Sunday, August 14, 2011

Putting the Zumba Test to My Self-Esteem

Somehow I survived the period of time between my fifteenth birthday and my twentieth birthday without the deluge of insecurity and dissatisfaction with physical appearance that seems to pour down over the Unite State’s female population.

Shortly after I turned 20, however, those feelings snuck up from behind, wrestled me to the ground, and I’ve been trying to thrust them from my person ever since.

There have been days that the weight of those feelings has been a heavy weight to carry, indeed. These days, though, in general find me stronger and the weight of insecurity and personal dissatisfaction is not as overpowering.

That was, however, until I decided to attend a dance-aerobics class.

A friend of mine had asked a few times if I would like to join her at a Zumba class in the local dance studio.

Zumba? What in the world is Zumba? As I was to find out, Zumba is a robust and lively blend of aerobics and Latin dance. Having grown up in a reserved semi-conservative Christian household, I should have predicted immediately that Zumba and I would not be bosom buddies on first contact.

However, attend a Zumba class I did.

I arrived before my friend, and stood around awkwardly in my baggy running shorts and t-shirt. It was a bit of a stretch to show up at a dance class filled with toned, artificially tanned high school girls, and I felt stretched almost to breaking when I realized that the dance teacher fit right in with those perfectly shaped bodies.

The girls were nice enough. At least, they completely ignored my friend and me, which in my opinion was highly preferable to the only alternative I could imagine: overt derision and ridicule.

The ‘class’ was going fine, in my opinion. (Though I hardly dare call it ‘class,’ as that word invokes the idea of guided learning. This experience was more akin to a baby eagle’s moment of being booted from the nest to ‘learn’ to fly.) I found that if I focused only on the teacher and pretended I was a marionette, whose every body part was made to move in tandem with hers, I could actually follow along quite well. I could imagine that my body was undulating fluidly, gracefully.

I was a ribbon, rippling effortlessly with the music.

Until I got a glimpse of myself in the wall of mirrors (which I began to refer to as the Wall of Shame) at the front of the room.

This is what I saw: a tiny pale head on a thin pale neck, skinny arms, skinny legs, all protruding from a shapeless baggy center.

And I was not undulating gracefully. Nor was I a ribbon rippling with the music.

I was a scarecrow, arms and legs flailing; a chicken, with neck, torso and limbs jutting at every angle, in movements seemingly unconnected with each other.

Watching myself only seemed to make the flailing worse. Eventually I gave up in despair and turned my attention back to my lithe, scintillating instructor. Gone were delusions of my Zumbra prowess.

And yet… and yet I was still able to enjoy myself. Yes, ignorance may have been a bit more blissful, but I found I was able to enjoy the feeling of my body in motion, able to enjoy the challenge of making my movements mirror the teacher’s.

As long as I didn’t turn my attention back on myself.

Biking home after my Zumba ordeal, I reflected. Isn’t life so often like that? When I put the focus on me—on my happiness, on my appearance, on my stuff—I am unhappy.

I don’t want to carry the metaphor too far and compare watching a Zumba instructor to keeping my eyes on God. The one simple thought was enough for me: keep your eyes off of yourself.


  1. I've always wanted to use the word "undulating" in a sentence. I'm jealous. This post made me laugh and think of a college aerobics class I took. :)

  2. Your last comment made me think of a song I used to listen to years ago, "Keep your eyes on the Son, keep His light shining through. Keep your eyes on Jesus; He'll keep His eyes on you."