able to look in the mirror and like what you see scars and all, can be incredibly confronting and brave. Tattoo artist, Amy Black, has mastered the 3D looking nipples tattoos, or tattoos over the area where a breast used to be, so looking in the mirror is easier and enjoyable.

Look in the mirror and be proid of what you see

Look in the mirror and be proud of what you see

Never feel you are being “shallow” for wanting to look good. Build your self-esteem, allow compliments and be proud of what you have achieved, survived and gained. Life.

 

Need more information? Want to do more?
Click these links for further help or information on breast cancer or ovarian cancer or other cancers. Also click on the link on this website to give women free mammograms to enable early breast cancer detection. Or do something to celebrate and raise funds with a “Girls’ Night In” fundraiser.
For more information on the belly dancing suvivors from Taiwan read more here: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2006/10/31/2003334121

Schooling for the teacher

A true teacher never stops learning.

A true teacher never stops learning.

I have just been schooled. I pride myself on using phrases that work inline with mental imagery and brain learning systems, using NLP techniques and always keeping it positive.

I refuse to accept the word “can’t” in my student’s vocabulary, they have to say “I am finding this difficult” or “I haven’t mastered this move yet”. I encourage positive ways to think and feel about your body and engaging your muscles.

However. I have just read the most interesting Huffington Post article by tap dance teacher Amanda Trusty. She points out that using phrases like “tuck your booty under” and “suck your tummy in” give both an incorrect engagement of the muscles and contribute to negative feelings about the body. I am guilty of using the phrases “tummy in, tail under” A LOT! Now a booty/tail should be tucked under, but this is not because a booty is a bad thing – (definitely not! Especially a sticky-out booty like mine!) it is all postural to protect the lower back. A tummy needs to be pulled in, not because a voluptuous tummy is a bad thing, it’s so as to engage the core muscles for strength and stability. But ‘just’ sucking your tummy in doesn’t actually engage the tummy muscles. Amanda points out that we can use better phrases to get a better result – and without the body image stigma attached to it. Since as Amanda is a positive body image advocate and blogs about her recovery from eating disorders – I am going to listen!

She recommends:

1. Visualise a beautiful tail feather at the base of your spine in whatever are your favourite colours. Then say: “point your tail feathers to the floor”.

Aim your tail feathers to the floor while shaking them!

Aim your tail feathers to the floor while shaking them!

2. Use “Engage your belly”. She uses Pilates exercises to teach about the core, and then encourages her students to check standing in the mirror that they are not raising their ribs or shoulders while doing it.

3. “Show off your necklace” she asks her students to imagine they are wearing a beautiful necklace and they want to show it off. This means keeping shoulders down and chin up and lifting the ribs slightly. To remind someone she will say “I can’t see your necklace” and instantly their upper body posture will change and chin will lift.

Amanda lives what she teaches. Here is a video of her dancing to Katy Perry’s Roar. Where she starts out demure, covered up, restrained. Then she takes off the layers, undoes her hair and more importantly rips off the limiting words (literally) and breaks free enjoying the freedom and movement of a body with curves. Go Amanda!

I’m “All About the Bass” too!

Meghan Trainor and her song "All about that bass" is catchy and has a great message.

Meghan Trainor and her song “All about that bass” is catchy and has a great message.

I have just heard a really catchy song that I just can’t get out of my head: it’s “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor. So I, like millions of others (9 million and counting), checked out the YouTube video, and now I have cute Katy Perry-esque visuals to go with the catchy tune! Her message is what I have been saying all along. Your size is perfect how you are today, so rejoice! (And focus on fitness and fun instead, like maybe through belly dance, nope not biased at all!).

 

So I decided to do some research on Meghan, and found a couple of interviews. Turns out she was a song writer for other artists, wrote this song for fun and was encouraged to sing it herself. The girl who lived by the beach but didn’t feel confident enough to wear bathers is now empowering people to think positively about their shape. She says to stop photoshopping and idealising the stick figure Barbie shape.

She has also come under attack, why? There seems to be a few “criticism camps”:

Criticism 1: She talks about “skinny bitches” so gets accused of skinny bashing.
The truth is the full lyrics (see below) are:
“I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
No I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat
But I’m here to tell ya
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”

So she is really saying; I know everybody has body image issues no matter your size.

Criticism 2: She is not “fat” enough. Yep, that is the talk.

This guy has some moves!

This guy has some moves!

That no-one on her video is fat “except the obese black guy dancing” (His name is Sione from Vine). Meghan and her back up dancers are all “normal sized” with healthy proportions. She is certainly not a “size two” (scary thought) and I don’t see how this stops her from commenting on what it is like to be a woman of curves in a society which idealises skinniness. Plus, as I mentioned in my last post, their BMI is probably overweight to obese. (Which is meaningless in regards to health)

Meghan Trainor and her dancers for "All about the bass" called "not fat enough"!

Meghan Trainor and her dancers for “All about the bass” called “not fat enough”!

 

Criticism 3: Her song does not have a strong bass beat.

Size differences between the instruments show that the more "bass" and instrument, the larger and rounder it is.

Size differences between the instruments show that the more “bass” and instrument, the larger and rounder it is.

Yep, some people missed the point. Well I will admit to some confusion when I thought she was singing “all about that bass, no trouble” and was relieved when I saw from the lyrics that it is “no treble”! It’s actually a great shorthand. A bass instrument is deeper and larger than a treble – think double bass compared to a violin.

 

Full Lyrics “All About That Bass”

Because you know
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass, no treble (x3)
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I’m supposed to do
Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
And all the right junk in all the right places

I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop
If you got beauty beauty, just raise ’em up
Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top

Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

Because you know
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass, no treble (x3)
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass
Hey!

I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
No I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat
But I’m here to tell ya
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She said boys like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

Because you know
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass, no treble (x3)
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass

Because you know
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass, no treble (x3)
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass

Because you know
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass, no treble (x3)
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass
I’m all about that bass
‘Bout that bass
‘Bout that bass, ’bout that bass
Hey, hey, ooh
You know you like this bass

If you haven’t had enough, here is a cute little behind the scenes making of the music video clip:

Fit, fat and fabulous!

Being fit, gives you energy, decreases stress and is healthier than a low number on the scale.

Being fit, gives you energy, decreases stress and is healthier than a low number on the scale.

Oprah was famous for saying “fat is an emotional issue” and she is right. Any female (and some men too!) will tell you what their “fat bits” are, and feel fat – even when friends are telling them they look great. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am aware that I have a small frame. I am also aware of the weight I carry on my thighs and bottom. Thanks Nanna! A few years ago I got a shock when I realised that I had gained 20 kilos in 20 years. Now this should not have been a shock, I had been aware of it creeping up and that I no longer fit in my old clothes. It was just I thought – hang on, does that mean I will be 30 kilos more in 30 years? Plus, when I gain weight, I don’t develop rolls, I stay the same shape just more of it, so it was deceptive. I checked my BMI to be sure – yep obese (I freaked out at that one!) anyway, after a long journey of blood tests, gyms, weights resistance and with the help of my Doctor working out I had an oversensitivity to simple sugars and switched to low GI, (lots of complex carbs – its a good thing I love my salad!) I managed to get back to a “healthy” BMI. What shocked me, was that there really wasn’t much difference between healthy to overweight to obese in the BMI (or in the scales).

Measure up by your fitness not your waistline!

Measure up by your fitness not your waistline!

I still weigh 10 kilos more than I did 20 years ago, however, I feel better than I did then. I feel fitter, stronger and healthier, and less likely to get illnesses. I have discovered there have been studies on this, which say just that – your weight is not the best indicator of health – it’s your fitness. And overweight people have more in reserve for when illness does strike so that they can cope better and recover faster. It’s called the Obesity Paradox by Dr Carl Lavie. “More often than not, cardiovascular fitness is a far more important predictor of mortality risk than just knowing what you weigh,” says Glenn Gaesser

I was particularly impressed by a writer in The Age, Bryony Gordon who talks about how she has learned to love her new “fat” self after having a baby. And loves not having to watch what she eats and feels better and healthier as a result.

So, while I am not advocating you go out and get as fat as possible, I think a relaxed attitude about size and a focus on fit would do us all a world of good. Hey – I guess that’s where bellydancing comes in!!

The best bellydancers are fit not skinny!

The best bellydancers are fit not skinny! Bellydanceatanysize.com

 

Like Santa for your vagina!

Charni would like to have celebrated her first period!

Charni would like to have celebrated her first period!

I have often lamented that I didn’t find belly dance until I was at the end of my teens rather than the beginning. Hips widening, and those lovely little cherrry-sized lumps that bulge behind your nipples are not the only signs of womanhood. As a woman, we think back all misty eyed to that very momentous occasion in a young girl’s life, when she becomes a woman. Yes, that very special moment that says she has flowered, can be looked back upon fondly….. NOT! I don’t know about you, but my “special” moment happened on holidays, with extended family, at my Grandparent’s place on the Gold Coast. And I discovered the onset of this momentous occasion at…Dreamworld! I spent the whole day trying to get my Mum to one side to tell her, and kept visiting the toilets every hour to see if the toilet paper pad was holding up. I ended up telling her when we got back. It was not a moment of celebration. She was annoyed as she only had tampons, so had to go around all the aunts and cousins asking if anyone had supplies. Just a tad embarrassing for a 12-year-old. I had read books (one of which was “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret” by Judy Blume) and pamphlets, but nothing prepared me for this public “coming out” of my womanhood!! Aaarrgh!

How was it for you?

Well I have just discovered the most marvellous, empowering and hilarious videos made by a company called HelloFlo. I introduce you the “Camp Gyno” who gets her Red Badge of Courage!

Classic!! THis had me in stitches! “LIke Santa for your vagina”!!!!

Here’s another funny video from HelloFlo about what happens if you jump the gun and announce the event too soon…

Well my point is, that it doesn’t need to be something dreaded or embarrassed about. It happens, so let’s find the fun and embrace these girls who are now joining the “Red Sisters” Club.

 

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!

The secret of Shakira’s hips is out!

Shakira's hips don't lie when the music is right!

Shakira’s hips don’t lie when the music is right!

We all know that Shakira’s “hips don’t lie” but until now, we did not know what she meant! I always took it to be about body shape and enjoying the curves, however in an article published in March 2014 by Women’s Health Magazine with Shakira on the cover, she reveals the true secret behind the lyrics: It’s all in the music. She says that when she is in the studio recording, she knows when a song isn’t right or finished if her hips aren’t moving, in other words – she is not feeling it in her body. When her hips start to move along with the music, then she knows it is ready. (read more on what she says)

I am often telling women to listen to their bodies when dancing and to get the brain out of the way. Often a move is over-analysed and critiqued. Shut the thoughts off (especially the negative ones) and let your body feel the music and the rhythm will flow. The hips don’t lie!

Watch her feel the music live on stage!

Emma says: “The Queen of belly dance” makes you feel good!

I was mentioned in a blog post by the lovely Emma of Emma Nutrition after we had a back and forth email conversation about the benefits of belly dance. She quotes me as saying

The delightful Emma from Emma Nutrition

The delightful Emma from Emma Nutrition

“we celebrate the wobbly bits, we wiggle and jiggle and giggle. We can see that a curvy dancer looks beautiful, we see that women of all shapes and sizes and ages attend the class, and it is not the size that determines how well we belly dance.” I also pointed out an amazing study done only last year in Brazil on the emotional and physical benefits of belly dance on a group of women with fibromyalgia, check out the link or Emma’s blog to find out the results! (I like to keep you in suspence, though I might blog about it another day). Even if you yourself, do not suffer from fibromyalgia, the secondary symptoms of pain, stress, fatigue and coping with difficulties can apply to many of us. Happy reading, and happy jiggling and giggling!

How do you cope with stress?

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online loves to dance and finds it a great sress reliever.

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online loves to dance and finds it a great stress reliever.

We all experience stressors in life, it’s in how we cope which is important. Some people turn to alcohol, or other drugs. Others exercise as a way to escape, others turn on the TV, open a book, or listen to music. Others dance.

I bellydance. When I do, I feel fantastic; alive, vibrant, sexy, free and happy.

I just came across a video of a boy who does the same (uses dance as a means to escape – not belly dance) and it is really well done, that I thought it was worth sharing.

I hope you enjoy the video as much as I do, it is 3 minutes that is well-spent.