Gilded Serpent presents...

The Constant Grind
by Margo Abdo O'Dell

Would it surprise you to know that from 25,000 to 40,000 BC, goddess cultures flourished around the world and women were revered?  Women's bodies were even considered sacred because they represented the very essence of life. Evidence of these well-endowed figures can be seen on statuary, reliefs and ancient vases.

Today, the bitter truth is that the curvaceous and fleshy female figure is constantly disrespected by the media and pop culture.

Women are repeatedly bombarded with messages and methods to become thin, thinner, thinnest. It's a constant emotional grind to stay above the ubiquitous assertion that we are not good enough.

How would you describe your own body? Do positive words come to mind? Probably not. As for many women, the negative messages for me began when I was a young girl shopping in the chubette department. Anyone out there remember similar horrifying shopping experiences? How could they use that word, chubette?

I'm not saying we shouldn't watch our weight. In fact, I'm very into health, exercise and weight management. But I'm also concerned about the emotional scars these negative words and images perpetrate on women and girls.

Let's get real with a few facts from a recent Stanford University study:

The average American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds.

On any given day, 25 percent of men and 45 percent of women are on a diet.

Each year Americans spend more than $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products.

80 percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearance.

I could go on, but you get my drift. Because there are extremely unrealistic images of the “desirable woman” thrust upon us (just pick up a fashion or women’s magazine), it's no wonder the vast majority of women are dissatisfied with their looks. In response to those images, we sometimes engage in self-loathing rather than self-loving behavior such as beating our bodies into submission at the gym, starving ourselves, overeating for comfort, wearing baggy clothes to hide our hips, and feeling generally ashamed, unhappy or detached from our physical being.

Several years ago I was moved to action when I received an expensive, glossy advertising piece for the women's department of an upscale store.

The models in expensive, designer clothes, with dark circles under their eyes, looked as if they had been shooting heroin and hadn't eaten in months. Their skeletal frames were draped on top furniture in provocative positions.

Disgusted, I wrote to the store and described my concerns. They responded with a professional looking letter of little content. No subsequent advertising piece from that store caused me any where near the consternation. Did my letter have an impact? Who knows?

In my work, I teach Middle Eastern dance, popularly referred to as belly dance as well as speak to women's groups on a variety of topics, including body image. On a recent trip to New Jersey, I asked a

group of dance students to give me one adjective to describe their hips. Their responses included “powerful”, “expressive”, “sensuous”, “big – but in a good way”, “flexible”, and “strong”.

Not the responses of a typical group of American women.

Other students report the dance helped them recover from breast cancer, divorce and sexual abuse. It improved their self-esteem, confidence and grace. And it helped them shed pounds – up to 100 pounds in one year for a dancer in Kansas City.

I'm not recommending everyone sign up for my dance classes, but you certainly can if you’d like!


My purpose in relating these experiences is to demonstrate women's empowering emotional and physical transformations and the fact that they were the masters of those transformations. They didn't look to something or someone outside themselves for validation of their female value.

Dance is not for everyone and I firmly believe it doesn’t matter whether its dance, sports, walking, or gardening. What does matter is that we move.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) determined that four of the top five leading causes of death in women in the United States in 2001—heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and stroke — were diseases directly associated with physical inactivity. Although physical activity has been repeatedly demonstrated to enhance health and to reduce risk for these diseases, why are women still not physically active?

It's a question we must each pose to ourselves. We must take responsibility for our health, for pleasing ourselves, for being the woman (or girl) we want to be and taking charge of our lives. Some days it will be a grind. Doing something difficult and worthwhile often is.

In the end, being good to our bodies and creating our own definition of beauty will bring back the goddess within us all.

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
6-19-06 "It IS About the Food!"by Margo Abdo O'Dell
The matriarchs were teaching me about a cultural art from my Lebanese heritage.

4-26-06 Much, Much More by Margo Abdo O'Dell
Please do not call me a belly dancer. Because for me, it is not just a flip of the hip, the wink of an eye.
It is not just the sparkle of jewels, the want of applause.

10-29-06 Opening a Bellydance Studio, Tips for Success by Keti Sharif
She has recently retired fully from bellydancing but offers great advice on business plans for dancers wishing to expand their hobby into a career.

10-24-06 Adventures in Turkey 2006 by Michelle Joyce, photos by Michael Baxter
I am not exaggerating when I say that Sandra actually threw herself into Bella's arms and wept when she first laid eyes on her.

10-18-06 “The Bellydancers of Cairo” An interview with filmmaker Natasha Senkovich by Betsey Flood
As a maid you can find yourself in compromising positions—not good situations for a woman to be in—but in Egypt, it is considered so much better than being a dancer.

advertise on Gilded Serpent

 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines