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Watch Me Dance: Why I Stopped Playing Small and Hiding from Life

“There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” ~Nelson Mandela

When I was a kid I’d get up early on Saturday mornings to start my routine, which ended with a few hours in front of the television watching my favorite shows. After the cartoons came dance shows featuring the popular musical acts of the time. I'm in love with music and I have been all of my life, so these shows in particular excited me and made me feel like dancing with joy—and I did!

I always had a great deal of energy. I loved riding my bicycle, playing hide-and-go-seek with my friends, and dancing. Despite always being overweight (since weighing in at eleven pounds at birth), I still managed to keep up rather well with my smaller, super active peers.

Warm weather meant lots of outdoor activities, and I even looked forward to physical education class, particularly when we could exercise outside.

School provided a new, tougher atmosphere for me, though. There were always “those other kids” who would remind me of my weight in the midst of my fun times on the slide or running around the school yard.

I thought they were mean and hurtful just because they didn’t know me. If they knew how I loved to laugh and sing and dance and play, they’d surely be my friends too, right? Maybe not.

I remember the first time words from one of “those other kids“ changed how I felt inside. It was the first time I knew the power of words—unfortunately, at the time, being used for harm.

The feeling confused me at that age and was the first crack in my inner mirror. Being teased back then changed my energy and altered the bliss that I felt when I was ignorant about how much someone’s words could hurt. “Those other kids” wanted me to feel bad and I didn’t understand that. Even worse, I changed how I viewed myself.

That crack remained as I absorbed those words and brought them home with me. It became a full break when some of those words hit home for me there.

On this particular Saturday, I was watching my shows and I proceeded to dance as if I was in the studio with the others. I turned up the volume and shimmied and shook as if the camera was headed my way next.

My oldest sister came in and said a few things that I wasn’t paying much attention to because I was focused on my performance. Then she blurted out, “…and sit down! You’re too big to be dancing around like that!”

Her words tore through me like a knife. I loved my big sister. She was mean sometimes and I didn’t like when she didn’t want me around, of course, but when she was nice, she was really nice, and when I could be around her I loved it. But now she sounded like “those other kids.” And she knew me. She was my friend already.

I remember slowly finishing my dance and then turning off the television.

I haven’t danced so freely in the forty years since.

That message remained as I grew but took on a different voice—mine. I would quietly analyze all of the experiences that I felt I was “too big for” and find clever ways to avoid fully engaging and participating.

In junior high, I was a girls’ basketball team manager who filled water bottles and recorded stats instead of trying out to play for the team.

I was in my high school band, but learned to play a different instrument when competition became too stiff in my section.

At work, I was always the one who worked harder, faster, better, but remained passive when I wasn’t promoted or considered for salary increases.

Even socially, I usually sought the company of those with larger, louder personalities that were easier to hide behind. Many opportunities to step on life’s stage culminated in paralyzing stage fright fueled by negative self-talk and overall feelings of inadequacy.

I minimized the rest of myself because my body wasn’t minimal.

Many years had passed before I realized that repeating negative messages to myself drastically lessened my effect. My own cruel inner voice did much more damage than anyone else’s words ever could.

As an adult, my weight struggles continue. But I now have a greater understanding of the life-altering power of words heard from others, and also those I speak to myself. There is no other voice as important as my own. I had to go back to the basics to get that, though, and on that journey found even more.

Along with “doing unto others as I’d have them do unto me,” I also strive to do and speak unto myself what I want done and spoken by others. I know now that the “selfs”—self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth, along with self-acceptance—truly are inside jobs. Cracked or broken mirrors still show you a beautiful reflection when you stand in the right position of self-awareness.

Self-awareness came to me through a great deal of self-assessment. I’d mistakenly taken on the opinions of others as my own, but as I matured emotionally and spiritually, I knew I didn’t need to see myself through their lens. And I knew I didn’t want to, because in hiding to avoid showcasing my flaws, I ended up concealing my gifts.

I also realized we’re all quite similar. We all have things we’d rather hide, and we’ve all been on the receiving end of unfair judgment at some point in time, if not for our bodies, for something else.

I no longer compared myself to others when I realized that each one of us is human, fallible, and flawed. With that realization, I stopped punishing myself for my imperfections and mistakes and decided not to hold myself back because of them. Maintaining perspective helped me stop being overly affected by condemnation or praise from others and highly critical of myself.

I found it most important that I spoke well of and felt good about who I was becoming.

Though quite simplistic, the full grasp of this awareness allowed me to see myself and others differently. It began my path to self-acceptance and “those others” became people in need of acceptance, as well.

I’d spent decades spackling and caulking my ego after being hurt both intentionally and not, by others and myself. It has been a steady chore to find just the spot that enables me to see clearly my own image, but, through acceptance, I finally do.

I’m excited about who stares back at me now with the same simple joys as that free-spirited girl on a Saturday morning.

Now, I make sure having great energy is my goal. I try to put it in my words to live harmoniously with myself and others.

I take steps to speak from love and remain aware of my intention.

I’m a devoted relative, thoughtful friend, and compassionate, respectful person. I love hard, smile continually in gratitude, and have joy in my spirit so my very soul tends to dance. It’s too big not to.

About Damatia GIpson

Damatia is the forty-something year old mother of one grown man, sister of three, who was parented by two. In her career, she works with numbers. She has always had profound respect and love for words, music, and the harmony they bring. She honors them and consistently seeks ways to be more like them.

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  • I really liked this expression “I know now that the “selfs”—self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth, along with self-acceptance—truly are inside jobs. Cracked or broken mirrors still show you a beautiful reflection when you stand in the right position of self-awareness.”

    I am also trying to make sense what is the “inner mirror”? What and who is reflecting what? Is it related to self-“image” like what you see yourself in your mind

  • Maria Alexandra Lovera

    This is amazing!
    I want to be your friend 🙂

  • Christine

    Is your sister aware of the damage her words did to you? Hopefully she also benefits from the knowledge of that event. I think it’s amazing how one person’s experience has a ripple effect on others, known and unknown. That’s why it’s so important when “treating others as you would want to be treated” that that apply especially to strangers. That’s how, hopefully, the world could change. I know that’s naive but I pride myself on believing in the potential for good in human beings. And I’m forty-something, too!

  • Lizzy

    Beautiful story. We are so innocent and vulnerable and easily harmed . . . you told my story. I too struggled with “size/weight” issues, and the shame surrounding it was profound. Thank you for sharing your experience; it touched my heart in a powerful way.

  • Damatia

    Hello! Thank you! The inner mirror is my term for your view of
    yourself. Just as a mirror shows a reflection of our outside, I believe
    we have an inner mirror that reflects how we think and feel about
    ourselves. I was referencing cracks and breaks in my self-image. I hope
    that helps!

  • Raeleen

    Thank you for sharing your story, Damatia. I really connected to it as it is so similar to my own! As a former musician with horrible stage fright, your words touched a deep part of me, knowing there are others like me. I am a sixty-something and have learned we just never stop learning. Take Care always!

  • Damatia

    Yes, we are all connected! I’ve always said that we never know our true affect on one another.

    My sister was only 12 or 13 years old when this happened. Though it was poignant, it was unintentional. She is an absolutely lovely person inside and out and I don’t want anyone to think any differently!!

    I shared this writing with her first and we discussed it, so she is aware. She’s helped me grow in many, many ways!

  • Krystal Stave

    This really touched my heart Damatia, I felt like you were speaking right into my soul. Thank you so much. I am also on a journey of self acceptance and love and share a similar past.

  • Damatia

    =) Thank you so much! Let’s connect – @aitamad on Instagram!

  • Namrata Kumar

    That was so beautiful and so real. Respect you for staying strong through your struggle. Are you dancing today?

  • Jo

    Loved this, Dalmatia. Can relate in keeping myself small as if my personality was too big for others to handle. Love that you’re shining your light and shaking you thang now 🙂 xxx PS I’m just about to go out to ecstatic dance now – so pleased to have discovered this freeing experience. That and dancing around my kitchen! Keep on dancing, hon!

  • Let Me Be Real

    Just wonderful! This one is going into my favorites. Even more…I’m so happy for you! Thank you for sharing.

  • pacyderm

    This article has been my life exactly. Except my body shaming was different. I still haven’t figured out how to break free from my own self critical thoughts though.

  • Karen Costallos

    Wow. What you wrote hit home- hard. It could have been my story.. word for word. I’m trying to deal with my “inner critic” but I’m having a hard time letting go. It’s like other’s opinions have more value than my own- especially if I perceive them to be better than me.

  • Yes it makes sense, thanks for the reply.
    So this inner mirror can be concave, convex, plain, smudged etc etc :p

    The whole article was very nicely articulated!

  • Damatia

    Karen, I started talking to myself as I would a best friend. Pep talks, deep conversations, hard questions – little by little, it helped.

    Best to you on your journey!

  • Damatia

    Awww…thanks so much!

  • Damatia

    I appreciate you! Thank you!

    I am absolutely dancing today!! And, I had a nap, so, watch out!! =)

  • Damatia

    I pray the very best for you on your journey, Krystal!! Thank YOU!

  • Damatia

    Thank you, Lizzy! All the best to you…and your “new view”!

  • Leadbellie

    Beautifully written with enough direction on healing for anyone!!! Thank you for this ❤️

  • Tina Proctor

    BEAUTIFUL article!! Every word represented my childhood. TY so much for sharing it!! Shine on, girll!

  • Veena

    Very beautifully written

  • Veena

    Pl advice how to come out of the past hurtful words

  • Valerie

    “…and have joy in my spirit so my very soul tends to dance. It’s too big not to.” This brought tears to my eyes, so beautifully written. I could relate to your article in so many ways. I’ve always been the smallest person everywhere and some classmates would make fun out of me because of my height. For many years I truly believed that I was “too small” for everything, therefor I sometimes didnt have the courage to accomplish anything. Sometimes these voices are still in my head and I tend to make myself small again. That’s why, sometimes I need to read articles like yours. Thank you for the reminder. Small or big, it doesn’t matter. We’re all human, and we’re awesome! 🙂 Thank you dear Damatia!

  • Damatia

    Don’t stop the music, Raeleen! Thank YOU!!

  • Damatia

    Now, I’m teary-eyed! Thank YOU, Valerie!!

  • Damatia

    I will!! 🙂 You, too!! Thank you!!

  • Damatia

    Thank you so much!!

  • Sarah

    What a beautiful post! The first part of this blog is a page out of my life! Same Saturday mornings … lots of dancing to those shows … wow! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and love!!! Anyone would be lucky and blessed to have you as a friend! Much love and light to you!

  • Damatia

    Thank YOU, Sarah! Best of everything to you!

  • Sarla

    Thank you Damatia, for writing such an open and encouraging article. Your situation as a young girl reminded me of the sad little child in me that I sometimes have remember to hug, even now at age 58

  • Susannah123

    Thank you for your story and insights! I am happy for you. You have found your way back to being yourself and happy!

  • Rishab Nagar

    Dear Damatia,

    It is satisfying and joyful to know that your struggles with yourself and others has led you to the change in yourself that has steadily and beautifully shown you the light of life. You have my blessings to keep striving to renew and reform your inner strength, to always keep smiling and dancing and to do everything to be who you truly are.

    Bless you.

    Love,

    Rishab

  • Tir

    Words can be powerful. Abused in many ways, verbal abuse was always the hardest to overcome. I pulled myself in so tight, I lost my voice for a long time. I found it again after much work on myself. I love E. Roosevelts quote, “No one else can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I’m dancing and singing too now but it should be a given for any child.

  • Erin

    This really resonated with me.
    I think you may have witnessed the moment where I finally realized that I have control over how I see myself and I don’t have to internalize other people’s judgments.
    Thank you for being part of that!

  • Marlana Riffle

    This message spoke to me on so many levels. When you said you never danced so freely again, it completely broke my heart. Thank you for being so raw and genuine. You spoke straight to my soul and I could feel your emotion when you wrote this. It’s awesome to know that you are free again and an inspiration to others who can now dance again too!

  • Anushree Baikerikar

    Hello Susannah,

    This is by no means a solution, or even great advice, but I hear you.

    I lost my parents recently, one after the other. It left a gaping empty hole. At this difficult time, my pets helped me cope. Have you considered getting a furry friend? I can vouch that it’ll make life meaningful in so many ways. Life has changed a lot for me since I got my first cat. We ended up adopting a few more and they make each day brighter.

    While I am blessed to have siblings but marriage and kids is not something I see myself going into and I know I will have to find different ways to make life meaningful. Hobbies have helped me so far, finding something and pouring myself into it, like art. Maybe you could explore stuff that you were good at as a child. Or join some classes and pick up something new. I had tried a dance class and it was much fun. I would have continued but currently limited by time constraints.

    While I haven’t tried this myself, if you could volunteer somewhere for kids or elders, that may also prove o be a valuable experience.

    Wishing you much love and joy on your journey!

  • Pankaj Singh

    Thanks..!!This is a very well written post gained good knowledge, my compliments.Waiting for more like this bookmarked your website.

  • Angela

    Hi Damatia,

    I absolutely loved your post. It brought tears to my eyes because it feels so familiar to my own past. Saturday morning cartoons and dancing were a treasured ritual. But around that same young age I was hurt by others emotionally and physically. I felt it was my fault, that i attracted these people and believe others who accused me of being a certain way.

    So i also hid. I wore big and baggy clothing, stay quiet, in a corner and always afraid that the next person who notices me would hurt me. I did this for years and it penetrated other areas of my life. I’m 36 now, and although I stopped blaming myself, I’m only just beginning to learn how to speak up for myself, not be afraid to interact with others, and go for the things I really want in life. I’ve only just began to believe that I deserve good things.

    I’ve honestly used that exact same mantra. “Do on to other as I would want done onto me” and about a year ago i added “Do unto myself as I would do onto my loved ones”. Word truly are powerful and I appreciate you sharing such a beautiful story. It is a great encouragement to inner grow, love and self-worth and confidence.

    Thank you

  • Wow, it’s almost like you know my life. I sometimes wonder who I would be and what I would have accomplished if I hadn’t let “those other kids” make me so self-conscious as a kid, then a teen, and then an adult. I remember when the voice in my head was louder than their collective voices, but then it changed, and then mine joined in with theirs. Sometimes it still does. I am a work in progress though, much like you are/were. Thanks for sharing the story. I hope to join you in the dance one day.