Arming ourselves with body positivity

Last weekend Hip Circle Empowerment Center hosted its third annual body positivity photoshoot.  This year’s focus was arms, with a dress code of sleeveless tops and dresses.

Having just made two sleeveless dresses, it didn’t occur to me that some women are self-conscious about their arms. Then on July 14 going sleeveless even became a political issue in congress with women striving to change the dress code that doesn’t allow for sleeveless dresses in the Capitol’s House of Representatives lobby.  

I like my arms, especially now that they are toned from wire bending and Moxie Boxing. We had a blast striking various poses in front of the new Main Street Station Mural (more will pop up on Hip Circle’s web site). The fabulous Zinta Jauntirāns-Vogel took all our photos.

I knew I would bump into friends and was pleased to meet new power-women. Some are studio regulars, and others just found out about the shoot and decided to join in. We even tried to get passers-by in sleeveless outfits to take pictures with us (they declined).

Unlike the bikini shoot that sparked this annual event, I had no jitters during the day. It was more about deciding which dress to wear! One person had bought a top especially for the occasion.

A little girl who had been made self-conscious of a farmers tan refused to join. She later wanted to be part of some photos, but the rule was that she had to remove her cardigan. As the shoot progressed and we asked her about Wonder Woman’s power poses, she warmed up to the ladies present. Just as the group session wrapped she decided to join in after all. Now she is happy to leave the cardigan at home on hot days.

Here’s to the next empowering activity. I missed the shorts photoshoot last year, which also has fabulous messages.  Check out the various classes, workshops and events Hip Circle Empowerment Center organizes and see if one or more of them resonate with you.

Photos copyright Zinta Jauntirāns-Vogel

Hip Circle Empowerment Center just turned non-profit. Their mission: “Through dance, fitness, and community we empower ALL women to believe they are strong, beautiful, and worthy of attention.

Vision: The Hip Circle Empowerment Center is a safe space for women of all ages, backgrounds, and economic status. It brings together women from across societal boundaries for shared experiences. Through dance and fitness, women are empowered to joyfully inhabit their bodies. Through personal and professional development, women are empowered to courageously accomplish their goals. Through involvement in the studio community, women are empowered to confidently make their voices heard.”

A body positivity photo shoot

It seems that body advocacy has become more prevalent over the past few years, or maybe I just follow like-minded people who agree that photoshopped imagery in magazines is an impossible standard to uphold. But instead of sharing and liking these links on social media, I was called to do something more substantial about it in June.

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Inspired by this blog post about normal-size women posing as Victoria’s Secret swimsuit models, Malik of Hip Circle Studio posted the following invitation:

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Within the week, she had scheduled a formal event invite that called us to wear our favorite bathing suit and show up at the beach.

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I tried on a few the night before and realized that it had been a while that I’d been bathing suit shopping. Comfortable me gravitated toward the tankinis, but I decided to do the scary thing and put on the two-piece that fit. At the beach, I saw photographer Kerry Ben-Joseph checking the light.

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Soon my friends from Bellydance and Moxie Boxing classes appeared. A few new-to-me ladies also  came to the shoot. We were asked to line up and strike poses.

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The power pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The jumping pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The chatting pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

We were also asked to pose individually. Initially I wasn’t going to, but then it seemed everyone was game, so I played along. The hardest part was not contracting my belly the whole time. I feel like I could have posed better, but the photo is posted on Malik’s insightful recap blog post so you can see it there.

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

I didn’t see ‘models’ like me in the media growing up, so if this shoot is enabling one teenage girl to accept herself as she is, rather than looking at air-brushed and ‘skinnified’ images of women she will never look like, then the mission of this shoot is accomplished.

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Malik hopes to make this at least an annual event, and I am all for it. We need more initiatives like this to showcase that everyone is beautiful just as nature created you. It was fun in spite of the initial awkwardness!

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

Shimmying body issues away

Last May, I decided to get back into a fitness routine and walked into a studio that enriched my life. I had seen Hip Circle Studio’s demonstrations during various Custer Street Fairs since 2010, but didn’t take a class until the end of May. Located a few blocks away, there was no excuse of a long drive to get there, and with summer in full swing I had the energy to walk a few blocks to groove to world music.

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I started with a CardioBelly class, which is a fast-moving session where Malik has us mimic quick combinations of bellydance moves. Even though I had taken Egyptian bellydance classes in 2007 and 2008, this class felt like rub your belly and pat your head for the first few tries, but the fun music and the can-do spirit of all the ladies kept me coming back.

I decided to brush up on my basics with BaseFusion, where Malik breaks down bellydance moves at a slower pace and helps us to coordinate muscles and practice more thoroughly. Both bellydance classes include an ‘improv’ session during which we dance like nobody’s watching. Malik’s intent is that we allow our body to remember its own natural rhythm rather than be indoctrinated with a certain way to move.

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What I love about Hip Circle Studio is that it truly welcomes all women of all ages and all sizes and shapes. There is no pressure to dress in the latest fitness gear, no weigh-ins or tape measures apply, and we are praised for showing up. While personal sessions with Malik can certainly incorporate weight loss or muscle toning goals, group sessions are about celebrating our bodies as they are, and keeping them moving.

I received a complimentary personal training session when I joined,which I used to see if my muscles were up for Moxie Boxing. Malik’s one-on-one session gave me the courage to try it, and though the first few classes were challenging, I was never made to feel like I wasn’t keeping up.

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When our muscles aren’t willing to do the full-on cardio moves, Malik shows us modifications, such as jumping jacks that don’t require jumping, or having us drop the dumbbell weights when one’s shoulders start tensing up during weight-lifting exercises. Even though I come on a regular basis and my muscles are familiar with the moves, there are still sessions where I opt for the lower-key workout.

The flash mob choreography for the June Custer Street Fair was in full swing when I joined, and even though I felt like I didn’t have the choreography down pat, I was encouraged to participate. So two weeks after joining I was dancing out in public.

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I also became part of another choreography that was intended for last Fall’s Show & Tell’s performance art session. However, that October event was cancelled, so December became the next target date for that choreography. Suddenly I became a member of Zahara Fusion, Malik’s tribal fusion bellydance troupe.

Ranging from 3 to 7 performers based on the choreography and the event, Zahara Fusion was founded in 2006 to provide students a way to experience performance. The troupe commits to rehearsals at least once a week for the year and twice a week closer to the performance.

Costume

My duet with another dancer to an unconventional classic went off swimmingly during our appearance at the Martini Lounge in Elgin. We then re-enacted the flash mob with the troupe, which was quite a crowd-pleaser. I had a blast getting dressed up and being inspired by the other bellydancers present that evening.

Zahara Fusion performs at bellydance and performance art events throughout Chicagoland, but also is available for private parties (as long as they aren’t bachelor parties). The next Zahara Fusion performance is at Evanston’s Custer Street Fair, and several members will be traveling to various other bellydancing events this year.

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A great benefit to Malik’s classes is the community among other women. We converse about life, body image, schedule challenges and other life issues in a safe and supportive environment. I leave sessions feeling empowered in more ways than just the endorphins running through my body and the fun music we listen to.

Malik is a community-builder and a woman-empowerer. She is also very engaged in the community. Her parties featuring local entrepreneurs and the other events I have been involved with through Hip Circle Studio have given me a greater awareness of the amazing women and small business owners in my neighborhood.

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My muscles are becoming more toned throughout my body, and prompted by the Women Out Walking initiative I am more aware of my calorie intake too. I haven’t dropped dress sizes since I started last year, but I don’t feel the need to either. I can celebrate me for who I am, and I admire the other ladies in the studio for who they are. We each radiate our own unique brilliance with our own talents and carry our beauty in different proportions.

HipCircleLights

So come watch us flash mob at 5:45 Saturday and Sunday (Arena Stage), and swing by Hip Circle Studio at 709 Washington during the day to see if there is a class or workshop for you!