Exhibit A: At a recent flea market I was selling a belly dance costume. It's too big for me and as it's covered in hand sewn sequins not a good candidate for alteration. However it is a fabulous piece and I'd love to see someone putting it to use and feeling fabulous. As it turned out it got plenty of attention. Lots of women looked at it as they passed my stall. They all commented on how lovely it was and then without fail, laughed and stated that they couldn't wear it because they were too fat or had too much belly.
This made me sad. It's called belly dancing. It involves having a belly. Having a body that is not toned to within an inch of its life doesn't make you less of a woman or less beautiful.
Exhibit B: I started a new burlesque course. As a matter of fact, it's a routine that will involve some clothing removal (I know that you're all dying to ask about the nudity bit but please note that burlesque doesn't automatically mean stripping to g string ). The class took some time to talk about our fears about the activity. And the issue of bellies once again came up. Followed by giggles and worries about what other people might think.
The other women made jokes about themselves and their bodies. And about what other people might say, or have said. And like an undercurrent ran the feat of being laughed at for being different.
Now this might be the point where I go on about body image, or media portrayal of women, or Victorian morals or…
But the point I really want to draw attention to is another point that came up in the discussion –fear. When people feel nervous, when they think they might not fit in they get the giggles or they get aggressive. Or they combine the two by making people laugh at them first.
And it was that people act out of fear all the time that kept coming back to me all weekend. When someone commented on my use of soap and shampoo bars (instead of more liquid versions) it was because of fear. A fear of being different to the rest of the Western world who prefer shower gel to soap.
When someone pushed past me to get onto a train it was fear – of being left behind, of missing out.
When I got grumpy the other day, it was fear that I was letting people down. When I complained about the cost of something it was fear that there would be less for me. When I didn't want to be seen reading something trashy in public it was because I was scared people would think less of me.
I'm beginning to think the late Susan Jeffers really did have a point….