Monday, October 20, 2014

Saved By The Pole

Sometimes my head spins when I think about what has transpired over the past few short years. Its been a time of many extreme ups and downs. Sometimes its hard to wrap my head around it all. Sometimes I still find myself really struggling and I have be super mindful not to beat myself up about it. When I step back and take in the big picture, I find a little more clarity and am able to be a little more understanding with myself.

I began to make huge strides in my eating disorder recovery right around the same time that I married my first husband, Simon. I was having huge break-throughs about the origins of my eating disorder and was to the point where my eating behaviors had greatly improved. In addition to therapy going in the right direction, I was well into my new nursing career. I had a wonderful guy and exciting future ahead. All this momentum had propelled me to a great place and for all intents and purposes, my life was going really damn well!

I think we can all pretty much agree, life is like one giant teeter-totter that is constantly in motion. For a time, things are up - life is good and you feel that amazing, weightless and aliveness. Then, woosh! You feel that jolt as you come falling through the air and smack your butt on the ground. The struggle in life is to try to maintain a nice balance of fluid ups and downs - taking them in stride and not letting them upset the good rhythm of your life.

For better and worse, Simon's death was a huge catalyst and turning point of change in my life. I had no idea where I would end up or how I would get there, but I knew life was going someplace completely new.

For a couple solid years, I felt utterly lost. I knew I wasn't the same version of myself as I was before but I still had no I idea who I was evolving into. The bulk of that evolution was long and truly unpleasant. During that two years, I experienced a couple more very personal losses. That was literally the sprinkles on my shit sundae. I did almost nothing but be at home. Even on days when I felt pretty good, I didn't want to be away from the house for more than a few hours unless I was going to work. I had literally cocooned myself into my life at home with Dan and our furry babies. It was the safest place on earth for me; even though part of me longed to be out in the world, social and living life the way I used to. In retrospect, I can see that I was exactly where I needed to be for my healing and transformation to take place.

As a result of this isolation, I know I have neglected other parts of my life. My social life and friendships went from 60 to zero in the blink of an eye. I didn't really go anywhere, become involved in anything and I just couldn't be around anyone outside of my cocoon. I was depressed, grieving and nurturing an amazing but crazily timed relationship. Honestly, my memories from that time are the least clear than from any other time of my life. It is such a blur to me.

I do recall a lot of feeling confused - I suppose that supplements the haze of that period nicely. While working through my grief and all that fun stuff, I could feel myself changing. I was seeing myself, life and the people around me so differently than I ever used to. It was confusing and suddenly having all these new outlooks caused a lot of internal discord. So, I guess lets be real and call it what it was: an identity crisis. Who the hell am I, who the hell was I before and WHO the hell am I becoming?? The old views I had of myself no longer fit anymore. I felt naked, exposed and vulnerable with no solid ground to stand on. I didn't feel like I quite fit in with the places and some of the people I used to.

While life in my protective cocoon was safe and comforting, it had its limitations. I knew that I couldn't stay holed up indefinitely but at the same time, I was at a loss for how to reemerge into the world again. I think that I can safely say that it was just a little over a year ago that things started to slowly change for me. I began taking pole dancing lessons and it is the first thing that made me feel like a real person again - not this hollow shell of a person who merely carried around the spark of true self with no real fan for the flame.

Dance became that fan for me. It has helped me reconnect with myself in a deeper way than ever before. It has helped me heal and work through some of the pain I've experienced. It has allowed me to access, express and then ultimately let go of some really difficult things. Dance has also given me a much deeper appreciation for my body. I am challenging myself and doing things I never imagined I could. I love the unbelievable strength and confidence it has given me. Overcoming challenges and learning this new form of art has provided me with an incredible sense of accomplishment. It's inspired my creativity and self expression. Finally, it has connected me with a new community of amazing people who have been incredibly supportive and accepting of me.

I can't express how grateful I am for this new passion I've found. It isn't everyday that you find something as an adult that gives you that child-like excitement. I love the path dance has taken me down and so excited to see where it continues to take me!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Fourth Pole Solo

It would be great if every single dance performance was spot on and went exactly how I planned it. Unfortunately, that just isn't reality. I had super high hopes for the solo I most recently did at the fall student showcase. And to be fair, the routine was far from terrible or something I was super upset about but it wasn't the everything I wanted it to be. Let me explain.

My intention with this routine was to try something completely different and outside of my comfort zone. For me, this meant two things: 1. Dance in a sexy way 2. Do it in heels. My natural style of dance is very lyrical - you can totally see it in my other solos. Basically, my hips and torso are pretty stationary while I dance. Getting that area to loosen up and actually move was a HUGE challenge for me. I literally can't stop giggling when I look back at videos from when I first learned a move called the "body wave." As for me and my body, there was no waving. It was (and still is) one of the silliest looking things I've ever seen.

I really wanted to challenge myself with this routine and I definitely achieved this. The shoes alone were a challenge. But then add being fluid AND sexy on top of that - well, you've got a recipe for disaster on your hands. I've danced in heels for group routines and that has been manageable for me. But being out there alone brings the insecurity to a new level. I really hated that hurdle being in front of me. When it comes to dancing, I want to be able to be comfortable with as many styles as possible. I want to be versatile in my dance capacity and its always been my belief that variety is the spice of life. For me, it happens to be the spice of dance too. It keeps me from getting bored and pushes me to grow in ways that I never would if I didn't try different styles.

I am really glad I chose to do this routine. However, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. I wanted it to be much more fluid and less fumbled than it was but it had its strengths too. The biggest thing is that I wanted to REMEMBER my damn routine! I literally forgot a huge section during the second part of my routine that I ended up just free styling my way through. The awesome part is that you can't tell too much, so I was really happy about that. I was also happy with how my tricks turned out. I didn't get set up quite right for my first trick but was able to recover it and do it well. My "Russian Layback" was right on and I was thrilled about that. And speaking of nailing tricks - I was just the right amount of "sticky." I often have a hard time sticking moves because my skin just doesn't have enough grip to it and I just slip right off. Tonight's conditions were just right for my skin's optimal stick factor. I loved the spider theme I tried to play on. It was a ton of fun trying to come up with "spidery" type movements, spins and tricks. And finally, the free styling actually lead to me doing some new stuff I had never done before. Now THAT is very cool!

I learned some really important things through this experience - one being that I really think I prefer to dance in bare feet. I would never ditch shoes all together because, HELLO! Have you seen the amazing shoes they have available?? Plus, there are some really neat things you can do in shoes. But overall, for me they feel limiting. As usual, my two main goals were to be in the moment and have fun. Both were definitely achieved. I had a lot of fun designing and performing this routine. I was in the moment for sure, even though a few of those moments were a bit freaky when my mind went blank and I totally forgot what comes next. At the end of the day, I have no regrets and feel very at peace with my fourth pole dance solo. Here it is, to the song "Spider Web" by Hailey Reinhart:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

19 Moments of a Mental Heath Worker

I love those funny posts you see all over social media that are essentially a collection of animated "gif" pictures describing a person's reaction to situations or events. In honor of my coworkers for Mental Heath Awareness Week, I put together this little collection of my own moments as a nurse working at an in patient mental health unit. I especially dedicate this post to all the incredible people I work with everyday. Even though we have a really tough job sometimes, you provide amazing care and at the end of the day, I am proud to be working along side you!

*Important Disclaimer: It is in no way my intention to bring offence to anyone with this post. I love my job and even the most difficult patients teach me something new and important. This is just simply a collection of some of those moments unique to work in mental health that I think my fellow comrades in the field can appreciate and relate to. If you are unable to read it with a measure of humor, then this post may not be for you.

19 Moments of a Mental Health Worker...

1. Reading the report on an admission you are about to get.

2. Trying to explain to other people exactly what it is you do at work.

3. Those days when you are emotionally drained and have nothing much to give...

4...and the feeling you get when you've actually successfully helped a patient through a crisis situation.

5. Every time you interact with a severely personality disordered patient.

6. The look on your face when you get to work and discover the most horrible patient has been DISCHARGED!!

7. Coming back to work the day after a double shift.

8. Arriving at work and knowing that no matter what goes down, the shift will rock because you are working with amazing people!

9. When you have a patient who is out of control and the doctor orders a medication that won't even touch them.

10. When a patient is being verbally abusive and you come back with the perfectly witty yet professional response.

11. Accidentally making eye contact with that ONE patient who is constantly asking for something and won't leave you alone.

12. Trying to follow a delusional or psychotic patient's long and incoherent story.

13. The anger you feel when you KNOW a person is malingering!

14. Charting, charting and more charting...

15. Charting when your brain is fried at the end of the shift.

16. When you have literally been so busy that you have held your bladder for hours.

17. ANYTIME you have to deal with a naked patient in mental heath, its gonna be and awkward situation.

18. When you have to start something long and involved right before your shift is about to end.

19. Seeing the next shift's crew coming through the door!

You go through so much weird shit together that you can't help but form incredibly strange but close bonds with your coworkers. Those bonds are important because they make a strange job even more entertaining. 

They don't judge you when you tell them that this is how you spent your time after work:

Most importantly, they support you because they know exactly how you feel and those people care in a way that only mental health workers do!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sexy Rebel

I've been going to the Emily Program for the past six years where I have been receiving treatment/therapy for my eating disorder. A few weeks ago, I completed a panel of psychological testing required by my insurance company. One of the tests I took is called the MMPI-2. If you are not familiar with this test, it is actually kinda weird. It is a survey comprised of around 300 statements that you are supposed to answer as True or False depending on how you feel the statement applies to you. The statements seem sorta odd and random. An example of some statements are "I think I would like to work as a librarian" and "I know who is responsible for most of my problems." The MMPI-2 is a very common tool used by mental health professionals to diagnose a wide variety of mental and cognitive disorders. 

I was kind of excited to take and find out the results of my MMPI-2. I completed this test when I initially started therapy 6.5 years ago, so it was very interesting to see what things have changed and what has remained consistent. I was delighted to see that the results indicated improvement in my eating disorder and anxiety. I feel like I have made huge strides in both these areas, so it was really cool to have that validated. I still struggle with depression but that has certainly improved as well. 

One area assessed by the MMPI-2 has to do with honesty and rebelliousness. My scores in the area were pretty close to unchanged. I scored low on the lying scale which pretty much implies what you'd guess - I am not a lair. That is good news for anyone who might be wondering :). However, in comparison, I scored quite high in rebelliousness. Generally, when a person scores high in this area, they tend to be your stereotypical "trouble makers." They tend to disrespect authority, get into trouble at school, have problems holding down jobs or have trouble with the law. Anyone who knows me would tell you that I am pretty much the exact opposite of that. I was always a very quiet and reserved honor roll student who never once visited the principal's office. I have never been fired from a job or had any issues like that at work. I also have a family full of police officers and never gotten anything beyond a speeding ticket.

I was puzzled about this result because it just didn't seem to fit me. However, as we dug a little more into my history and childhood, the reason for this test result started to become more clear. It turns out, I am incredibly rebellious internally but I do not generally act out negatively because of it. My rebelliousness can be seen in my beliefs, world view and outlook on life. I have some fairly unique views on life that go very much against the grain of mainstream society. When I do choose to express these views, it is generally very well thought out and purposeful. In other words, I don't rebel or "stir the pot" just for the sake of causing trouble. In essence, I am a rebel with a cause.

I began pole dancing a year ago for the acrobatic and physical enjoyment it gives me. I started out with the intention of exploring the under emphasized, non-sexual side of pole dance. I wanted to use it as a vehicle for a much more broad range of self-expression and so far, I feel like I have definitely accomplished this.

I've never been a person who has felt comfortable expressing my sexuality through dance, movement or really anything at all. During my upbringing, sexuality or anything related that kind of expression was simply not acceptable. In fact, nudity or anything "unmodest" was considered down right shameful. As a result, I have always shied away from expressing that side of myself in any way...until now. 

Enter the Rebel Stef, flying the banner of expressive freedom! I am no longer interested in repressing this part of myself and feeling ashamed of it. Sexuality is an absolutely vital and beautiful part of being a person. As human beings, our bodies are an incredibly powerful vehicles for expression. Through my dancing, I have explored expressing a wide variety of things. I've expressed anger, fear, sadness, joy and playfulness. Each time I design a solo routine, I make a conscious effort to focus the expression of something different. My first solo (click to see here) was about experiencing joy and pain at the same time. The second one (here) was much more light-hearted in feel. It was a cutesy and innocent routine that I did in a playful, 50s pin-up style. My most recent solo (here)was focused the themes of power and confidence. I used the Game of Thrones theme song for this routine and wanted to do a routine that I felt was an "ass kicker" so to speak - and it was! My body went through a lot while putting that routine together and interestingly, I felt incredibly powerful and confident when it came time to perform it. 

I have begun to explore sensual movement during dance class and with group routines but NEVER in a solo situation. Sexy or sensual moment is not something that my body does comfortably or naturally. BUT, when you are a self-growth junkie like me, that means only one thing: its time to go there. I've made the decision that my next solo is going to be ALLLLLL about the sexy.

I'm a little freaked out to be so vulnerable - alone out there with a crowd of eyes watching me do my "sexy" thing. What if the ideas I have in my head don't translate to sexy dance but instead, simply look like I am having some sort of organized seizure. What if I can't take myself seriously and end up just trying to choke back laughter the whole time? Well, I guess that is truly the reason I am doing this: to push myself past that discomfort. It has been my experience over and over, that there is some really, really amazing things on the other side of that discomfort. I am excited to find out what might be on the other side of the discomfort in this situation!

So, to take it even one step further (because that is what I do), I have made the decision to try out for our dance studio's professional burlesque troupe called the Wicked Wenches. If you are unfamiliar with what Burlesque is all about, please watch the documentary "A Wink and a Smile: The Art of Burlesque." The Wicked Wenches do shows at theaters around the Twin Cites area. The most recent one was a brilliant parody on Star Wars. It was geeky, hilarious and sexy and I wanna do it too. I think auditions are going to be sometime in the next month - so wish me luck! 

Even if I don't make it as a Wench, that is OK. The process of pushing myself to do this is what I think is the most important thing. And in the meantime, I am gonna try to tap into my sexy and find out what that even looks like for me. I have absolutely no idea what my sexy style is but I am really excited to find out and then share that new found style though my dance. As scary as this feels for me right now, I am actually very excited to be a sexy rebel with a sexy cause.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Too Nice?

I am a nice person. I smile at people and have an overall friendly disposition. I am kind and helpful to strangers. I freely give great hugs and sincere compliments. I am pretty openly expressive of how I feel about people - if I like you or appreciate some particular quality about you, I am going to tell you! If I had a nickle for each time someone told me, "You are so NICE!" I'd have somewhere around a shit-ton of nickles. When I've been told that I am nice, most people mean it as a compliment and I take it as one. However, every once in a while, someone will tell me that I am "too nice" or somehow suggest that it is a negative thing. Sure, I've been the kind of "too nice" that has allowed me to be taken advantage of in the past but I have certainly learned from that and figured out how to set appropriate boundaries in my life. However, I didn't sacrifice or allow my warmth to turn cold because of it.

I've also actually had people flat-out dislike me because they thought I was "too nice." I will never forget the first time I found out that was the reason someone didn't like me. This person was a friend of a friend, so it wasn't a great personal loss but it still perplexed me to the core. I just couldn't wrap my head around how being nice was a reason to dislike someone. It wasn't until years later that I began to understand that it was more about that other person than it was about me.

I have a friend who is also a really "nice" person and has had some similar experiences. After talking about it at length, we arrived at the conclusion that people must equate kindness and niceness with being phony and fake. It is like somehow people mistrust it because they don't understand that there are no ulterior motivations attached to our kindness.

But in reality, it simply boils down to the fact that we make a conscious effort to not allow the negativity we might be experiencing personally to bleed over into the way we treat the people around us.

Negativity is so unbelievably viral. It spreads so quickly and most often without detection. We are told over and over by the medical profession; the best way to prevent the spread of disease it to wash our hands after going to the bathroom or coughing or blowing our noses. Many people make that effort - not to be in the world with germs all over their hands. However, the same goes for negativity. Its a energetic virus and has a huge influence over a person's well-being. Just as I would never want to transmit my stomach flu to the world, I don't want to transmit my negativity either. I guess you could say that in a sense, I try very hard to interact with energetically clean hands.

The good news is that positive energy is also viral and can spread quickly too. Just like pro-biotics are beneficial bacterial in our gastro-intestinal tracts, positivity is another one of those beneficial bacteria in our lives. I like the idea of being a tiny supplement to someones positivity growth and I view interactions as an opportunity for this. So, I make an effort.

I'd much rather be talked to kindly than rudely or even with apathy. That goes for everyone in my life from the gas station clerk to my husband and everyone in between. That is why I do my best to approach everyone with the same kindness and consideration. There are definitely days where I don't feel anywhere near even the dullest ray of sunshine and that is OK. Yet even on those days, I really try not to let my ugly internal feelings color the way I treat the people around me. On days like that, I try to limit how much I interact with others and still manage to approach those interactions with at least a level of neutral kindness. And there are days I fail all together but the point is, I try.

I also think that some people equate kindness or being nice with weakness or being a doormat. I realize that some nice people allow themselves to be treated poorly. However, I am not one of those "nice" people. I will be all warmth and fuzz but the second I catch wind of someone trying to take advantage of me, you will see a Stef-shaped hole in the wall and a puff of smoke where I was standing. My kindness does not grant free access to walk all over me. I personally believe that it takes strength to be a "nice" person with boundaries.

Finally, I think people may also have the misconception that nice people have super easy lives with nothing to be crabby or negative about. I think I speak for many "nice" folks when I say that sometimes we are the "nicest" when things are going the worst. I find that when I am going through a tough time, I feel more compassionate to others around me. Maybe its my way of subconsciously inviting compassion and positivity into my own life. Regardless, I guarantee that many of the kindest people have been through more than their fair share of difficult life experiences. I believe it takes a certain amount of character to have been through some awful stuff (or even just have had an awful day) but still have the grace to treat others with kindness.

So yes, I am a nice person. When I say or do something nice, it is because I mean it. I don't blow phony smoke up any one's butt - I just truly appreciate others and let them know it and I don't expect any thing in return. I don't have an alternate motive; I am not try to sell you a car, get you to loan me money or get your approval. Mean people suck and it is true. I'd much rather perpetuate niceness than meanness, so I guess its is a choice I make. I am nice and that is just that.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Third Pole Solo

I know I am not the first person to be sucked into the addicting world of the show, Game of Thrones. If you have never seen it, please do yourself a favor and watch it. I literally binged watched that show in time for the start of the most recent season!

Every time I'd watch the show and the opening credits started, I thought, "This would be such a cool song to use for a pole dance routine!" This session, I decided I was ready to give it a go.

When I set out to create this routine, I had this really specific vision in my head about how I wanted to routine to look. My body's natural tendency is to move in more fluid motion. I wanted this routine to have a feeling of strength and power and in my head at the time, graceful movement was neither of these things. I guess I was just really afraid of it looking too "ballet-ish" and all wrong stylistically. As a result, I found myself fighting against the way my body wanted to move which lead to me feeling disconnected from the routine and dissatisfied with it all together.

I had recorded a few practice runs of the routine and upon watching them later, I just couldn't help but feel like something was missing. I felt fumbled and clunky in my movements and it definitely showed. I was frustrated because it wasn't going the way my control-freaky self wanted it to! I had my husband watch the practice videos with me and he pointed, "You just don't seem like yourself in this routine." Boom. There it was. I was the one missing from this routine. I was trying so hard to make myself be a certain way for this routine that it was messing everything else up. So, about a week before the showcase, I went back to the drawing board and revised most of the transitions and floorwork. I let go of my preconceived expectations and just let myself dance. As the pieces started coming together, I found myself feeling a renewed sense of energy and excitement about the routine. 

Overall, I am very happy with the way this solo turned out. I accomplished my top two goals which are always the same: to have fun and be in the moment. However, I feel like I got a nice little life lesson out of the deal as well :) 

Here it is, my third pole dance solo to the Game of Thrones theme song!!

We are so fortunate at Expertease Fitness to have Lion's Mane Photography at all of our showcases to take performance action shots. Matt Davis took so many great photos of my solo and the following are a handful of my favorites!



Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Second Pole Solo!

Its incredible to think that pole dance was not even on my radar one year ago and here I am, having successfully choreographed and preformed my second solo piece. This 8 week class session presented several challenges for me, both self-imposed and ones out of my control. With this most recent showcase behind me, I have been reflecting on the past several weeks and overall, I feel really satisfied with the way it all turned out.

I gave myself the challenge of performing in two group routines as well as doing a solo routine. This is the most I have done in one showcase and it just simply required a bit more time and energy. I also wanted to explore using the pole on spinning mode in my solo. When you put that bad boy on spinner mode, it really is a game changer. Its incredibly fun to spin around and round like that but it also requires a lot more physical control because you are fighting that centrifugal force as you move in and out of poses. Then there is the wicked dizziness to contend with!

The one challenging factor that I did not sign up for or anticipate was my emotional state over the past class session. About a week into classes, I found myself plunging head first into an ugly depression. I've struggled with depression and anxiety for the majority of my life and there were several things going on during that time that created the perfect storm for a depressive episode - unfortunately, it was pretty bad one. It was the kind where its a serious struggle to get out of bed or leave the house. And just to make things even more fun, my eating disorder was working overtime as well. The other unfortunate thing is that my body is very reactive to stress and I find that my immune system becomes very weak. I tend to get sick a lot during times of stress and it felt like I was catching every little cold or bug around me which is uber frustrating when you already feel low. I was also frustrated with the amount of class I missed and the little motivation I had for practice. 

One thing I found was that when I did go to class or muster up the gumption to practice, I felt significantly better afterwards. I felt more emotionally and physically balanced and it was an incredible respite from the depression hovering over me the rest of the time. Going to class was really my life-line to feeling good. It was the ray of light to reach for and bask in. This little picture sums it up quite well:

Another positive thing is that I know what to do to take care of myself during episodes of depression. I faithfully tried to do those things and little by little I began to feel more alive again; more like myself. By the last week of this session and just in time for the showcase, I was feeling nearly 100% out of the fog.

I know that had I been feeling like my normal self, I would have put so much more into my solo routine and for that I feel a little sad. However, I really did put everything I had to give into it at the time and for that I am proud of myself. I feel like I over came some really difficult hurdles on my way to completing this solo routine. Instead of picking apart what I could have done better, I am choosing to focus on how well it truly came together in the end for a successful showcase performance. 

I got the idea for this solo when I was listening my jazzy play list on my ipod. I thought it would be fun to try to recreate the 1950s pinup style both in look and feel of the routine. My last solo (click HERE to check it out) was on the serious side and I wanted to try something a little more fun and playful this time. As I mentioned before, I also wanted to try out using the spinner pole. Because I had basically no experience with the spinner pole, I didn't want to get too wild and crazy with tricks. This actually worked out well because I wanted to also focus on dance and transition elements to strengthen those weaker areas for me. As a result, this is a pretty light routine in the trick department but I feel like the spins and dance balance it it well enough to make it feel well rounded. AND most importantly, I had a lot of fun and was able to be in the moment. Those are the two MOST important things to me when ever I dance!

I am feeling that stir of inspiration and ideas inside me already for solo number three. I love feeling the excitement of all the trick and spin possibilities rushing through my brain! I've got a song all picked out and the only thing I am going to say is that "winter is coming" for the next showcase this summer ;)

OK! Here is my second solo routine done to the song "Heartbroken" by Meghan Smith:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Swimsuit Solidarity

Cellulite, stretchmarks, saggy skin and fat. I am kinda shocked that these things have not been officially added to the list of Deadly Sins. The message our culture gives us regarding these things could not be more clear: "HIDE THAT SHIT!!" Apparently, these are the most physically shameful qualities a person can possess. Oddly, 99.9% of the world's population has a body with at least one or more of these things. So, what is the result? An entire world of people desperately trying to hide the same imperfections from each other. Its complete nonsense! We spend so much time, money and energy trying to hide ourselves from each other - attempting to conceal what is deemed "unacceptable." Ironically, my stretchmarks look very similar to yours. My cellulite dimples very much in the same way as my neighbor's - OH, and my skin sags too.

The more I live, the more I have come to realize that there is no such thing as the "perfect body." Besides, who gets to determine the standard of "perfect" anyway? With summer right around the corner, I am acutely aware that swimsuit season comes right along with it. I can feel that awkward pinching and need to tug on the fabric of my swimwear just thinking about it. Its like my body involuntarily starts to suck in my stomach and find the most flattering ways to position itself. Ugh. I am so sick of it! I am tired of those icky feelings and I am seriously over the whole thing. 

I was recently shopping online for swimsuits and saw the cutest Wonder Woman bikini. My first thought was, "Gosh, I really wish I could wear that." Then I paused for a second and thought, "Well, why the hell can't I?" So, I took the leap, bought the damn thing and you can bet your ass I am going to wear it. I really don't care that my stomach isn't flat, my stretchmarks show and that my cellulite is visible. Everyone wearing a swimsuit at the pool or beach will undoubtedly share these things with me, so who really cares? I am choosing not to any more. And as my own personal way of making a stand on this issue, I have decided to post a picture of myself in my new Wonder Woman swimsuit for all to see. 

To take it one step further, I decided to invite others to take their own stand along with me by submitting an unedited picture of themselves proudly sporting their swim attire. I honestly thought that people would be like "Oh hell no! Have fun with that, Stef - you are on your own with this one!" However, a simple request on Facebook provided me with a flood of amazing, brave participants! It was my hope to inspire others with this blog post but in reality, I feel like I am the one who has been inspired. As people sent me their pictures and statements, I became very aware that I am not alone with my feelings about this. The awesome news is that you are not alone either! I feel like we should all start a club of awesomeness and bring swimsuit/body freedom to the world. I think that this blog post is a great start and as promised, here I am - in my full, Wonder Woman bikini glory!

And here are all of the incredible and brave people standing up with me:


My soft belly carried and birthed a beautiful baby girl, my arms carry her now, my tattoos are my memories from times in my life. My thighs touch to keep my vagina warm and my boobs are fabulous and have been since they came in! Wouldn't change a thing! - Molly


"It doesn't matter what I look like in a swimsuit...I will always be the most beautiful woman in his world." -Carrie


"Unfortunately I've spent most of my life hating my body. Ugh, it makes me sad to think I wasted so much time on it. But Last year I decided I wanted to change - to stop hating and learn to love. It's not easy to change my mindset, but gratitude has been very helpful. I am grateful to be healthy and have a strong body that protects me and let's me do amazing things. I'm also extremely grateful to have a mind to that knows beauty is much more than the 'prefect body' or 'pretty face'. For me it's humor, a kind heart and openness. So instead of working on a bikini body, I'm choosing to work on the other things that make me beautiful." - Annette




"23 weeks pregnant with twins - a boy, Connor and girl, Ellie!!" - Shira


"If I had thought, "just lose 5 pounds more and then you can do X" I never would have performed burlesque and may not have loved myself as much as I do now. I'm super happy and confident." -Chris


"The thing I love most about my body is that it grew and birthed beautiful twin girls 1.5 years ago and it fed them for 16 months." -Laura


"I have always struggled with body image as many women do, we need to embrace ourselves and be thankful for the gift if life!!! Almost 43 and 2 kids later, I am almost comfortable in my own skin :)" -Heather


"This picture of me is the first time I didn't worry about being photographed in my bathing suit and just enjoyed the beauty of being on vacation with my love! :) " -Susie


"Our body focus should be feeling grateful for our instrument that authentically takes us through daily life. This isn't easy in our society, but I'm committed to focusing on strength, agility, grace and gratitude. I am so grateful to be in a body...and I've grown to love my unique one!" -Ashlee

"I used to be deeply depressed. I've spent the last two years training with performance arts people and it's changed everything about my mind, everything about my body,
it's healed me. My advice is: get up and do something fun that makes you get sweaty, it doesn't matter if you're good at it or not. Just have fun. Come back every day and keep doing it. Your life will transform too" -Matt


"Be happy, healthy, have fun, don't hide yourself!" -Liz


"After having a baby I thought I'd never wear a swimsuit again. I had stretch marks literally everywhere, top to bottom. Over the next 18 months I focused on eating healthy, enjoying my new family and getting into activities that I loved to do. Pole dancing and yoga! I learned to love what my body can do and that's enough for me. Who cares what it's supposed to look like. It's important about where it takes you and how hard it works for you! And that's pretty damn hard!" -Gen


"These hands are for love, work and art. I am living a fantastic life in this body. I’m a swimmer. I play Disc Golf and I love yoga. My hands paint, write and nurture. I am a big reader, I need bifocals and I can almost never find a situation where I can actually wear sunglasses. Which leaves me feeling rather un-cool at times. I poured many years of education into this beautiful brain. Not only did I get smart, I got so smart I believed in my own perceptions and abilities with such completeness that has allowed me to drop a lot of the fear I had growing up. Sometime our best accomplishments arise when we seek to overcome our perceived short comings and when we succeed it’ll shock the shit out of you. Now that I have confidence about what I really know. I am ready to challenge other mistaken perceptions. Body hate you're on my list!" - Linda


"I bought a bikini once when going on vacation to Mallorca with some Italian friends. They told me no way was I going to Mallorca in a one-piece. That reminded me of earlier conversations (in the 80s), when I found out that my Italian friends thought it was ridiculous that only slender women wore bikinis in the US. Over there, a two-piece is by far the more common suit, no matter the age or the size. Several of my friends commented, "But your skin wants to see the sun!" or "How sad to not let your belly see the sun!" I eventually donated that bikini to a thrift shop -- not the right color for me anyway. I mostly wear swimsuits with skirts now -- it is capitulating to the beauty system somewhat, but I feel more comfortable and free this way. In an imperfect world with an evolving me, this is my current decision." -Liz

I am in absolute awe of these courageous people who have made the decision to share themselves so openly. I deeply believe that all the energy we spend trying to hide ourselves could be much better spent on so many other things. Let's stop pretending that the appearance of our bodies determines our worth as human beings. Let's stop valuing each other less because of the same, so-called "imperfections" we ALL have in common. Instead, I propose we start appreciating our bodies instead of condemning them. Our bodies are very good to us in so many ways! So, why not celebrate the incredible things our bodies can do and all the things it does everyday without us even realizing it. They are the vehicles through which we get to experience LIFE!! They allows to fully experience the world around us and for that, our bodies deserve our sincerest love and highest respect. 

Once again, I want to offer my absolute admiration and appreciation for all the amazing individuals who helped make this blog post possible. As I received photo after photo, I found that I was truly the one who was inspired. Not only have you put yourself out there in such a brave way but you also trusted me to be that platform for it. Its a huge honor and you are all GORGEOUS human beings and you forever have MY love and respect. Now, lets all go to the pool!!