I’ve never been so happy in all my life. I’ve had this stupid grin on my face for a week straight and I feel like I have bluebirds and squirrels following me, squeaking and blowing heart-shaped bubbles.
It seems to be rubbing off on strangers around me, too. Yesterday, a woman on my bus volunteered to move so that I could take a window seat, and then not an hour later, a construction worker smiled at me, and said good morning and actually TIPPED HIS CONSTRUCTION HELMET in a friendly and genuine way. With all due respect to the construction industry, I say: whoa.
I’m a fat burlesque dancer. A few months ago I was chosen to give a TEDx talk on body image, and just recently, it was posted to YouTube and TEDx. And I’m so stupid-happy because, as it turned out, it was pretty well received.
On March 30th my talk was finally posted on the web. I was thrilled, and I hoped that people would see it and that it would resonate. I had a tough time writing this talk; not only is it extremely personal, but a lot of it is stuff I couldn’t even say out loud a couple of years ago. I posted the link, sent a few emails, and hugged my husband.
When I first checked the YouTube comments, I braced myself for the inevitable trolls. That first day there were only about five crappy comments. Vicious, mean, cussing comments. I read them, stressed for a half hour and reported them. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I panicked.
Then took a deep breath and realized that I had to walk away. If I kept policing the page, I would have to quit my job or hire a personal assistant, and I was getting so much support from friends that it seemed TOTALLY CRAZY to waste time on slapping troll-wrists. So I did, I walked away.
I read body positive articles all the time, and am well-versed in avoiding the comments sections. I knew the poopstorm was coming, but I don’t think I could have ever been truly ready to see strangers typing terrible things about me. And I’ve certainly never read scathing words from anonymous trolls tearing down someone I love. My husband, who was overjoyed for all of the good things I was experiencing, also had to face the troll-droppings. I didn’t think to warn him, and he didn’t see it coming until the comments were already there. We hashed it out, and I assured him that I was okay. And I was, and I got more and more okay when the love started pouring in.
The first message I received from a stranger was an email from a girl who said she was 17, and that she watched my talk and then watched it again with her 11 year old sister. She said it made them both think about their bodies differently, and it made her little sister unafraid to dress the way she wanted to. I cried. It was a happy, ugly cry.
I started getting more and more messages from people I didn’t know, people sharing stories of shame and eating disorders, just baring their souls in long, long messages. And thanking me. I kept wanting to creep into the YouTube comments sections to find uplifting things, the nice comments. I even thought about asking a friend to do it! But eventually I took a deep breath and clicked on the video link. I snuck into the YouTube comments like I was robbing a bank. I tiptoed in, slowwwwwly scrolling down, but then running away at the first sign of fatphobia. It didn’t feel worth it.
As coverage started picking up about my talk, however, I kept getting these wonderful, loving messages. And with each one, I felt like I was lifted up off my feet.
I went back in. Oh Lillian, be strong!
When I looked at the YouTube page, what I saw felt like people jousting for my honor. I know the general wisdom is not to feed trolls, and I certainly hope no one felt obligated to go to bat for me in there, but it made me feel such relief to know that at least the top couple of comments no longer warranted a trigger warning. I felt proud. And overall, I felt like I had won a joust of my own; I had read the comments, and I came out alive. Talk about walking through fire, lawd.
I am bowled over by the love I feel surrounded by right now. I do want to clear something up, though. I believe that being beautiful is a decision that you make, but most of the work leading up to my decision to be beautiful took a long, long time. I hope no one feels discouraged thinking that a person could just wake up and erase all the decades of negativity that gets stored up inside. No, fighting those ingrained lies about your body, those brainwashy knee-jerk reactions to other peoples’ bodies, eradicating negative thinking and identifying your own biases; that takes time. But it’s within reach, and you do get to decide to joust for the good side. The winning side.
I really think we -- and by "we" I mean nice people and body-positivity -- are winning, you guys.
I’m sad that my mom isn’t here to see this. My mom passed away in 2008, a year almost to the day my husband and I got married. My mom was very artsy, but she was also very afraid of a lot of things, and judgement was a huge one. Her fear of judgement prevented her from seeking help for her mental illness, and it threw a million other obstacles in her way.
I think my mom would have read me the riot act when I started doing burlesque because she would have feared people making fun of me, feared that one day an employer would see revealing photos of me online and choose not to give me my dream job because of them, feared that I was taking a risk that was just too big.
That said, I know my mom well enough to know that if she could see me now, she would be so, so proud. Part of what has spurred me to take risks was watching her live her life through a lens of fear. Knowing how trapped she felt by panic and worry. Knowing how many regrets she dragged around with her. There’s a Colin Hay song, "Waiting for My Real Life To Begin," that reminds me of her. She thought that if she could just have the right body, the right luck, the right group of friends, that she could finally be happy.
We don’t have to wait.