On a Saturday evening, I stood in a dimly lit club on the edge of Portland watching beautiful women dance with their bellies.
The dancers were heavily adorned, their bodies embellished with gold coins, weightless fabrics, & silver bangles that clanked with every twist of their arms. Long, beaded necklaces drooped from their necks, swaying in unison with the motion of their hips. Coy smiles & looks of divine pleasure played on every corner of their faces, displaying an unearthly kind of seductiveness.
And their bellies. My god, their bellies writhed, rolled, & coiled as if they had been momentarily possessed by a nest of snakes.
The spirit of their dance provoked little goosebumps on my skin, giving me a sensation that resembled one hundred tiny orgasms.
I had never witnessed anything so overtly sensual.
There were a variety of dancers that evening; they came in all shapes, colors, & sizes. But it was the women that had full, round bellies that aroused me most.
The ensorcellment of quaking hips, the ripples of skin, the thickness of thighs; I was mesmerized at the sight of these voluptuous creatures, relishing in their movements, wishing I could attain their buxom bellies.
What a far cry from the person I was only two hours before, when I stood in front of my bathroom mirror grimacing as I looked at the curves of my own belly & hips.
Oh, how I’ve loathed my body, how I’ve resented the way my skin camouflaged my skinny bones, expanding, thickening, rippling.
After decades of thinness, of fat scarcity, of being called “lanky” & “anorexic,” my body transformed quite instantly from a malnourished adolescent to that of unadulterated womanness.
I’ve spent the last few years reeling from this sudden shift of weight, desperately trying to make peace with my body. Mainly, my belly, which has been the source of great & unreasonable self-hatred.
I’ve done & considered many things to get this one detested feature of my body to a flatness wholly accepted by American society: vegan diets, skipping meals, an obsession to lose five pounds, prolonged juice fasts, deprivation of delicious things — cheese, butter, sugar, cream; all have been done to punish my body for its naturalness & to rob it of its femme voluptuousness.
For years I have treated my precious temple like prison tower, condemning its essence & starving it of unconditional love.
I reflected on all these things as the tribal sounds of doumbeks flooded my ears, commiserating the harshness I had endured at my own hand, acknowledging my self-disgust & body dysmorphia.
My head was heavy as the belly dance performance continued on, the drums growing louder, stronger.
I watched as the next dancer glided onto the stage, her glorious hips taking the lead. She was beautiful; dark, long hair, olive-colored skin. She housed a sensual aura that stunned the entire room. Her stature was larger than the other dancers, & I remember feeling awed by her bravery to stand before a crowd of nearly a hundred people scantily clad, her lavish curvatures of skin displayed with no shame.
With slow movements of power & grace, she began to dance & circle her hips, closing her eyes, lifting her hands, shaking her dark hair. The expression on her face was that of both ecstasy & serenity, of bliss & absolute contentment.
And then the circles became bigger, faster, ardent. With each oscillation her skin bunched & trembled in the most gorgeous way, leaving the crowd breathless. We could not take our eyes off of her & they remained on her until she ended her performance, exiting the stage.
Her gyrations were left me feeling intoxicated. Of all the dancers & performers I saw that evening, she, the one with the wide hips & the round, full belly, was the one I adored most. She was the one I found to be most beautiful.
The way she moved her body, the manner in which her hips vibrated, the look of absolute pleasure on her face… I was utterly attracted to her. I want to be her. I wanted to bottle up her essence, her self-possession, & drink it up amorously.
This woman, who went so completely against society’s standards of beauty, who was the adversary of my ego & the epitome of everything I loathed within myself, was flawlessly, quintessentially Woman.
I heard my mind whisper, Her belly is round like mine, & she is beautiful.
Which translated into: My belly is round like hers, & I am beautiful.
Within seconds of this euphoric realization, I began to fall passionately in love with my own body. Deeply. Fully. Unconditionally.
By happenstance, through the brazen sensual expressions of bellies moving like serpents, I came to worship my glorious folds of skin, the pudge, the delicious pockets of fat that make up my feminine physique.
My belly is now the most celebrated feature on my body. I hold it, rub it, cradle it. Its roundness is a symbol of my inherent abundance; its fullness is confirmation that I am healthy, strong, nourished, & contented.
I carry a fire inside of my belly. Within in it is the essence of my newfound womanhood.
I dedicate this post to my new friend Shara, whose sensual movements in her belly dance that night helped give way to the reconciliation of my own body. Namely, my belly, which looks similar to hers: brown, beautiful, sensual, & full.