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.
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.
years ago I was moved to action when I received an expensive,
glossy advertising piece for the women's department of an upscale
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
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
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.
not recommending everyone sign up for my dance classes, but you
certainly can if you’d like!
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.
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.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
IS About the Food!"by Margo Abdo O'Dell
matriarchs were teaching me about a cultural art from my Lebanese
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.
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.
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
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.