Commentary: 'My Swagger'

Jun 24, 2010

WFAE commentator Kim Brooks has her head held high, but it hasn't always been that way. Today, she explains the role of different stages in the development of her self-esteem. Growing up, I suffered from low self-esteem and could not bear to look in the mirror. My lips were too full, my skin too raggedy and my body too long and gangly. I envied women who I thought were beautiful, intelligent and confident, longing for their mojo, but never really believing it could be mine. In college, the performing arts were an outlet to express my feelings and begin working through the pain of feeling inferior. I began to feel more confident, strong and worthy. Then life posed another test. After graduation, I worked in a production that celebrated the beauty of women who look like me. It was a series of vignettes, rehearsed in front of the mirror. This show forced me to confront the thing I feared the most, looking into the mirror and struggling to accept those things I hated about myself. I embraced this challenge and something began to change within me. I slowly began to see my full lips as beautiful, my raggedy skin as having character and my body as being slender and graceful instead of long and gangly. I would have never believed that this experience would lead me to try another kind of art form on stage. Years later, when a friend approached me about taking a class in burlesque, I gave her a tentative yes. I thought burlesque dancing was synonymous with stripping, so I had to do a little research before totally committing to this idea. After doing a little due-diligence, I became intrigued with the thought of participating in the class. It seemed to me that this art form had given a lot of women opportunities to showcase their singing, dancing and comedic abilities. It appeared to be less about baring it all and more about self-acceptance and confidence that could be shared with the world. I could not help but see this as another test to help me further embrace who I am as a woman. The stage had been a major part of my development as a recovering self-loather, so I thought why not! There were 23 women in my class, none of whom would be considered classically beautiful. Our instructor, Big Momma, stood around 5'4" and weighed about 180 lbs and that was AFTER losing 100 lbs. She greeted us wearing a sleeveless, sequined dress that stopped at the top of her thighs, revealing a g-string, conspicuously positioned underneath her sheer black tights. I wanted to be empowered, but instead was repulsed and afraid. Everyone's eyes turned towards me when I walked into the studio. I wanted to run, but any sudden flight would have been a more than obvious statement about my judgment of the situation, so I tentatively entered the room and took a position in the corner. I'd soon be standing. We worked on our stance with an emphasis on posture, before moving on to our walk, paying close attention to the attitude we were projecting. Big Momma gave us instruction. Push your right foot forward. Now slide your left heel into the archway of your right foot, making sure you stand upright, using your core to separate the top and bottom half of your body. Look in the mirror and think about how you want to be perceived when you enter the room . . . Now walk. I never knew it could be so involved but came to understand why as I watched myself in the mirror. The devil's in the details. Next we moved on to the classic burlesque moves: the grind, bump, shimmy and reveal. I could not believe how embarrassed I felt doing these moves in front of other women. As I struggled with my own awkwardness, I watched Big Momma and my classmates moving with such confidence. They were transformed before my eyes, becoming sexier, elegant and more captivating with every move. They moved with such ease, expressing the sexual creatures we all are, in a wonderfully titillating way. I left the class happy about experiencing something new and inspired by the fact that one's allure is not about their physical appearance. My class was not meant to prepare me for a public performance. This life lesson was about the cultivation and development of my confidence, or---as my friends and I like to call it---my swagger. Kim Brooks works in WFAE's development department. She also frequently performs in Charlotte-area plays.