Body Image and Acceptance

Acceptance at 49

The spring sun warms the ground and beckons me to unfurl my winter self. It’s time. I easily push my hands through the soft brown earth. My arms and head follow. Naked shoulders and breasts sneak out one cell at a time. I force my torso up. Now, the true struggle begins. I fight to expose my white, stretch-marked, child bearing belly, abdomen and thick, cellulite-pocked thighs to the surface. I lose the battle and remain frozen in the earth from the waist down.

This dream haunts me. At almost 49, I ache to be free from fighting my body’s shape. It doesn’t help that I’m undergoing chemotherapy on my face right now and that all the cancerous lesions are infected with staph. This triggers my old body issues even though it’s been 17 years since I left an eating disorder treatment program for anorexia. Thus began my journey to find acceptance through women’s retreats, ecstatic dance, acupuncture, magical passes, reiki, shamanic work, mystery studies, new age conferences, hypnosis, talk therapy, past life regressions and even hanging off the edge of a cliff three stories high.

My best friend Teresa calls. I’ve known her since high school “Hey. I found a post card advertising stripper 101, Pole dancing. Listen to this. ‘Savor your curves. Would you like to feel powerful and sexy in your body? Just the way it is? Want to sign up with me?”

The first evening, I arrive early and watch the last few minutes of the Level 2 class. Seven women stand around the pole in the middle of the candle lit studio. “Arggggh!” yells one of them. She walks to the center of the circle and shimmies her shoulders. “Arggggh!” they all yell and repeat her movements. The call and response continues until they’ve all expressed their feelings.

I face Teresa who’s been standing behind me. We make eye contact and telepathically communicate, “What have we signed up for?” At this moment, Isis, the teacher, turns to us. Her mischievous brown eyes twinkle and she says with a big toothy grin, “I bet you’re wondering what the hell?”

I am.

I look at her small, prominently displayed breasts held by pushup support under her modest camisole. Ankle length dancer’s pants support her full belly and cover her legs. Then I see her socks. I expect her to wear six inch stilettos, but she’s wearing ankle length, navy blue socks. I relax a little.

Classes start with an hour of breath work, meditation and yoga. We then spend 30 minutes learning pole moves. I feel more comfortable with myself as the days pass. Two weeks after Stripper 101 begins, I start chemotherapy on my face. I stop taking the anti-anxiety drugs that I’ve taken for decades. Three weeks in, I install a pole in my office. I dance away my anxiety, fear, and old anger. Four weeks later, I get a staph infection from the chemotherapy on my face. I dance through the pain.

Five weeks after the class begins, I’m sitting at a table at Devil’s Point strip club with Teresa and my husband Doyle. Isis arranged for her students to dance tonight from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. As the music starts, Stripper 101, Level Two and Level Three dancers work the stage. I move through the packed, smoke filled club, so I can get close enough to throw dollar bills at my stripper sisters. I support these 20-something hotties because they love their forms now and I hope that they will enter middle age still in love with their bodies.

I just found out an hour ago that I’m the only Level One student dancing tonight. I move to the backstage dressing room and then to the steps. I walk onto the stage to Pink’s song, “Dear Mr. President.” I move slowly and gracefully towards the pole and wipe it down while exploring the space. I capture the crowd’s attention as I clean it with long slow strokes to the beat.

I barely see the audience because the light shines on me. I’m calm. My breath is even. My muscles warm up and I hear Isis say, “Show up in your body and your authenticity comes through.” I am so fully present that I feel connected with everyone in this crowded club.

I melt into the music and grab the pole. I lift my right leg high into the air, bend my left leg, and arch my back until my head touches the ground. My ankle length maroon palazzo pants slide up my legs and reveal, plump, white thighs. I realize that I’m completely exposed even though I’m mostly covered in long pants, and a long sleeve, scoop-neck shirt. I stop holding my stomach in.

The first song is almost over. I slide to the floor and lovingly fold myself around this simple piece of steel.

Silence.

I stay on the floor.

Pause.

Applause.

For me.

The next song starts immediately. I stand up, grab the pole and move to the heat of the beat. I’m electrified by the attention of the audience. I view those sitting on the stools that surround the stage and spot Doyle, my husband. He smiles.

Teresa stands next to him. She isn’t dancing tonight, but her joy is palpable as she watches me undulate around the stage. The crowd hoots and hollers for me. I fall in love with all the supporters, spectators and voyeurs at Devil’s Point. I crawl across the stage because I see Isis and I kiss her forehead.

I’m the oldest person gracing the platform tonight, but my movements are ageless. Now is the time to release the primly tied bow on the back of my shirt. I reach behind me and ever so slowly untie it. I’m encouraged by applause and take it even slower. I shimmy up to the pole, cross the ties over it and tug. This action reveals about two inches of the sheer pink camisole beneath my schoolmarm shirt and the crowd roars. I titillate them with my underneath pinkness and spend most of the song almost removing my shirt. Then the most perfect thing happens: I get stuck in my shirt as I pull it over my head. I anticipated my breasts having little exposure tonight, but now they’re thrust forward in a plunging black Victoria Secret bra and a sheer camisole, because my arms are tethered behind my back. I laugh, vamp for the audience, pull myself free and throw my shirt at my husband. I drop to the floor, slink towards him and he tucks a dollar bill into my bra.

While shaking my ass, I crawl to the steel in the center of the stage and lift myself up. I swing with abandon. The DJ sends up plumes of smoke behind me while I slide to the floor in a half split. I need to taste my body and savor every part to make up for the years of self-hatred. I bring my chest down to my leg and lick my knee. The crowd cheers and peppers the stage with dollar bills. My new bold and juicy self spins into another half split, licks the other knee and laughs.

And laughs.

And laughs.

The music ends too soon, but I get a few more minutes with the onlookers to gather the money. I leave the stage. I enter the dressing room behind the stage. The mirror reflects my crimson, chemo and staph encrusted, smiling face and my bra full of one dollar bills. A new energy pulses through me. I want all women to feel this. To blast through their long held wounds and old stories. To dance the Isis dance that calls us to wholeness. While still behind the scenes, I count the ones and am amazed. Sixty dollars for ten minutes. I laugh out loud.

I leave the dressing room, step to the side of the stage, and watch the next dancer. I’m preparing to walk the gauntlet to the back of the club where my husband waits. Real strippers and the bartender compliment me. I thank them and keep walking. “You’re my hero,” says one of the women in my level one class. I hold her and she sobs. She’s model beautiful, but can’t see it. Tightly held within her cocoon and looking for release. I’m stopped by others. Hugged and kissed. I finally reach Doyle and step into his outstretched arms. “You were great.” He kisses the top of my head over and over. I tell him “I’ll do this again. Maybe fully clothed or in fishnets and flashing a little thigh, but I’ll be back.”

I leave my self-hatred behind as we drive home. My new dreams will reveal my body fully raised above the earth and standing naked in the warmth of the sun.