This article was originally published on Healthline.
I am fat. I am the obesity epidemic everyone is talking about. I am also completely and unapologetically in love with myself.
If you’re wondering how and where I developed this self-confidence, the answer is: dance. Specifically, dancing on camera.
My gushy, squishy, please-get-a-room self-love certainly slams me squarely in the minority. Yes, plus-size models are gracing the runway, more stores carry “big girl” sizes, and body positivity is on the rise. And yet, DoSomething.org claims that approximately 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies. Ouch.
Love from the start
I’ve been fat my entire life. But I could never subscribe to the self-loathing latte women drink every morning. I have never inherently hated myself, my life, or (gasp!) my body. Like most Americans, sometimes I eat healthy, and sometimes I don’t. But unlike most Americans, I dance six days a week.
I have tons of friends and a loving, supportive family. I love my job. I travel whenever I want. I have a healthy and happy relationship with a man who loooooves my body, and yes, we have pretty amazing sex. Regularly. (Fact: Fat people have sex. Tell your friends.)
But this complete self-assured love that I have for myself is new. I never would have begun this love affair without dancing in front of a camera and putting it on YouTube for a full year.
While I don’t necessarily recommend that, I’ll say this: Self-love takes work. It’s a process that can take years. For a society whose priorities are often tied up in 30 seconds of fame, that may be a hard sale. But the truth is, it takes patience and hard work.
“I’ve been fat my entire life. But I could never subscribe to the self-loathing latte women drink every morning.”
Dance like no one (or everyone) is watching
An easy life hack and a good place to begin: Start your morning with dance selfies. Seriously. Dance around like a total idiot, film it, then watch it. Yes, you will absolutely hate them. For a while, probably. Just like we all hated green smoothies years ago.
But at some point, there was a turn. And you started craving that earthy goodness. That’s exactly what will happen here. Push past that inner Mean Girl who is telling you: “Stop. You look like a damn fool. This is disgusting.” I can tell you from experience: At some point, there is a switch-up.
On the other side of it is appreciation. Elation. Exuberance. And love.
Yes, dancing with yourself works. And not because Billy Idol said so, or because Meredith and Cristina did it on “Grey’s Anatomy” for years. Here are the three main reasons why.
1. Our bodies need movement
Well, duh. You need to move for a number of health reasons. But you also need to get moving because you need the endorphins, the “feel good” hormones that can help alleviate depression, reduce stress and anxiety, boost your self-esteem, and so much more.
For all its benefits, though, exercise can suck, and you might hate it — that’s normal. For me, dance is different. I can go to a club or party and literally dance for hours without ever feeling those I hate my life feelings that exercise gives me. Every time I dance, yes — I feel tired, achy, and sweaty. But I also feel amazing. Dancing made movement fun. And fun is an imperative incentive when switching from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one.
2. Our brains need new information
Watching dance selfies can actually re-teach our brains to stop seeing ourselves as a threat, hence allowing our bodies to work better. But don’t just take it from me — listen to the experts on this one.
“Looking at ourselves and perceiving ourselves negatively affects our biochemistry, which directly affects our nervous system, which affects our efforts at weight loss, and ultimately our overall health,” Stacy Berman, PhD in the field of psychoneuroimmunology explains.
Basically, our flight or fight response perceives negative self-images as a threat, whether the threat is real or not.
“One look in the mirror, and anything not related to survival shuts down,” Berman says. “Digestion, repair, metabolism. Why are we working out, eating right, and not losing weight? This is why.”
Body positivity is not all feel-good, woo-woo. Our bodies actually need it, just like drinking water and eating our veggies. Shifting self-perceptions could start with a dance break and a smartphone. Watching yourself move is a great way to gain awareness of negative messages your brain is sending out. Once aware, we can begin to change those messages.
3. Our society needs YOU
Particularly for women, a huge problem with our bodies is perception. We’re told to believe our different shapes, sizes and colors are wrong. Flawed. We can only change that narrative by becoming active voices against it.
Have we ever considered we can fix our health crisis by seeing different shapes dancing, and bodies jiggling? That increasing visibility of all body types hiking, dating, laughing, and living can shift perceptions and create an environment for healthier living?
I never thought that me dancing around with my friends on YouTube was something the world desperately needed. I was very wrong. Maybe you dancing on your Instagram feed might shift someone’s perceptions, ideas, or their life. Even if it is just your own, wouldn’t that be worth it?
A year after launching this insane social media experiment called FATGIRLSDANCE, we’d gone viral, had thousands of followers, and inspired people worldwide to join us. All of that plus I’d started the healthiest, most loving relationship I’ve ever had. With myself.
If I could keep just one thing gained from this past year, unequivocally, I would choose that. Self-love has literally changed my entire life. And if you are a part of the 91 percent who are still unhappy with their bodies, I can tell you: It’s waaay better over here. Join the 9 percent. There’s dancing. And love. And tacos.
And there should always be tacos.
Cathleen Meredith is the founder of Fat Girls Dance. She made it her mission to learn and perform one new dance every week for a year, finding self-love and confidence along the way. She’s a living example that when you dance it out, everything is a little better! Follow her and her fabulous girl squad.