Shimmy, shake, bump 'n' grind. Shimmy, shake, bump 'n' grind.
That's what the hourglass beauty in the "How To Burlesque" video on YouTube said over and over again. I stared at her, wondering if I could really do it. Could I really DO burlesque? My hips can shimmy, and I may (or may not) have been known to bump 'n' grind a bit in my day. But now, my 37-year-old, post-baby body shook and shimmied on its own -- no music or instructor needed. My inner thighs even clap for themselves, congratulating each other for going another day without catching fire.
However, on one particular girls' night out, I found myself in a lightly buzzed stupor at a burlesque show, featuring our local burlesque superstars. My girls and I hollered our faces off, showing our love and adoration for the girls on stage, commenting on how brave they were. Then it happened. The emcee made the announcement that they were offering a burlesque mentorship program. Um, do you know what happens in lightly buzzed stupors? You get brave. Really brave. So, I signed up for it. In my lightly buzzed stupor I signed up for the burlesque mentorship program. Whether I thought I could do burlesque or not, I had no choice -- I was going to. I was going to revive my old dancer bones, and shimmy, shake, bump 'n' grind myself all the way to the last step of my body love journey. Unbeknownst to me, I was also ass-tasseling my way to being a better parent.
I know. How the hell does taking off your clothes in front of complete strangers, and twirling your hips like you're Beyoncé's back-up dancer, make you a better parent? To a little GIRL, no less! It's impossible, right? WRONG. When your child has special needs, and her body doesn't do the things it's "supposed" to do, there's a slew of mom-isms you recite to continuously fight back against society's "Rules for Normal."
My typical go-to is, "You are absolutely perfect just the way you are," but the reality of parenting is that it doesn't matter what you say -- your kid will remember what you DO. So, I could tell my daughter a million times that she is perfect, and her body is beautiful just the way it is, but if I'm walking around talking about how much I hate my grocery bag tummy, or my jiggly thighs, or the fact that my left boob is ¼ cup size larger than the right one, then my words mean nothing to her. Zip. Zilch. Nada. If I was going to talk the talk, I had better walk the walk... or shimmy the walk, if you will. In two months of actually doing burlesque, I became a better mom because I learned these three things.
1. There will always be someone you think looks better than you, but absolutely NO ONE can do YOU better than you can.
I was the heaviest girl in my burlesque class -- even bigger than my mentors. I weigh a solid 220 pounds, and I'm fairly certain that my cellulite has cellulite. But no one can pull off The Big Bang McGillicuddy better than I can. That's my stage name. There's a certain coyness, playfulness and confidence that only I can bring to Miss B.B. McGillicuddy. There can only be ONE Miss B.B. There can only be ONE me. Therefore, there can only be ONE you.
2. You really can do anything you set your mind to. ANYTHING. Regardless of who says what.
"Cosmo says you're fat -- Well I ain't down with that!" Yes. I just quoted Sir Mix-A-Lot, but follow me. Cosmo could have 12 cover stories a year telling me how to look skinny, be skinny, feel skinny, and act skinny. Up until this year, Sports Illustrated basically told me that girls like me had no place in their magazine, but then in walked the gorgeous Ashley Graham, who turned the magazine on its head. Hell, the Internet all but lost its Google-tracked mind when Tess Munster signed a major modeling contract. Everything out there says that no one wants to see a girl like me in her rhinestone-studded skivvies, but I gave them all the finger and flashed my pink diamond pasties anyway. And you know what? People LOVED it. There is real power in bucking the system and doing what everyone says you CAN'T do/SHOULDN'T do/WON'T do. So go ahead and DO IT.
3. Having the perfect anything doesn't make you beautiful, and it doesn't make you happy. Having the confidence to be true to yourself DOES.
I used to think if I lost weight I'd be beautiful and happy. If I got braces and closed the gap between my front teeth, I'd be beautiful, and happy. If I got a weave, painted my nails, and lightened my skin, I'd be beautiful. AND HAPPY. I did all but get braces and lighten my skin, and guess what? HAPPINESS WAS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. But on show night, when I finally embraced the 5-year-post-baby belly, and the 5-year-post-baby boobs, and the thighs that wiggled and jiggled like a delicious bowl of Jell-O, I was the happiest I had been in years. I felt more alive, more fabulous, more confident, and more like ME than I ever have in my entire life. I finally felt beautiful. I finally felt happy. I had finally been true to myself.
So yes, from Pampers to pasties, burlesque has made me a better mom. I can truthfully pass on the adage to my daughter that she is beautiful and perfect just as she is, because she will never again hear me say anything other than that about myself. She will know that being her most authentic self is what makes her beautiful -- whether it be the way she holds her spoon and shakily brings it to her mouth to independently feed herself, or how she writes an entire novel using the 84 keys on her augmented communication device. She is perfect, and beautiful just as she is, and so am I. I've got the pasties to prove it.