Weighing In On My Belly Dance Image

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Weighing In: My Belly Dance Image - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogWeighing In On My Belly Dance Image

Today I was looking in the mirror and looking back at me was a disgruntled me. I was looking at my image and what I didn’t like. All I saw was what I wanted to change. This is contradictory to what I tell my students. I usually tell them to look in the mirror and see what they like about themselves. But I have to admit today I just didn’t feel like doing it. I wondered about this and decided to take a good look at why I was feeling dissatisfied with myself and how this feeling fleeting as it may be can make a dancer sing the blues, in my case off key.

Through out my dance career people have commented on my weight. Why is it that people think it’s ok to make a comment about someone else’s weight? Our society has become obsessed with weight and in our field of entertainment we are suppose to uphold a certain standard. I remember dancing at a beautiful restaurant in Dallas and was told by a regular costumer that I needed to lose 5 more pounds and than I would be perfect. I stood there shocked and all I could do was nod my head and walk away. She told me this in front of other customers and I remember feeling embarrassed and vowed to lose 10 pounds! I know she had my best interest at heart but all I heard was “You need to lose weight”. So my self image crumbled a little bit that night and what I didn’t realize was that those words would stay with me for so long.

My next question is who decided what standard belly dancers have to uphold? Well, I know that there are many nightclubs and restaurants that want dancers that are a certain proportion. There are some restaurants that won’t hire what they consider an overweight dancer. I know this because I have worked at a few restaurants that won’t tell overweight dancers they won’t hire them, they will just tell them they don’t need dancers or that the position has been filled. So does this compromise the existing house dancers’ relationship with her dance community? How do you tell another dancer she is over weight? I can’t or I should say won’t because it would be like the pot calling the kettle black. Weight is a personal issue and should only be addressed if asked. But it’s not totally the restaurant or house dancers fault because the customers also dictate what kind of dancers they want to see. Most managers will hire belly dancers that are pleasing to the eye according to society’s standards and not women standards. So how do we as women change these so called “standards”?

That’s a really hard question to answer because how many of us photoshop our photographs? How many of us will buy costumes that hide our “problem areas”? How many of us have gone on crash diets just before we have a major performance? I gage my weight according to how my costumes fit me and I have friends who do the same. When I go on a diet the first thing I do after a few days is put on one of my belts. So how can I feel good about my body image when it can only look good if I look a certain way in my costumes? My image has become a blur because I have allowed these standards to dictate how I look. So if I want to go head to head with this standard than the first thing I have to do is start with my own issues and figure out a way to let them go.

An American research group in 2003 said that 50 to 70 per cent of normal weight women believe they are overweight. So are we trying to attain a perfect image that really exists only in our minds? In order to answer this question I went back to the mirror and brought a magazine with me and turned the pages until I came to what I thought was the perfect woman.
I had breasts and she didn’t and I had hips and she didn’t. She had a hard look to her because she was so thin. Than I realized that the image looking back at me in the mirror wasn’t so bad after all. What I thought was the perfect woman turned out to be unrealistic. If we can’t connect to the photos in the magazines than why do we allow these images to dictate how we should look?
Robin Gerber author and motivational speaker put it beautifully;

“We don’t need Afghan-style burquas to disappear as women. We disappear in reverse-by revamping and revealing our bodies to meet externally imposed visions of female beauty.”

When I see dancers on stage all I know is they are the most beautiful vision of womanhood that I can possibly imagine. So I guess I’m in contradiction with myself because I’m up there on stage sometimes too. My most favorite times are in the dressing room just before a production or show, seeing and feeling all the excited energy in the room. If this feeling could be put in a painting it would be a masterpiece.
So why with these images in my head is it so hard for me to look in the mirror and appreciate what I see? I think it’s because I decided at a young age to collect and accumulate all the negative experiences and comments that came my way. So I decided to let go of memories that no longer served me or my image. I threw them away into an invisible trash can. Guess what all of a sudden I started to feel better.
This led me to become curious about our image as women throughout history so I took a look at how we have changed to become what we are today.

In the 1890’s if you were plump and had a light complexion, you were hot (this meant you didn’t work). In the early 1900’s the corset and hour glass figure were all the rage (so what if you couldn’t breath). In the 1920’s if you were flat-chested and skinny, the world was your oyster. In the 50’s and 60’s Marilyn Monroe ruled but Twiggy was right beside her. The 70’s and 80’s were all about working out and having no body fat (let’s not forget about the hair). In the 90’s large breasts and narrow hips became the norm (not really). And today, women are a combination of all of the above.

As a belly dancer I can handle being a little bit of each generation. And as a matter of fact if you look around our dance community you will see our history in every woman alive and well. As women we have to decide what suites our own vision of beauty. And after looking at our history I realized I was in great company. So I looked back in the mirror, laughed and saw something I did like, a smile.


Leyla Najma

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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"


One Response to “Weighing In On My Belly Dance Image”
  1. Megan says:

    Very interesting. Unlike say, Ballet, where you have to be a certain height and build to get anywhere, belly dance is (or is meant to be) for all body types, which is part of what makes it so beautiful, appealing and accessible to so many women (and some men too!) of all nationalities, sizes, shapes, ages, etc. If there was an ‘ideal’, it would probably be curvy with a bit of “reverb” to enhance those beautiful shimmies and other sensual and fun movements 😉 I am quite petite and thin, and have read comments saying that the dance just doesn’t look good on thin women, but… so what!? I’m not gonna let them cramp my style. You’re always gonna be too thin for some and too fat for others and in different circles. Too tall, too short, too dark, too pale, too this, too that, not enough this, not enough that…. there is no universal, unanimous ideal. What is considered the “right” way to look could change in the future, as you pointed out, it has changed so many times in the past. I am studying makeup as well as fashion, and did an assignment on period makeup- it was fascinating to see how the perception of what is beautiful change so dramatically.

    BTW Leyla, I think you look gorgeous! In this photo in particular, you look radiant 🙂