Fat Shopping

This post is a bit overdue seeing as I went shopping with Katie last Friday.  But I still want to share the experience because it is part of my transformation and I wanted to contrast it with a previous experience I had a few years ago.

So, this post isn’t about dancing but it seems like this blog is shaping up to be mostly about dancing but also about my process of changing and sometimes there are peripheral stories that are a part of that.

Katie and I met at Nordstroms at Fashion Square mall.  You have to understand that Katie is a professional at this.  She had called ahead and made an appointment with Karen in the women’s department to help me find the perfect outfit for Ivan’s Name Day party.  Karen was gorgeous and effervescent.  I liked her immediately – her lovely cocoa skin, her adorable feminine outfit, her toothpaste-worthy sized smile, and her enthusiasm.  We made our introductions and she began pulling clothes for me.

I have to say, it was the most painless shopping trip I have ever had.  I did little more than try clothes on in the dressing room and then show Katie if I thought they were a possibility.  Far from being overwhelming, it felt effortless.  And I’ll never forget the moment that I found the right outfit.  I stepped out of the dressing room and both Karen and Katie, open-mouthed like groupers, exclaimed, “Oh my God!”  Their reaction was priceless.

So, although some outfits didn’t work, I didn’t get discouraged nor go into my usual pattern of self-loathing.  I didn’t feel overwhelmed searching the racks of clothing for something that might look good on me.  This contrasts greatly with previous shopping trips I’ve made.  They have generally been so painful for me that I avoid shopping for clothes as much as possible, wearing items over and over even to the point of disintegration.

Here’s what it used to be like for me:

There’s nothing like a trip to the clothing store to knock a girl right out of her confidence.

I wake up this morning, and, unexpectedly, I am happy for no reason.  I head straight to my trainer at the gym and bang out thirty minutes of strength training.  I don’t have time to do cardio before I meet my mother-in-law for lunch, so I promise myself to return to the gym later and complete forty-five minutes.  I go have a lovely lunch, a delicious Cobb salad with dressing on the side, and keep my word to myself and make it back to the gym.  The endorphins are flowing, and I am feeling confident and pretty after a shower and applying some mascara.  So, I decide, in my infinite wisdom, to knock myself right out of this happy place. 

How, you ask?  Well, I decide to go get something cute to wear out to dinner on a date with my husband tonight.  I have it all planned out:  I’ll do my hair, apply thick black eye makeup, and gloss my lips the perfect shade.  I’ll look great.  I might even wear high heels.  The sparkly ones I got at Nordstrom’s pop into my head. 

The sick part is that I’m going to the store to find something cute.  I think I’m going to enhance my already high self-esteem today.  I’m going to find the cutest little top to accentuate my eyes, and step out on the town boldly, radiating confidence in my beauty.

The only trouble is I’m fat.  I know what you’re thinking…some twiggy chick complaining about two pounds of water weight during her cycle.  Well, think again.  I’m one-hundred pounds over a healthy weight, so it is a realistic issue.  I know, however, that I am not my weight.  I know that I am not even my body.  I know that I am a spiritual being having a human experience.  And that doesn’t stop me from identifying with my body, nor does it prevent the pain of feeling inadequate solely based on my body image. 

The interesting thing is that I have had the same experience with shopping all my life.  Even when I was more than one-hundred pounds lighter, I found all the parts of me to despise:  my too thick thighs, the cellulite, the wings under my arms, the double chin, the belly pooch.  I realize that I have always experienced shopping for clothes as a reinforcement of how truly ugly, unappealing, and unworthy I am.  It is a prime opportunity for self-loathing.  And even when I had a body I would kill for now, I had the same thought processes about it all.  I see all that is wrong, all that needs to be “fixed.”  I do not see me in the mirror.  I see the projection of all the love I withhold from myself simply because of my body size and shape, as if by somehow withholding that love and acceptance will motivate me to become acceptable or loveable by having a “better” body.  It is truly agonizing.

This time, I cried in the dressing room.  With each shirt, that was supposed to accentuate the positives and help me feel and look my best in this current state, I felt instead like a walrus.  I see a huge black mass with a pretty face staring back at me in the mirror.  It is too painful to see.  It is why I usually avoid shopping.  There is this bright shining face, with vibrant, beautiful eyes staring back at me from the mirror.  They are so expressive and yet they are shadowed by the meaty black bulk trailing behind them.  The large whale-like mass is distracting from the being inside who wants to be seen.

I remember that even as a child on the playground I would daydream about going to a body part store where I could exchange out my belly or my arm for a perfectly toned one.  It is a deep-seated weed that has roots entrenched inside my heart and one that continues to grow back even after I remove it’s leaves.  I don’t know how to finally expel it from my psyche. 

One thing is sure, I am not happy with how I am now.  I am not happy with how I am choosing to present myself to the world.  It is a struggle to continue to be engaged in life and risk when I feel this way.  I want to hide in my shame and embarrassment.  I want to disappear until I have transformed in my bat cave so that I can reappear to the world as a perfectly toned goddess.  It is tricky not to be knocked sideways out of the flow of life in this vehement torrent of self-pity. 

So, the choice before me is to choose something different.  If I want to change, then take action to change.  It is all up to me. 

And. 

And.

And, I find it very difficult to sustain the changed choices over a long period of time.  I find it difficult to based on my past experiences to maintain the program of exercise, eating on a strict diet, when my body changes at a barely perceptible rate.  I want instant gratification, damn it!  I want to see the results of working out today, today!  And every time I don’t see the results, I label it a failure.  Of course I can’t be skinny.  I can’t have that lean healthy body.  It just isn’t in my genetic makeup, or some other such excuse.  The hardest part is that I know I’m full of shit.  I know that saying “can’t” really means “won’t.”  I know that I’m making up excuses to stay stuck where I am at.  I know that I do have the power to change this, if I really want to. 

And I don’t change it. 

Or if I do change, it is half-hearted.  Really, how can someone work out with a trainer and ballroom dance for over three years and still be obese?  I don’t know exactly how, but I’m managing to do it!  So if I’m already doing all that, then I shouldn’t have to do more, right?  I just don’t have a body that responds to exercise like other bodies.  Plus, there are so many other more “important” things that must take precedence over my health like marriage, career, school, friends, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.   I know that if I want to make time for activities that move me in the direction toward a healthy weight, then I could make that time. 

There must be some inner conflict, some benefit that I am enjoying with being so big and fat that it is painful to go shopping.  Something that really is tied into my emotional survival instincts.  They say that being fat is simply an external, physical form of armor or protection of self.  What, oh what, dear God, am I protecting myself from?  What, oh what, God, is the benefit I am getting from being so big?  If I could answer these questions then I could address the underlying hurt behind them.  So far, I am just hurting.

So now I have a choice.  I’m sitting here crying in my office, writing this out in the hopes that it will be of some benefit to someone someday.  And, I have a date planned with my husband.  I want to honor myself and fully acknowledge my pain.  And, after doing so, after sitting in this really uncomfortable place, I am going to put on the shiny heels and black eye make up.  I am going to be the confident, sexy, beautiful girl that I am.  I am going to brave the world and continue living despite my huge frame.  I am going to find some love and compassion for this person who is hurting so deeply.  I am going to find the love for me. 

I don’t know how just yet, but I will.

It is hard to read this, even today.  But the good news is that little by little I am finding some love and compassion for myself.  I was able to have a different shopping experience this time because of the support of a friend.  I don’t think I’ll ever tackle this task alone again – it is just too easy to get caught up in all the negative self-talk.  But with the help of a friend, who loves me for me and wants me to feel good about myself as I am in this moment, I am able to stay more positive and even feel good about myself.

I’m not where I want to be, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.  And with the support and friendship of people like Katie, I just might get there.

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The Power Of Dance

As a dancer, I consider the body to be watercolor paint, calligraphy letters, or an ounce of liquid gold.  We dancers live, breathe, dream, stretch, and push beyond sanity to maybe, somehow, possibly, for one-moment-in-time, brush the face of perfection.

This desire lives in me for it moved me to waltz at a weight of 313 pounds.  It motivated me to put on heels and not only attempt to walk in them, but to create a rise and fall motion.  Besides the power of dance, what else could possibly fuel me as I sweat and strive and work to the point of fatigue; I am sore every day and my feet swell so that I ice them each night.  Yet still, I continue to dance for I must dance.

You see, I have discovered that my heart for dance has a breadth and profundity that surprises even me.  In calm still moments I can hear its voice ever calling.  Usually drowned out by the dizzying tornadoes and miniscule dramas of my life, it lately it strikes me that I am not fully alive or present in every moment of my life yet I always and acutely feel this vitality when I dance.

I have now embarked on a journey deep to center of self that will transform me as surely and completely as the caterpillar is metamorphosed into the butterfly.  I know that my heart is coming to life with each Samba and Quickstep.  My body is healing with each Cha-Cha and Salsa.  I feel my spirit nourished with each Rumba and Tango.  And now that I’ve had a taste of this vivacious-ness, my soul cries out, “I want to be alive in all of life!”

My message is this – don’t wait!  Dance now!  Dance how you are in this very moment!  Don’t wait until you lose the weight/have the time/feel okay and on and on and on.  Life is what happens when we making plans.  Don’t you see?  Dancing is what will get us to lose the weight/have the time/feel okay!  It is the process, the vehicle.  Don’t delay one more second.  Live your life playing the starring role.  Go out and be your true and extraordinary self regardless of how current circumstances appear.

The power of dance is that it reminds me the only place of power is in the now.  We are all one quality decision away from changing our lives.  And who knows…it could be the result of saying yes to a dance class.

This Dancer’s Heart: How This Blog Is Saving My Life

Well today folks, I don’t have a dance lesson.  I won’t have one for the next two days at least.  But I thought it was an opportunity to write about some dance related topics that are on my heart.

First off, I wanted to say that there are some amazing people out there in the blogosphere.  I’ve just begun the search for kindred spirits and have already found a few.  Please click on the sites in my Blogroll and check them out.  From side-splitting hilarity, to beautiful artwork, to inspiring stories and some deep insights, these sites are all “the bomb.”

Has anyone else had trouble finding dancer blogs?  I have found a lot of “how-to” type blogs but I’m more interested in the personal stories behind dancers.  Also, I have yet to find more than a handful of personal blogs about ballroom dancing.  Most of the ones I’ve found are about ballet, which I also love, and I want to connect with others who share my current passion too.  If you have a personal ballroom blog, or know about any, please let me know!

Next, since it is New Year’s Eve Day, and all, I thought I’d reflect on the last year.

I found a list of goals from 2011 and discovered that I had made progress in most areas, but not in the exponential manner I would have liked.  For instance, last year I was at 298 pounds.  One of my goals was weight loss.  I’m starting this year at 265.5.  So, I’m down 30 pounds, which is better than going up, but really, this is not the type of transformational change I’d like to see in myself.

It was also right around this time last year that I began dancing again.  So it has been almost one solid year of ballroom.  During this time I danced in two competitions with two different instructors and earned Top Student bronze level at one of them.

Things have really exploded starting 5 months ago.  That was when I transitioned from one teacher to the next and also began exploring the larger dance community in my area.  I now have friends at 3 different studios and take classes across the valley.  I love being connected.

Also, I started this blog.  I believe it is going to save my life.  You see, I was driving home from my lessons and had 30 minutes or more to process all that transpired. I noticed many things about myself and my dancing.  In order to not drive my husband batty by talking his ear off and also to fuel my passion for writing, I took the suggestion of my friend Jess and began writing the blog.  I had no idea that anyone but my very closest 10 friends in the world would ever care to read about my dancing life.

Within a week, an instructor I had met at a competition shared one of my posts https://dancingwithstefanie.com/2011/12/20/you-have-a-mental-problem/ and it went a little bit viral.  Over 1600 people have now viewed my blog at its old Blogger address.  So I began to believe that I had something valuable to say that resonated with others and made the move to WordPress.

I can’t express how honored, humbled, and grateful I feel to see that people across the world have read some of my words.  It is awe-inspiring to think that one person really can affect many others.  I don’t think I ever truly understood that, and certainly not in regards to someone like little ole me, but there it was for me to see.  I’d touched people I’ll never even meet doing something that I love.  There’s nothing better in life…unless it is having an authentic exchange with even just one person via this blog or via their personal dancing blogs.

So back to how this is saving my life.  I now have something to pour myself into.  I no longer have to numb with food, or television, or any other distraction in order to tune out.  I no longer hate my life which used to look like working at a very stressful job with no creative outlets.  I was dying inside, and it was showing up on the outside with my significant weight gain.

I tried working out at the gym.  I tried diets.  I tried ignoring it completely, giving up, and saying, the hell with this, this is all there is in life and it is drab, and dull, and miserable.  I’m destined to be fat (No, no victim language here, hah!)  I’m slaving away for what?  Waiting to die?  I self-destructed a little every day.

But there was a reason none of this worked.  The problem wasn’t me overeating and not exercising, the problem was I wasn’t engaged in my purpose or my passion.  I am hardwired to connect and wasn’t plugged in.  The problem was compounded by lack of self-worth, and extreme shame about my body, with which I identified so strongly.

But the dancer’s heart that beats inside me, though buried deeply, and locked away in a box, could not be entirely quelled.

When I first took up ballroom dancing, I wrote this:

 I am a dancer.  I am one who uses my body to tell her story.  The emotions I feel flow through me as I seductively sway my hips or gracefully lift my arms. 

Sounds poetic, but the reality is that I am usually desperately out of breath.  With each laborious step, thick sweat drips off my already sopping wet hair.  My excess mass gets in the way and weighs me down.  Each salsa step brings jiggling to all the wrong places.  Carrying over 100 pounds of extra body on my five-foot-five frame, I feel like the hippo ballerina dancing with the alligator in Fantasia. 

Last Monday, after working a nine hour day on my feet with a one-hour commute at a passionless job that pays the bills but feels unsatisfying, I went to my salsa lesson.  This was supposed to be my release from the mundane, my gateway to feeling truly, zestfully alive.  Instead, I was meek and apologetic.  First off, I couldn’t do anything but the most light or basic choreography because my lungs and heart simply couldn’t keep up.  I couldn’t yet wear the sexy high-heeled shoes because my feet hurt and went numb while balanced upon my tippy-toes.  My body just wasn’t cooperating with what my mind wanted it to do.  I couldn’t perform to the level I thought I should and I started to despair.

I finally told my instructor, “Matt, let’s face it.  I just don’t have a dancer’s body.”  In that moment, I was choosing to base my decision of whether or not I am a dancer on what my body looked like in the moment.  I was ready to use it as an excuse for why I could never be a great dancer, why I shouldn’t even try.  He replied to me, “Stefanie, everybody has a dancer’s body.” 

To me this response is deceptively simple yet profound. 

What if everyone really does have a dancer’s body? 

What if, whatever it looks like right now, it is a beautiful instrument of expression?  

If I really believe this statement, then anyone who feels she is a dancer, is a dancer.  It seems especially hard for me to believe this as I have grown up in a society where the perfect body is highly valued.  Through the years of exposure, I have come to accept the idea that my worth as a human being is based in some measure on the size of my clothing.  So really, how could I, an obese pharmacist, truly be a dancer?

I could choose to say that I used to be a dancer.  I used to weigh a lot less, had better cardiovascular capacity, and even practiced regularly, but there was one vital missing ingredient.  I wasn’t a real dancer because I had no passion.  For me, dancing was technique, criticism, and judgment, never being good enough, and being miserable.  I did it because it was what was expected and then I beat myself up inside because I wasn’t ever enough; never good enough, thin enough, strong enough, tall enough, enough, enough, enough! 

If I am honest with myself, the truth is that I used to be a machine who looked like a dancer, and now, even though I don’t look the part just yet, I am a dancer. 

 I am not here to justify being overweight.  I am not healthy at this size and I would like it to change.  What I am here to say is that I am a valuable, worthy, and beautiful person regardless.  I have contributions to make and talents and gifts to share.  I believe that the passion, emotion, and joy I now choose to bring to my dancing will get me one step closer to the physically healthy state I desire.

I may perform the functions of a pharmacist and tutor in my working life these days, but who I am, well, I’m a dancer.  I’ve finally acknowledged it and owned it.  For the longest time I couldn’t, especially when I didn’t “look like” a dancer.  I got so supremely caught up in that idea early on.  I still have trouble looking at myself directly in the mirror when practicing. But being a dancer, really, is not about how you look.  It is about who you are inside.

Yes, the health issues are grave and real.  Yes, being in better shape will hone my instrument of expression.  Yes, most dancers are not clinically obese…and soon this one won’t be either.

But regardless, underneath the “fat suit” I’m currently wearing, regardless of the outside packaging, I am a dancer.  Period.

I could talk about dancing all day and all night.  I could watch it every second of the day.  I love it at its highest level of technique, and when grandma, old and bent, shuffles clumsily on the floor but her joyous spirit shines through.  It engages me like nothing else in this world.  It makes me want to be a better person and partner.  It makes me want to take care of myself, be feminine, be beautiful, value my body.  It is saving my life.

Although the changes may not be as dramatic (yet) as I would like, there has been significant progress.  I can now wear heels pretty well.  I still struggle with breathing and cardiovascular capacity, but it is improving over time.  I am shedding the pounds and have the motivation and a plan to finally get this done.  Who knows how many years I am adding to my life because I am on a healthier trajectory both physically and mentally than I was when I wrote that post so long ago.  I’ve flipped the switch through dancing; I had been speeding up my demise and now I’m slowing it down.

So, literally, dancing and then blogging about my experiences is saving my life.  This dancer’s heart is grateful.