I was that girl at the back of the class that nobody wanted to play with. The “frumpy one” with bird’s nest hair, crooked teeth, dandruff and a nose my face hadn’t quite grown into. Labeled “ugly” and “weird” and told I was not cool enough or pretty enough to have friends, food thrown at me, paper spit balls lodged in my hair and threatened to be beaten up by boys and girls alike. People would see my face and body did not fit the ideals of ‘pretty’ they were brought up with and all through my school years my peers emotionally and physically abused me, and nothing was done to stop it.

To look at me now, you wouldn’t believe me because according to societal ideals of beauty I am now slim, pretty, with porcelain skin, jet black curly hair and a quirky, bohemian personality. On the surface I tick every box of what it is to be a ‘gorgeous woman’ but inside, no matter what anybody told me of how stunning I am, I felt ugly and disgusting and there are days I still feel this way. The past sometimes catches up with you on vulnerable days. At times when I look in the mirror all I see is the ugly, frumpy, weird girl nobody wanted to be friends with.

In my teens I developed an eating disorder, anxiety, body dysmorphia and low self-esteem. Alongside the severe school bullying, there were other factors at play whilst growing up that caused a turbulent childhood and early adulthood and I felt like nobody truly loved me. I felt utterly alone. I grew up fast and learned to bury all the pain because people coldly told me “Just get over it.” And I was a target for peoples overbearing criticism and judgment; needless to say I nearly lost myself completely.

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I discovered belly dance at the age of 15, and it was my first saving grace. This was a dance that gave me absolute freedom to be myself and love my body. There are no rules of beauty with belly dance; it brought me back to my body and allowed me to “shake that stuff around.” Belly dance is a gorgeous dance form of powerful femininity and there are times in the present moment when I perform on stage that I feel like a powerful warrior woman, swaying my hips to the beat of a drum reminiscent of the collective heartbeat and primordial rhythm of life.

Yoga found me years later, in my mid 20s, when a friend suggested I tag along to a class. I remember falling over many times and at first I felt ashamed I couldn’t keep up. But then something magical happened: with every new fall, I began to giggle! I began to smile! Yoga was healing the wounded child within me and I could express myself in a playful way. Belly dance showed me that as a woman my body is beautiful just as I am, and Yoga began to heal my inner child. Feelings of inadequacy and depression were melting away and all I wanted to do was roll around on my mat in happy baby pose.

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I now embrace my quirkiness and I have become more accepting of myself, including my flaws. My body is a wonderful vessel for my spirit to ride in, whilst it experiences life as a human being. Why not celebrate such magic?

If it wasn’t for belly dance and Yoga I probably wouldn’t be here today: both forms of creative movement saved my life because something inside me kept on wanting to get up and move regardless of the emotional pain and isolation locked inside my heart.

It was only a few years ago that I came to the realization that if both yoga and belly dance can have such a profound healing effect on me then I truly want to share that with others. My future plan is to eventually do a 200-hour yoga teacher training so that I can facilitate community workshops involving dance movement, yoga, meditation and Reiki for anybody who suffers with or have been victims of abuse, mental health issues and body dysmorphia.

I want people to know that they are loved and that their wreckage is nothing to fear or to hate; it is within the cracks and imperfections where we find beauty and where tiny fragments of light shine through into the depths of our spirit.
Every body is gorgeous and every body is deserving of love. It is imperative that we clear away the limiting ideas of who we are, that keeps us bound and unworthy. Each person on this planet is a swan and an individual epitome of beauty.

So, I will hold my head high and swim happily down the river of life with courage, compassion and love. I tell myself every day “I am beautiful” and I move my body in every way I know how, allowing the intelligence of my vessel to reveal and share with me the grace of the cosmos and the beauty within me.

Say, who’s an ugly duckling? Not I!