Six months ago I made some resolutions. They were not about weight loss, though that's not necessarily a bad goal if properly motivated. I just don't believe in starting off my year bathing in a pool of self-loathing like most who resolve to lose weight on that day. Instead I wanted to approach the topic of body confidence and body love from a resolution angle. What goal can I set that I have avoided my whole life because of how I felt about my appearance?
Well, you all know I don't like having my picture taken. Never have - that's no secret. So one of my goals was to commit to 30 Days of Selfies in order to take back the power of the camera and learn to be more present rather than afraid. I did it. I took a photo of myself every day. I only gave myself one or two shots at the most and I just went with it. Sometimes I was at the gym. Sometimes I was on my couch. Sometimes I forgot until the end of the night and took one on my pillow. Sometimes I had cried all day. Sometimes I even wore a bra and make-up. (Moments saved for special occasions.) By the end of the 30 days I was entirely sick of photos of myself but they no longer elicited any emotional reaction beyond, "Oh. There I am again. That's me." I felt I had some success.
Speaking of which.
My other resolution had to do with vocal lessons. I love to sing. LOVE it. I have no delusions about fame and fortune with my mediocre talent but it brings me such joy and all the same feel-good endorphins that a workout also gives me. I've always wanted to take vocal lessons but I knew they would almost always end with some kind of performance. And THAT is what I just couldn't do. Not only because I wasn't that great but because I was fat. Not thin enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough, not confident enough, not perfect enough. Not enough. So I haven't had a lesson since the last one I took with my junior high choir director.
I have declared this last year since my 39th birthday my Year of Bravery. I've made concerted efforts to do the things that scared me the most. I wore a two piece swimsuit in public last Summer. I had photos taken in my drawers. There were numerous other personal braveries that I tackled. But there was still another thing I was afraid of that was within my grasp as the age of 40 rushed at me at breakneck speeds.
After my month of selfies I contacted a vocal coach, Connie Olson, at the recommendation of a friend. Within a week I had my first meeting with her and she asked me to be a part of the Showcase she has for her students at that very meeting. I thought she was out of her mind. I was terrified to sing in front of just her, let alone an audience. But Connie was adamant and she's hard to refuse.
I took vocal coaching lessons with Connie from mid-February until June and in that time I could tell my confidence was growing. My singing was stronger, my embarrassment was miniscule and my joy was abundant. And never when I was with her did I think about not being pretty enough or thin enough to sing.
Until I thought about that performance, that is. The thought of it still made me nauseated but I was committed. June came fast. Too fast. As the date of our performance at Famous Dave's BBQ & Blue's Club approached I started getting more and more nervous but I couldn't back out. I told too many people. Jesus, I shared it on Facebook, the most concrete and eternal of all promises. I had to do it now.
I was nervous about the singing for sure but I was more nervous about how I would look. I'm just not meant for the stage and I'm fine with that. Too fine. God, what in the hell am I going to wear? I found a dress that was curvy and feminine and sexy, I thought, without being too revealing since my kids would be there. I took a few selfies (yay, me!) and sent them to some friends to get the nod of approval. I got it. I know I've gained weight but this dress made me feel good. See? Not so bad, right? *cough* We'll get back to that in a bit.
Connie asked me to sing three songs instead of the typical one for newbies and I had chosen three songs that I knew like the back of my hand. Bluesy, jazzy, old school. Perfect.
About two weeks before the show I found out we lost our sax player to another gig. I could NOT not have a sax player with my songs. Panic! Since I happen to know one of the best around I contacted Walter Chancellor Jr. and he was willing to help, thank God. What an honor to share my first time on a stage with so much talent.
To say I freaked out over the final week or two would be an understatement. I worried. I panicked. I literally made myself ill. I'm not lying when I tell you my anxiety was through the roof. Just ask my husband who had to give me daily pep talks or my friends who helped me after my post-rehearsal melt-down. I was scared shitless. Shit. Less.
I did come very close to vomiting the morning of the show. Which would have been a damn shame because it was a Sunday. And anyone who knows me knows that my family always has bacon on Sundays. Always. It's our church. To vomit up bacon would be a mortal sin in my book. I held it together, though. Fortunately by the time I started showering and getting ready I started to feel better. I did my hair, put on my makeup, some heels and that dress. That damn dress. Anyway, I felt beautiful, which is a victory in and of itself, and I was as ready as I was going to get.
Throughout the afternoon, over several hours, I got Stuart Smalley type texts from a friend of mine who follows my blog and apparently uses my own advice against me. I can't tell you how much they meant to me that day. I was laughing by the last one and that's exactly what I needed. I saved them all. Here they are:
"You know you look fantastic, right?"
"You also know how much fun you are, right?"
"You also know how smart you are, right?"
"You also know you have fabulous hair, right?"
"You need to take a selfie right now. Duck lips and all." (I did and sent her one after another prompting)
"I also know you're wearing amazing shoes"
"I like your knees and your toes, too. They're pretty awesome."
She sent all these texts without telling me she was coming. When she walked in I was shocked and so very grateful. My family was also there - my husband, kids, mom, aunt, cousin and baby 2nd-cousin who loved her first trip to a bar. Fitting it was with me.
In addition, some of the women I love most in the world were there. The ones that put up with all my crap. The ones that listened to me cry when I left the job that I loved. The ones that support me daily and unconditionally. I couldn't have asked for more.
I was surrounded by love and friendship and cheers and hugs. I could do this, right? RIGHT?
My first song was pretty awful. I'm not gonna lie. The tempo was off with the band so I was off and I never actually got it under control. Was it worthy of American Idol when they make fun of the worst singers around? No. But it wasn't my best. The second song I started to rally. Much better. The third song, Queen Latifah's cover of "Baby, Get Lost" from her standards album, The Dana Owens Album, was when I really felt like I did my thing for someone who has never been on a stage in her life. Having a spectacular sax musician right next to me sho' nuff didn't hurt, either, but that's the video I'm going to share with you shortly.
When I got down from that stage, amid the hooting and hollering of not only my people but others in the crowd, I was all fired up. Fired up with adrenaline and relief but most of all pride. God damn it, I did it. I really did it. The adrenaline high was so strong I couldn't even eat much of my BBQ ribs after. Now you know that's some serious excitement. I was flying high the rest of the night and into the next morning.
When I got in the car to drive home I snapped another selfie of myself (because that's kind of how I roll now). This is what pride looks like. And feeling achieved. And blessed. And relieved. And grateful, for myself and everyone else who supported me. This is what knocking another item off the bucket list looks like. This is 6 months almost to the day Resolution Success.
|This is also "My shoes are starting to hurt my feet"|
Now I knew my family took some video on a tiny pocket camcorder and I had enough sense to wait a couple of days to watch it. I wanted to keep feeling all those feels. I wanted to not think about how I looked or how I sounded and I wanted to be happy that I. Just. Did. It. But I knew I was going to have to look eventually because I wanted to share it with you all. So I looked.
If I had to guess just how negatively those videos would impact me I would never have come close to the full amount of self-loathing I was capable of. They were bad. So, so bad. Not the singing - the singing was just as I described. But how I looked. I was devastated.
Now, it's no secret that I have gained weight. A considerable amount in fact. You only have to run in to me at Target in my stretchy pants and hoodie to discover that. But what I saw in that video compared to what I saw in the photos I took of my dress and the selfie I took in the car were light years apart. Light years. Maybe it was the poor quality camcorder. Maybe it was unflattering stage lighting showing every bump and roll. Maybe I was just swelled up like a tick. Maybe the old myth about the camera adding 10 lbs was true and I had exactly 72.5 cameras on me.
All I know is that it broke my spirit. For a couple of days. I was shocked and embarrassed and mortified that I got up there. And just in case you think I am over-reacting, my husband did agree that the video was "unflattering" which is about as close to the honest truth as I'm going to get from a smart man who knows how to word things properly for his woman on the edge.
I had a pity party for exactly two days. Then a friend told me she hid in the back room of her house when her husband's friend, whom they hadn't seen since their wedding, stopped by for a visit. She hid because of how she looked.
And then I decided enough is e-fucking-nough.
I am fat. Much fatter than I used to be or that I want to be. And perhaps I don't know how to choose outfits that are flattering under stage lights. Maybe the video was worse than it looked in person or maybe I do actually look like that and I'm delusional. Maybe this didn't heal me from worrying about how I look. Whatever. It doesn't take away from what I did. And that's what made me the most angry at myself. I allowed what I DID for myself to be diminished by how I LOOK. When will that stop? We let ourselves be made small in the very face of our huge accomplishments because we aren't perfect enough on the outside. It's got to stop and stop right now.
My biggest fear was getting up on a stage to do the thing I loved and looking bad or sounding bad. And the very things I was afraid of happened to some extent. And no one died. And no one kicked me off stage. And no one, aside from myself, even said horrible things to me. Perhaps I won, not because I have conquered the fear but because I did it in spite of it. I am not fearless by any means. But I can call myself brave now. Lessons are never learned from perfection. They are learned when, in the face of imperfection, you still act.
So what was my lesson? I'm glad you asked. I may have forgotten for a hot minute what I set out to do by performing on a stage. I got caught up in ego. I may be a slow ass learner but I'm getting there. The lesson is this: What I do for myself and for others and how those things make me feel are the only things that matter in this life. How I looked while I did them? That's nothing. It's not often I get to feel proud of myself and successful and beautiful all at the same time. I don't ever want to take that gift away from myself again.
I'm reminded of an article that I read recently on HuffPo by Glennon Melton and shared on my Facebook page. I recommend the read but one thing that struck me was the line, "If you do not feel beautiful then FILL UP, Precious Sister." Fill up on all the lovely experiences because that's where a beautiful life comes from. And when I got down from singing I felt pride in what I had achieved in facing my fear. I felt all the love of those supporting me. I felt radiant. To hell with the dress.
I got up on that stage, not because I'm thin enough, pretty enough, talented enough, confident enough, or perfect enough. But because, god damn it, I FUCKING CAN.
I'm sharing a video with you of that last song. In the spirit of full disclosure I will tell you that it's not the full body shot that I saw and disliked but it still doesn't exactly match what I see in the mirror. However, I promised to be vulnerable and open and that means you get to delight in my amateur singing abilities as well as my sailor mouth and pantsless jokes. Enjoy.
Hey, Forty? Come at me, bro.