ALL BODIES ARE BEAUTIFUL. The human form and physical ability is miraculous. I do not believe that one shape is better than another and I don't believe in a "good" or "bad" body.
SHAPE AND WEIGHT DO NOT DEFINE VALUE. I love to workout. I enjoy getting smaller or bigger depending on what I am working on. However, I don't think my value (or yours!) changes based on shape. I don't think thin women are bitches and I don't think that larger people are unworthy.
I BELIEVE IN FEELING GOOD. Weight is bullshit and has to do with your relationship with gravity. Who cares - my weight fluctuates and so will yours. However, I believe in feeling good and being able to live your life - i.e. lifting heavy things, running and jumping. I recently went back to an eating style that does well for me and I lost weight. I am happy because I feel good. If I felt crappy, I would stop.
I BELIEVE IN MOVEMENT. There are enormous neurological, physiological and emotional benefits to moving. I believe in fitness. I think you should find a way that feels good for you to move. I also think you should eat in way that makes you feel good and supports your lifestyle.
I BELIEVE IN PERSONAL CHOICE. If you want to lose weight, gain weight, tattoo yourself, augment yourself, change because it makes you feel good. DO IT.
Imagine that you walk into a party. You have a friend who is out of town, and they asked you to send pictures of the fun you are having at the party.
When you walk in there is a large crowd of people laughing and having fun. They turn as you come in and smile with excitement. In the back corner of the room there are two people who have excluded themselves from the fun. They are sitting among empty chairs frowning with their arms crossed.
If you took your camera and focused on the two upset people you'd be telling your friend a very different story than if you focused on the large group of people having fun in front of you.
LIFE IS JUST LIKE THIS PARTY.
WHATEVER WE FOCUS ON BECOMES OUR REALITY.
In 1914, Thomas Edison was 67. His life's work was in his labratory. That labratory burned down. At the scene everyone was shocked because he was excited. Edison was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "I'm so excited, what an opportunity, I'll start all over again tomorrow." He continued his work without losing any employees. HE FOCUSED ON THE OPPORTUNITY IN THE SITUATION.
Maggie, one of my clients, desperately wanted to be in a relationship. She went on several dates a week but there was something just a little off about everyone. She was so distraught. She would go on dates FOCUSING on what could possibly go wrong. We worked on mindset, changed her focus. She started looking for what she wanted and found Mr. Right.
We all know and acknowledge that words have power. They can make us laugh or cry. They can uplift or they can damage us. Words create actions, emotions and have enormous power. We see this every day.
And yet, while we see this so powerfully on a large and intimate scale, I am shocked by how I hear women talking about themselves. A few examples from the past week:
Women who beat themselves down verbally will have a beat down life and experience. Women who CHOOSE to speak with amazing, colorful, rich worlds of themselves and their experiences have amazing, colorful and rich experiences.
Changing habitual vocabulary can cause instant change to how you think. How you think affects how you feel. AND how you feel affects how you live.
I have a confession. In the midst of a terrible political climate, major change at the business I own, and familial loss, my life got better. I changed, in many areas of my life (work, physical, financial) for the better. This happened because I decided to change. With 40 on the horizon, I saw some things I wanted to change and I did it. I am so humbled and grateful that hard work can change things.
The most significant change that I made was (is!) changing my "shoulds" to "musts."
Here is what typically happens:
We make a list of all the "shoulds"... (and often times this is amplified by our holiday experience of stress, family and over indulgence.)
So let's take a look at that sentence. "I should..."
Change it. Switch the "should" with a "must."
Consider how powerful it is when we change "I should eat healthier" to "I must eat healthier."
or... "I should start saving money." To "I must start saving money."
Changing the strength of your language also changes something else, your standards. When you raise your standards, you will be able to make permanent change in your life. Raising your standards will change your should to a must.
YOUR LIFE IS A DIRECT REFLECTION OF THE STANDARDS YOU HOLD FOR YOURSELF AND OTHERS.
The standards you hold are a direct reflection of your life. The way you manage everything - health, finances, your environment, your appearance, your values. How you communicate yourself to the world is a communication of the standards you hold.
How do you start doing this? Get a paper and pen and ask yourself some questions:
(doing this now will let change start to happen NOW)
On a Saturday morning last spring I woke up at 4:45am. I was going on the local news to promote my dance studio. I woke up early and drank coffee. I stared at the closet to pick out something to wear. Although I am relatively comfortable on camera, it is, to say the least, an anxiety inducing experience.
“What do I wear? Do I look hip? Can you tell I am almost 40? What do I say? What if I am goofy?” (The last one being very likely.)
I went and shot the segment, did my thing, and exhaled a sigh of relief. I decided to get a coffee and then go to the gym. In the Starbucks, I got a notification that I had a Facebook message.
In all capital letters, a woman expressed her disgust at me. She said I was fat, obese even. She said I had no right to be on TV, especially to talk about fitness and exercise.
My heart sank. I was horrified. I felt shame. You would think, in getting such a rude message, one with misspelling and all capital letters, I would just laugh it off. I did not, my heart hurt.
I went to the gym and told my trainer. He, and all my friends, talked about how dumb it was, they all said how fit I am. I still felt really shitty. And very uncomfortable in my own skin.
I like to think that I am tough, that I am outspoken, that I am essentially, over anyone else’s opinion. But I went home and I cried. I let her get to me. I doubted myself.
But then, I made a choice. I made a choice to take it back, to take back the power.
I opened up Facebook and decided to write back to her. I decided that I was going to be happy that day and I decided that I was going to be ok with myself. So I wrote back,and I sent her a picture:
First of all, I love you and I hope you find love in yourself. If you are mad at me, a stranger, then I bet you are mad at someone else too. I wish you ease with that, prayer and peace.
Second of all, I love and celebrate my body and how I look. Sometimes I indulge or feel stress and am bigger, sometimes I work out a lot and am stronger and leaner. I like all those versions of myself. They are mine and I love me. I love fitness, and am so grateful that I can run five miles, lift over 100 pounds and dance for hours. I love to express myself with clothing and honestly, I think I am pretty darn cute.
What you said doesn't bother me. I happily represent my business. We encourage all types of beautiful people to come here and work out and feel good.
However, words matter and mean something. If you had sent me this 15 years ago, I would have been wrecked. You could have sent me into a tailspin of self doubt and reckless behavior. Say whatever you want to me, but if I heard you say that in front of a little girl or to a teenager, you'd see what my angry looks like.
I took this picture of me for you, in all my joy in my favorite place in the world, my successful business. I will continue to loudly express myself in your honor.
With love, LZ
I wrote back to her and then I blocked her. I didn’t want to fight with an irrationally angry woman on the internet. And then I posted the whole thing on my Facebook page. I decided to make it mine. My story, not hers. My decision. And then I made another decision, to let it go. (As an aside, I have “Let Go” tattooed on my arm as a reminder to myself. I can be pretty stubborn.)
This particular incident has amplified to me how much people talk to me about my body. I am a performer, I am curvy, I am not skinny. I like tight, bold clothes and have no desire to hide myself, to attempt to “minimize” anything or abide by anyone’s decision of what I should wear.
This attitude brings about a lot of conversation. Honestly, I used to hate it. People stop me on the street or write to me about how I feel about myself and how that has affected them. How they feel ok or not. And this, used to make me feel as vulnerable and awful as this woman’s letter.
I realized recently that I don’t feel that way anymore. I am open and loud about what I have to say and how I feel about myself. Other people’s words do not change how I feel about myself.
Other people’s words do not change how I feel about you:
LOVE YOUR BODY. NO ONE ELSE’S OPINION MATTERS. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.
I realize that the shift is because of this letter. I took something that made me feel so awful, looked it in the face and shouted back. With grace.
If I could write to her again, I would say thank you. Thank you for calling me fat.
To give to Prosjekt Haiti or for more information, please visit their website.
Ingvill and Edwin have been married for 20 years. She is a tall, blond, tough Norwegian, who talks passionately about the nonprofit/humanitarian organization they founded, Prosjekt Haiti. Edwin is an ardent advocate for change in his Native Haiti. Growing up in the slums of Port Au Prince, he went on to military school in Ecuador, where he met Ingvill. Splitting their time between Norway and Haiti, the couple has run the non-profit for 17 years.
Both Ingvill and Edwin laugh easily and often communicate their love for the country of Haiti. Prosjekt Haiti is a partner with LEAF International, a part of LEAF Community Arts, where I work as a teaching artist. Ingvill and Edwin were our hosts for the trip and we were able to see the country through the lens of their work; advocating for children, creating schools, and empowering communities and women.
My trip to Haiti was 8 days (next trip will definitely be longer!)
We began the trip with two days in the capital of Port Au Prince, a city of 2 million people. Built into the mountains, Port Au Prince is a dizzying amalgamation of colors and sounds laid out over a labyrinth of curvy streets with an overwhelming amount of traffic. The city amplifies the magnitude of the division between rich and poor in Haiti, wealthy families living in the hills with access to western grocery stores, restaurants and more. In contradiction, many of the city's residents live in poverty, creating a secondary economic marketplace of stalls with clothing, food, household goods and more.
The city emphasized the need for change in the country, and the importance of Prosjekt Hait’s work, especially education for children and women, that will empower them to create different economic circumstances. I loved the city, I was inspired and amazed by the self-sufficiency and spirit of the people. I found the energy of the city and the people to be compelling, exhilarating and an affirmation of humanity.
On Sunday we travelled from the chaotic city to the peaceful town of Saint Louis de Sud, three hours to the south. Saint Louis de Sud is a small town with mountains to the north and the sea to the south. We arrived at Le Petit Trolle, the school started by Prosjekt Haiti. Built onto a hill, next to a graveyard and just above the town, the school has school buildings, a kitchen, garden and a guesthouse/community center that is under construction. The guest house became our home, where we slept simply under mosquito nets and spent evenings and early mornings on the rooftop, which offered a breathtaking view of the sea.
Upon arrival Nina (Ingvill’s cousin, an amazing energetic woman who is on the board of Prosjekt Haiti) walked us to the small town, which was decorated by posters from the recent mayoral election. Much to our delight, we were greeted by Edwin’s face, on billboards, posters and flags hung about the town. He had just won the election to be mayor of the town.
Luckily for us, Edwin’s swearing in ceremony was that Monday. Monday morning was the beginning of the summer camp at the school and simultaneously, the preparations for the swearing in. As children arrived for the camp, so did men in their best suits.
After much preparations, we drove from Saint Louis de Sud to a neighboring town where the swearing in was to be held. Edwin had arranged for the people of the town to be transported there as well in buses. Women and men of all ages came in their best dressed. I was moved when Edwin insisted that men give up their seats on the temperature controlled bus to the older women of the town.
Upon arrival the (very) crowded courthouse, we waited for the ceremony to begin. Nothing is quite as fascinating as watching a ceremony in a language you can’t understand, I picked up bit and pieces in French, but otherwise was immersed in the proceedings crowd, reporters and systems.
It was incredibly moving to see the support that Edwin got from the town’s population. Unlike many politicians, who come from wealthy families, Edwin is of the people, grew up like them and already has a history of creating positive change through Prosjekt Haiti.
I was moved to tears in seeing the populous celebrate during his speech and the excitement, expressed through dancing, singing and cheers as we returned to the town. As we drove into town there was a crowd of dancers and local RaRa bands. It made me hopeful for not only this town and Haiti, but that there is still room in the world for positive, real change.
After the excitement of Monday, we spent the rest of the week immersed in the summer camp at Le Petit Trolle. The sun rises early in Haiti and so do the people. I often was awake by 5:30am and the camp was already bustling. The men and women who work there were already hard at work and we had the luxury of time to read, eat breakfast and shower.
At 9am, the children arrived for summer camp. Each day they raise the Haitian and Norwegian flags with a singing of each country’s anthem. The children then divided into groups, each going to a different class. I was lucky enough to lead the dance class. Other classes included sports (volleyball and soccer), mathematics, english and more.
In the dance class, I was met with shy glances and the students were very attentive. After beginning to dance, I was always happy to see smiles and excitement. In Asheville, through LEAF, I teach as class of young people who are from the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. They have taught me the hula, a native dance of other tropical islands. The Haitian students took so quickly to the dance and did an excellent job. We also did hip hop, tutting and bhangra dance.
After class, the kids got an hour of free time. It is inspiring to see the universal delight of children at play. Even with language barriers, I, along with the other volunteers were able to join in on jump rope, catch, frisbee and more. After the free time, there was a large circle of the whole camp, where we played games, danced and sang.
I am always awed around children, at the universality of joy, acceptance of others and curiosity. These children were wide open, and there was so much joy and laughter. Prosjekt Haiti also brought in teenagers to run the summer camp. Part of their youth leadership team, these young adults live in Port Au Prince. We were able to teach with them and also swim and go to the beach. They are such beautiful examples of young adults, I am excited to see where they will go in the world.
Upon returning home, the most definitive I feelings I have are: 1. To stay connected. To the people, to the culture and to the gifts I was given in my trip. And, 2. To make change in my life. To make sure I am giving, to make sure I am honoring other people and to make sure I am living simply.
As I return home, I am grateful for social media as it allows for easy connection to my new friends in Haiti. I am honored and reminded of the sweetness of their culture as I receive messages from my friends. An example “Dear Lisa, I miss you so much. I will hold you in my heart. Please come visit again soon.”
For more information about Prosjekt Haiti please visit their website. For more information or to volunteer, please email Ingvill.
For more information about LEAF Community Arts and their international program, LEAF International, please visit their website.
For more information about me and Studio Zahiya, and our upcoming work with Prosjekt Haiti, please visit our website.
Prosjekt Haiti is a Norwegian/Haitian organization that has worked in Haiti since 2000. Our first project was the elementary school Petit Troll in Port au Prince. The organization has expended over the years, and is now running a number of projects both in Port au Prince and in the village of St. Louis du Sud in the south of Haiti.
Prosjekt Haiti’s goal is to contribute to a better future for the people associated with our projects, and for Haiti as a nation. We believe that the best way of doing this is to provide people with knowledge and skills that enable them to improve their own situation. Prosjekt Haiti therefore focuses on education, capacity building and value creation.
Approximately 400 children receive their primary education through Prosjekt Haiti’s two schools. In addition, the students can participate in activities like youth club, sports club, summer school and seminars. Manman Troll focuses on competence building and vocational training for women. In addition, we regularly have various ad hoc projects and campaigns in cooperation with interesting partners.
Prosjekt Haiti is funded through donations from private donors, both through a sponsor program and through one-time gifts. In addition, we receive funding from Norad for some projects. Most of our activity in Norway is based on volunteer work, which contributes to keeping the administration costs low. In Haiti, we have approximately 50 employees in various positions. It is important for Prosjekt Haiti that the different projects are run by local resources who feel ownership to Prosjekt Haiti.
Pictures from the journey:
This weekend, I had the honor and the privilege of teaching in Chattanooga, TN. It was a really exciting workshop for me, as I was sponsored by The Girlfriend Manifesto, a women's empowerment company. As my business turns toward a similar focus, I was really excited for the weekend. And it was SO. MUCH. FUN. A weekend full of connection, dance and booty shaking.
I taught two workshops, one on Bhangra, a joyful folk dance form Northern India and on Sunday morning I taught a Twerkshop. It was awesome. Ladies worked hard, learned a skill, felt empowered and connected and laughed! (YAY JOY!) It was really awesome to see. My co-conspirator and hostess, Ayesha, wrote a really awesome blog post about it here.
It got me thinking.
I often get comments about the fact that I teach twerking. Comments have included:
Here's the thing. I am 37 years old, I am responsible, I am a business owner. AND, I am really good at shaking my a$$, I love to do it and I love to teach it to other adults. I also find it important.
Twerking doesn't have to be for everyone. It is important to me that I teach it to adults in safe, non-judgemental situations. But I think we could all have a healthy dose of shaking it.
Does this sound familiar?
You leave a bellydance class/workshop/performance and you are SUPER inspired. You are ready to WORK, to practice, to improve, to become the great dancer you are destined to be. The next day you are ready to practice. You walk into your space. You turn on your music and you start to dance. Then your phone beeps. After returning a text message, you check facebook. Oh right, you are here to dance. So, you start dancing again. Buuuuuut, the music doesn’t feel quite right, so you change it. Then you change it again. Well, you kind of want some coffee, maybe you’ll just run down the street….
As part of my coaching practice, I am constantly working with dancers to create effective and manageable practice schedules. Here are some of the key points that I have garnered in creating a practice routine:
It is important that your practice is thoughtful, not mindless – 15 minutes of thought out practice is better than an hour of mindless shimmies and hip downs. To honor your dance, take time (monthly or bi-monthly) to set goals. It’s like a map, it’s easier to create a path if you know where you are going.
Start with a blank piece of paper and 20 minutes. At the top write “I want…”, then let yourself write. Don’t hold back – the sky is the limit. Then go back and review it – circle anything that feels important or comes up more than once. Use that to write trackable goals.
Understand YOUR Motivation
Consider what motivates you. Are you motived by reward? (If you practice 10 days in a row you get a pedicure, etc) or perhaps by public announcement (put your goal on facebook and let your friends motivate you.) Maybe you need to consistently check in with a teacher.
Many people are inspired by upcoming performances. If this is you, schedule them! The more we dance, the more we will want to practice.
Whatever it is, USE IT.
Environment and Ritual
To the best of your ability, create a distraction free practice space. We can’t all have regular access to a floating floor, 2000 sq foot, floor to ceiling mirrored dance studio BUT we can close the door, ask our husband/partner/friend to watch the kids and TURN OFF THE INTERNET (that’s for me!) Consider inspiration, a window, beautiful dance photo or nice mirror can be a great investment and make us want to practice.
In her book The Creative Habit, choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about the power of using ritual to create mind space before a practice. Create a ritual that makes you feel ready to dance. For me, it’s meditating for 5 minutes while listening to an inspiring song. At the end of my practice, I do sun salutations to honor what I’ve done for myself. For my friend Tiffany, she puts on her dance hair to practice because it transforms her from Tiffany the Mom/School Principal/Wife to Amira Star the Bellydancer!
Practice and Application
In the vein of being thoughtful, consider not just what you want to practice but how you will actually use it to become a better dance performer. For example, if you want to work on omis, effective practice is to not just stand in one spot and omi. Practice – then apply to your dancing:
A carpenter can’t work without his tools and a good dance practice needs good tools. Here are some of my favorites:
One of the things I often get complimented on is confidence. As a coach, instructor and mentor, people perceive me as clear on my self-worth and place in the world. In general, I also feel this way about myself. In my work I encourage others to love and celebrate themselves and work to do the same for myself.
However, I recently have been noticing a re-occurring theme in my thoughts…
I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
I will teach a class and immediately start to think about how I could have done it better. I’ll try on clothing and think “I could do more sit-ups.” I travelled with a man in my life and was berating myself about how I needed to make him comfortable the whole time.
I was surprised to realize how often this was happening. Daily, even hourly, I was criticizing myself for not being good enough. In the beginning of this realization I wrote it off. As a lifelong member of “Overachievers Anonymous”, I simply saw it as a way to constantly make myself better.
But then I remembered something I often say to my clients… “would you treat someone you love the way you treat yourself?”
“We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.” ~Lori Deschene
So, I took out a piece of paper and wrote, “Hey Lisa, you are fine the way you are.” I laughed to myself, inherently; I knew this was more than true. I am more than fine, I am pretty awesome.
To that end, I have been thinking about how to stop that voice inside my head. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
In the end, the reason why I want to work on this so much is that I need to make space in my life for what matters. I am choosing to trade in all that emotional energy and all the thoughts of “not good enough.” I am committing to myself to use that time to being better in the world, to make change and to believe in myself. I am good enough. In fact, I’m great and can’t wait to share it with the world.