by Amanda Williams

As a perpetually plus size woman, I’ve gotten used to being ignored. I’ve been the girl he never introduced to his friends. The overachiever who carried the weight of the world because she was determined to prove her value. I hoped that other successes in my life would distract from my body, or at the very least convince people of my worth in spite of my rolls.

I’m also not the person who gets down in the middle of the club. I’m the one who buys drinks and then later makes sure everyone gets home safe. It didn’t used to be that way; I used to cut it up on the dancefloor! But as I packed on the pounds, I went from being loud and proud to hiding in the background.

So when I found myself in an S Factor studio for the first time, I was petrified. To this day, I’m still not sure where I found the courage to show up in the first place. I came with two fellow curvy friends who seemed equally as nervous. As I sat down on my purple mat, I realized I couldn’t see the small group of other women in the room. It was dark, save for one glowing red light.

There were no mirrors and there was no judgment to be found, either. Not from myself or anyone else.

The loud music started to play and I felt myself beginning to relax, even if those nervous butterflies were still bumbling a bit in my belly. I closed my eyes and felt my hands creep up the sides of my silhouette, as instructed. Those very same curves I had been told to hide for all these years were now, in this room awash in red light, mine to celebrate.

After leading us through a series of slow, sensual warm-up movements, the instructor moved toward the pole. This was all unfamiliar territory for me and I loved it, but I don’t know if I was completely ready to surrender to my own vulnerability that night. I watched as women of all ages, sizes and abilities bravely stepped up to conquer one of my biggest fears.

An unexpected feeling of excitement and true fear overcame my body. The instructor asked, “Do you want to try?” My heart stopped for a second.

“No, not today.”

She accepted that. I was given permission just to watch, and the group as a whole seemed to really respect my boundaries.

As I sat there with my insecurities exposed (but embraced), I realized nobody cared if I was “good” at anything we did in that room. This was truly my journey. In that moment, I realized that this was different from any sort of dance or fitness class. That despite the fact I was plus size or a nondancer, I had no expectations placed upon me. I could be whatever I needed to be for myself in that room, and everyone would support that.

This journey is one I was craving. It was as if I was parched and yet had convinced myself I was hydrated. It reignited my internal need to be seen and accepted. It provided a glimpse of what might come. How my confidence might grow and how I might one day truly appreciate every inch of my body. I will gain the courage to touch and play on the pole. But for now, through slow concentrated movement, I can appreciate that my body seemed to reconnect with my soul in that room, and how powerful that is on its own. At S Factor, I got a taste for love of, compassion for, and pride in my body. The body I’ve spent most of my life discarding and disliking would finally be seen and appreciated – by me.