Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why the fact that I exercise at all is a miracle.

There's a photo of a 3 year old me with my arms in the air. I'm imitating the ballerinas on a TV show.

When I was 9, I still desperately wanted to learn ballet. I was told that leotards were immodest, and ballet would destroy my feet.

When I was 13 and started secondary school, I joined the rhythmic gymnastics team. It turns out that I had great potential at being flexible (achieving over splits within a few months) and pretty decent motor skills (ie I could copy the coach's movements without too much effort). I was told, my thighs were too fat, my knees were not straight and my belly and butt poked out too much. I was told that I had to be at least five kilos underweight. I did well at competition but my scores were deliberately lowered by my coach so that they never went above those of the skinnier Chinese girls. And again, leotards were still immodest so I wore unitards instead.

When I was 15, I visited an aunt in all my full Malay conservative glory right after a long, late morning swim. I was told to not swim so much, my skin was getting darker.

When I was 17, I had a brief foray into canoeing and dragonboat racing. I trained my right arm for dragonboat. I was told i would get abnormally muscular on one side and basically be an undateable freak. I started running once in a while, and I was told to hold my hands near my boobs while running to disguise their bouncing.

When I was 19, I took a contemporary dance class for the first time, while I was studying in France. (I still firmly believe that this was immensely therapeutic. Along with learning to eat the French breakfast staple of real butter, I regained much of my emotional health.) Goofy French-Russian teacher has nothing but praise for the way I move. But while rehearsing a piece, one second of utter dread at the possibility that we might have to perform naked scared me a little. Meanwhile, a Wallah Bro engages me in a discussion about the "permissibility of dance in Islam."

When I was 20, I join a university modern dance group. 'Group A' is made up of thin and strong Chinese girls. Group B was the rest of us. I stood out only because of my unusual pixie haircut and ability to jump. When other girls complained of being fat, I'd show them my belly and tell them to not let the instructor get to their heads. (Refer to healing properties od French butter above.) And dance costumes could be immodest, but at least you could wear a nude leotard underneath.

When I was 21, I had a brief obsession with bouldering and rockclimbing. I was surrounded by Muslim girls worried that Muslim guys were looking at their butts as they climbed. (Can you climb without moving your butt? Can you climb with your butt facing the wall instead?) I was surrounded by guys who thought it was immodest for a Muslim woman to address a mixed crowd so they demonstrated the wearing of a harness on a guy instead. (Hint: A harness is less immodest on a woman's body. Bonus factor: SAFETY.)

Luckily by this point in time, I had learned to filter out these negative voices. I couldn't stop myself from dancing as much as I couldn't stop myself from breathing.

But the 3 year old me already knew that.

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