08/25/2014 04:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

On Stripping Away The 'Fat' Label And Dancing Naked

Ten months ago, I stripped down to my skivvies -- just as any burlesque dancer would do at a gay pride fundraiser -- and tap danced to Katy Perry's "Roar". The only thing that made the piece different than an average burlesque number was that I also peeled off words that were masking taped to my body. As the music roared, so did I, freeing myself from the words "fat," "cellulite," "big," and "suck it in." It was my way of literally stripping away the negative labels that had always held me down.


Photo Credit: Taylor Powell, Kalani Oceanside Retreat

When it first hit YouTube, my Roar dance had 30,000 hits within 12 hours. The celebration of my journey from binge-eater to body-lover went viral and all of a sudden, I was receiving messages from all ends.

"You're celebrating obesity and unhealthy habits."

"You think you're fat? This is an insult to anyone that's larger than you."

"Thank you so much for sharing this piece with the world. I realize now that I never needed to stop dancing just because I gained some weight."

"Ew gross, this is disgusting. I'm going to lose my lunch."

Oh, it was just all happening. The burlesque piece, done in the middle of nowhere on a Friday night in front of 250 people, had suddenly reached viewers from all ends of the earth and I was receiving criticism and praise all at once.

Ten months later, I've finally found the words to address Roar's reactions.

See, for some of us, our journeys have taken us to the depths of hell. Not getting out of bed for days. Inhaling an entire ice cream cake before our roommate gets out of the shower. Commisserating over beers from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at night with other friends experiencing depression as well.

Thankfully, some of us have somehow found the strength to stick with our journey long enough to see where it ends up taking us after we crawl out of our black hole. For me, it was to (holy crap) Hawaii, where I have been healing, roaring, getting my a** kicked in Kundalini yoga and sleeping for what feels like the first time in 10 years.

My personal journey has included ups and downs and hospital visits and black out binges and financial crisis and unlimited mimosa brunches and a lot of self-help books. Not to mention multiple packs of Marlboro Menthol Lights, shameful (and I mean shameful) booty calls and at one point, an absurd amount of Splenda.

And on that journey, sometimes there are no words to express the pain and sorrow and guilt and anger that life can bring while we just sit there and attempt to fight back with weak, Nutella-covered fists.

And that's when we have to dance.

In musical theatre, we were always taught that when you become too overcome to speak, the only thing left to do is start singing.

And then, when we're too overcome to keep singing, the only thing left to do is to dance.

So "Roar" was my body being too overcome with emotion to speak or sing. All there was left to do was dance.

Dance, and just let out everything that has happened up until this point. Because even the darkest moments can be celebrated when we finally accept that they have brought us to a point where we can party in tap shoes and a tutu like that.

See, although we've grown up being told otherwise, I've learned that it's OK to find happiness in our journey along the way, instead of waiting until we are perfect to finally be happy.

"Roar" was that point in my journey where I stopped for a second and celebrated before continuing on. It was my personal celebration of being alive, being strong, being able to drop down in a split at age 27, even if my thighs have cellulite.

For me -- a dancer who was constantly told I was too heavy for roles, too big for roles, too curvy, too thick, too chunky -- "fat" was the umbrella that all those words fall under.


(Photo Credit: Taylor Powell, Kalani Oceanside Retreat)

And so I wrote that word on my body in order to peel it off, as a reminder to myself that I never need to ask permission to dance, no matter what adjective might describe me right now.

I finally worked up the courage to decide that no adjective can ever define me. I can forever dance, and sing, and laugh on my own terms.

Roar was a loud and clear message to my inner self, my soul, that I am still here. I am still alive. This soul is still kickin'. Literally.

And I desperately wish this loud and clear message to reach everyone.

So I roared for your 12-year-old daughter and your 9-year-old son -- so that they could understand that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and we can't tease people who don't look just like us.

I roared so that you would get out your tap shoes for the first time in 13 years. So that you would realize that it doesn't matter what flounces and bounces as you shuffle ball change -- it only matters that you are doing something your body finds joyful and inspiring.

I roared so that you could stand in front of the mirror in your underwear and look at the stretch marks on your stomach for the first time since your baby was born, finally learning to love them because the little person who caused them is coloring you a picture right now at the kitchen table.

And most of all, I think I roared to remind all of us that no one has to go from zero to hero today. None of us have to give up Nutella cold-turkey today. None of us have to be recovered or healed today. Self-awareness is the first step to everything. And with "Roar" going viral, I hope that it can be celebrated that a million more of us are aware, and ready to celebrate, today.

I don't know what the sound is that is louder than a "roar," but I know it's the sound that we can all make together with awareness, time, and courage.

Maybe you've always "bit your tongue and held your breath," but today, I encourage you to "dance through the fire" and go roar for yourself -- and for those who can't.

I promise you that you won't regret it.


(Photo Credit: Taylor Powell, Kalani Oceanside Retreat)