Bellydancing Costuming: Self-Acceptance Through Frustration

Somewhere, accidentally, along the way to becoming someone who can slide my hips to one side while keeping my pelvis level, I became someone who needed to own stage makeup.

Somewhere, accidentally, along the way to becoming someone who can undulate like a snake, I became someone who owned a costume that is effectively a velvet bra covered in jingly coins and an accompanying velvet skirt split to the hip.

Somewhere, accidentally, along the way to becoming a scientist, I became a bellydancer.


This is all hitting home because in a little over a week, I stop being merely a person who takes bellydancing classes. In a little over a week, I brush on my war paint, strap my breasts into a jingly velvet halter top, wrap my hips with an even more jingly velvet belt, and step out into the harsh stage lights to become, properly, a bellydancer.

The final part of this transformation has not been smooth. It involves a lot of costuming and makeup, each presenting its own set of challenges. Today I’ll tell you about the costumes, because they came first.

Each of us is clad in a different color; though since I was one of the last additions to the performance troupe, I was assigned emerald green instead of my preferred turquoise. The costumes are made in Turkey, which I imagine to be the source of all the world’s tiny jingly coins. Marjan ordered them for Theresa, Carla, and I last fall when we were due to move into the advanced class. She pressed us at length if we would be okay showing our bellies, since none of us ever did so in class. If not, Marjan assured us, it would be okay–we would find other costume options, or we could easily wear sheer stockings over our tummies. Carla said that surely, by February, she would be fine showing her abs. Theresa, having produced at least one child be C-section, said that she would be opting for a stocking. I nodded and smiled, making a mental note to research things to make public nudity feel less like public nudity. I haven’t worn a two-piece bathing suit since I was 6; I wasn’t about to start showing off my pale, fat stomach to strangers who would be staring at me under stage lights.

Our costumes came in December, and I promptly tucked mine away and forgot about it in all the Christmas and travel-to-India hubbub.

Sometime in January, though, I pulled it out to try it on. The top was unfinished–I would need to sew the straps on properly and replace the hook in the back, so I couldn’t properly fit that one yet. But the skirt–that I could do. I slid it on and realized that there was a problem.

A “one-size-fits-all” problem.

I am, as Marjan so sweetly puts it, “hipilicious”. My grandmother would put it, less sweetly, that I have “inherited the ‘Shadoan Family Hippo Butt'”. I have, as Zack terms it (usually while grinning lecherously), a fat ass.

Apparently this is an uncommon trait among belly dancers. At least, it’s uncommon enough that the slits on the costume, which hit the other girls at a relatively modest mid-thigh, hit me right at the bottom of my ass. If my costume creeps up even an inch, I will literally be dancing with my ass hanging out. Further, while the costume claims to stretch to accommodate generously proportioned asses, they fail to remind you that soft flesh will be compressed by elastic. So if my hips were amply proportioned solid muscle, it might look fine. However, my hips are not. Sure, there’s not insignificant muscle there, but it’s surrounded by a hefty layer of soft, squishy fat. Great when you are falling on your butt or trying to sleep on tile floors–less great when trying to wear a skinny woman’s costume. I ended up looking more lumpy than sleek. Not exactly inspiring of confidence.

I set about to remedy this problem. I thought it would be simple–I would replace the waistband with a wider one to distribute the force of the elastic, and wear then whole skirt lower on my hips, solving both the ass-flashing and the lumpiness in one go! Unfortunately, I couldn’t find fabric matching the ridiculous green of my costume. Further, with all the coins and beads and dangly, jingly bits, replacing the waistband would be a delicate operation. So, my mother and I had the idea to order a second, identical skirt, and use it for parts to expand the first skirt to dimensions appropriate to an ass as magnificent as mine.

Except they don’t carry the skirt in emerald green. Emerald green has to be special ordered, and it will take weeks to make and ship from Turkey. It was early February by this time, and I was beginning to get panicky.

So I tried on the skirt again, this time with the body stocking I intended to wear, a white fishnet contraption rigged from professional ballroom dancing tights. Bellydancers swear by this, according to various forums on the internet. The skirt fit better; the fishnet provided sufficient friction that the skirt stayed in place on my hips, happily not exposing my underparts. And I looked almost kinda sleek. It was cool, if not perfectly comfortable.

Finishing the body stocking proved to be more of a challenge than I was up for, however. Generally, you hook such things to your costume, or create straps to go over your shoulders (and under your costume). Straps, however, were out, as my costume is a halter top with very little in the way of fabric to hide additional strappage. I tried hooks, too, but as a result of the halter nature of my costume, the stocking just pulled the back of my costume down.

I struggled with the damn thing for hours, sewing on different hooks and snaps and straps until my fingers were sore and Zack was visibly tired of hooking and unhooking my costume.

Finally, at two am on Monday night, I gave up. I no longer cared if I flashed the audience my underwear. I no longer cared if I had to wear the costume higher than my hips. I no longer cared if I looked fat, or lumpy, or if my stomach jiggled while people looked at me.

And then, in the moment I decided that I just could not scrape together any more energy to care about squishing my body into a more socially accepted shape, I decided that I not only couldn’t care any more, but I shouldn’t care.

Granted, it’s one thing to realize that you shouldn’t care; it’s another thing entirely to do it . We tell people (girls in particular) this all the time. Don’t let the magazines tell you what a good body is. You’re beautiful.  Unfortunately, we’re a culture of seriously mixed messages, and generally while we’re telling girls they’re beautiful, we’re also telling them that if they’re fat, everyone will hate them and they’ll die.

So I don’t think I’m going to successfully remove all “give a fuck” from myself. I will try very hard, of course, to worry more about my shimmy and my expression and the shape of my fingers than what the audience is thinking about my bare stomach, but I don’t expect all of those thoughts to vanish overnight. But I’m doing it as a cultural statement. I’m doing it for all of the people (even the tiny little things in my belly dancing class) who are critical of their bodies. I’m doing it for everyone who says, “I’ll wear something like that, when I lose fifteen (thirty, sixty, a hundred) pounds.” I’m doing it because there’s a chance that someone in the audience will look at me and think, “If that fat dancer is so confident that she can get up in front of a room packed with people, standing next to women whose ab muscles you can see, then what could I do? What opportunities am I cheating myself out of because I am too damn afraid?” I am doing it because it terrifies the ever loving fuck out of me, and I cannot bear to be afraid of the judgment of strangers.

And most importantly, I am doing it because I am unwilling to live as someone who judges my own body to be unworthy. My body is good to me–sure, it has extra fat and somewhat dodgy knees and lots of allergies, but it is strong and resilient, and, yes, beautiful. It deserves at least as much celebration as the bodies of my slimmer compatriots; if I’m not willing to give it that, then who will?

Okay, and I’m also doing it because I can’t spend another second of my life sewing snaps onto crazy lycra fishnets.

Bellydancing Costuming: Self-Acceptance Through Frustration

3 thoughts on “Bellydancing Costuming: Self-Acceptance Through Frustration

  1. Shanna says:

    You are my superhero, and you always have been. Just when I think I can’t possibly be any prouder of you, you do something even more amazing. I love you so much!

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