When I was a teenager, it took me awhile to realize that I wouldn’t ever be cool in a conventional way. I would never be the girl who had a sheath of straight, blonde hair that fell in a perfect waterfall down my back, nor would I collect phone numbers en masse. My first two years of high school I remember trying desperately to fit in, to have the same L.E.I. jeans as everyone else, even though mine were a juniors size 14. With my brace face, cowlick curls and curvy hips, I never quite fit the mold. I muddled along feeling awkward until something magical happened in my junior year. With the help of my best friend Katelyn, I learned to let my awkward out. I embraced the dorky music lover inside of me, and started to realize that I didn’t CARE if playing the flute was nerdy or if liking Lenore comic books wasn’t cool.
My parents let me go to heavy metal shows in the city, and I became a little band-aid to a bunch of girl rock metal bands. It was the best thing ever. I bought a BC Rich Warlock Guitar and I had pink streaks in my hair. I drew creepy little monsters in my text books, started to make my own lunches and dated a boy in a band. (I married him. Aww.) My life got much, much cooler but only because I learned to let myself be awkward. The day I embraced myself was the day I realized how liberating it was to just be yourself — to say, I don’t give a crap if you don’t like my cow-print socks or my fondness of Phantom of the Opera – because I do, and I am awesome. Embracing your awkwardness is incredible – and I’ve recently had a mini-renaissance of this feeling from Zumba.
You see, I’m not a dancer. I would never call myself graceful. I bruise easier than a ripe peach on a hot summer day, and I’m constantly tripping over my own shadow. I took my first Zumba class several years ago and was horrified by the shimmying, the shaking, the legs crossing over each other and the sheer amount of dance patterns you had to perform. I went once and never again – because I felt too awkward. Nobody wants to see a fat white girl gyrating to latin music, right? At FitBloggin’, I participated in a group Zumba class. The old familiar feeling crept in – the embarrassment, the awkwardness. The negative thoughts started coming. “I look fat. Everybody’s looking at me. I can’t dance. I’ll never get these steps right. I’m so offbeat… I should just give up.” But, by the grace of Buddha, I shushed those thoughts and kept going. And I had fun. Eventually the little voice waned into a quiet whisper, and I shook and shimmied and tried to dance — and it was fun, and I burned calories.
I did Zumba tonight and some of the old familiar thoughts came back as I caught sight of my pasty white arms in the mirror. My tummy clung to my hot pink tank top and I thought “Ugh, I look gross.” But I kept going – and I reminded myself that I’m never thinking about what other people look like when I’m working out – I’m thinking about how tired I am or how I’m going to sneak a handful of chocolate chips out of the cupboard when I get home. And BAM – the negative voices stopped. I danced, I shimmied, and I shook — and I burned calories — smiling and laughing while doing it. On the way out, the teacher even told me how she loved my smile. That’s right. You don’t smile at the gym if you’re not having fun! Tonight I realized I may never feel 100% confident in my skin, but as long as I can embrace my awkward rather than fight it, I remember that it’s not so bad being me. I can’t dance but it’s not about whether or not I can dance. It’s about working up a sweat, churning up some endorphins, and burning fat. It’s about saying, “I don’t need to be the Zumba Queen. It doesn’t matter if I do the Salsa! Eff the standards of perfection – I’m gonna shake my booty!” So thank you, Zumba — for reminding me how to embrace my awkwardness.