Dancing in my panties—a girl pastor’s commitment to helping the next generation see themselves better than she did

I danced around the kitchen in my underwear the other day. The blinds were up and I bet the cars driving by my apartment on the 980 had a fabulous view of me in my underwear as the music blared over the sound of my dishwasher (I wasn’t inviting voyeurism; it was a long overdue laundry day, too). Partly I danced to distract myself from the fact that I was cleaning. Partly I danced because I was playing the soundtrack from Fela. (I dare you to listen to “Zombie” without doing a few salsa moves.)

But the main reasons I danced with abandon, choosing not to care if anyone saw my ample self two-stepping as I wiped down counters was this: a month ago I went to Off the Grid, the Friday night food truck festival next to the Oakland Museum, with my clergy bestie and her 11-year-old daughter “M.” I love that girl like a pain. We were eating grilled cheese and Filipino nachos and sat down to hear the live band killing some soul music. There were little girls and a few slightly older girls dancing around with abandon, as little kids do. “You should go up there, M,” her mother said. M shook her head and looked down a little abashed.

“A year ago we wouldn’t even have needed to suggest it,” my friend whispered to me. “She would have been down there while our backs were turned paying for the food.” But in a year M has learned that what other people think matters. She’s also learned that her size matters to people, despite her mom working really hard to help M think in terms of eating healthy to feel good, not to LOOK the way other people define “good.”

So, although I am equally mortified to be seen dancing, and that mortification set in at just about the same time as M’s, when they started up on a Stevie Wonder number, I said, “M! This is like my FAVORITE song! Come look stupid with me!” We twirled and spun and shimmied and twisted like idiots til the song was over and we were out of breath. She got to do something she actually WANTED to do but couldn’t admit she wanted to, and she looked like it was because she was humoring her insane aunt, so she hadn’t made a major withdrawal from the cool bank.

There’s another reason I gave the lucky people of Oakland an unexpected peep show the other day. I have a good friend who is wicked smart and incredibly empathic and a powerful leader. She’s also SUPER hot and also somewhat recently single (you lucky, lucky straight and bi men). We use the same online dating service, and she told me about a guy from it she was going on a date with and all the reasons it was probably a write-off, having to do with his values and life goals. Then she paused and, almost embarrassed to admit it, said, “in his profile he said he likes thin girls.”

“Uh huh?” I asked.

“But HE reached out to ME, so he’s seen the pictures and knows what I look like.”

As I mentioned, on top of smart and empathic, she’s definitely hot. “Yeah, and there are men who are looking for thin women who would define you as thin,” I responded.

I’ve written a previous post on fat bias and I’ve also noted on facebook that the documentary “When Strangers Click” shared the following data: women’s biggest fear in online dating is that they’ll go out with a serial killer. Men’s biggest fear is that they’ll go out with a fat woman. No. Really.

I have the best mother in the world. She raised me to be strong and care about justice for all people and to be a good feminist and to never hide my intelligence. One day in my early twenties I told her that the guy I was dating at the time really made me feel beautiful and how much I appreciated that. She said, with tears in her eyes, “You were always beautiful. I was always so focused on making sure you knew you were smart and powerful. I should have told you you were beautiful more often.”

So I danced, not quite naked, in my kitchen, to Fela.

I danced for M, because she has so much life in her and I don’t want the world to steal that.

I danced for my friend who has been handed subtle messages about what constitutes normative hotness that when a guy recognizes how gorgeous she is, she can’t totally trust it.

I danced for my mother who did everything right to raise a strong and powerful woman and couldn’t by herself overpower the years of microaggressions I had received about my size.

And I danced for me. Because I remember 10. I remember not caring what other people thought. I remember loving to dance just because the music was more powerful than other people’s judgments or snickers; when it got under my skin, I had to move. (I even remember coordinating my own tap routine to Prince’s Raspberry Beret in fourth grade for the school talent show; I had that lack of inhibition that my fourth grade teachers must have known guaranteed  a really awful junior high experience in just a couple of years.) At 10, I knew God had made me unique and different and odd, but I also knew God had made me glorious. And I was delighted to share that.

The steps were all wrong. My 38-year-old plus-sized self doubtless jiggled in places I didn’t even know could jiggle. But for three minutes, I was the song Zombie. I danced like no one was watching while thousands made their afternoon commute 100 feet from my window. I danced like I was fearfully and wonderfully made. The same way I see M—gloriously created by God. The same way I see my friend—gloriously created by God.

I may always struggle to see myself the way God sees me. My friend, who’s my age and has dealt with all the same external pressures and judgments, may also face times where she’s suspicious of how amazing that reflection in the mirror is (the literal mirror and also the mirror of her soul). But I hope we do better at helping M see herself the way God sees her, the way we see her.

I hope that M and I find a lot more moments to not care about what other people think and to dance like nobody’s watching, even when everybody is. I hope that she gets to see herself as fearfully and wonderfully made.

Comments (4)

  1. David Cobb

    I generally don’t preach in Christmas Eve because I find the story and carols we sing speak for themselves. But reading your blog tonight was like hearing a glorious sermon on incarnation and grace. Thank you. You made my night!

  2. Sandhya (Post author)

    Merry Christmas, friend. Thank you!!!

  3. RebeccaKL

    This is lovely. But what makes me sad is the possibility that no one saw you at all because they were all to focused on traffic or their phones to look around. It would have made my day to look in someone window while driving on the freeway and see someone dancing with abandon in their underwear! It makes my day just thinking about it.

    I may have to share this with my Zumba class. There are women there who seem like they’ve forgotten they have hips or like they’re afraid of taking up too much space in the room. I’m hoping they’ll find their bodies eventually.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. kristi laughlin

    Thanks for sharing this story. It reminds me of the gift I have received from my pre-schooler. He has opened the floodgates in terms of me doing crazy things I was formally too self-conscious to do—dancing, singing, making up songs, playing air guitar. (Mind you, I can’t carry a tune!). How liberating and fun it has been!

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