Disclaimer: Five years ago, I set off on a journey that I never anticipated would change my life in such an incredible way. The goal was to try 52 hobbies in 52 weeks. At the onset, I had intended to write a book compiling the experiences and sharing them. I wasn’t sure at the time if the book would be a quirky coffee-table accessory or if something else might evolve. As it turns out, I never published the book, but I did write most of it. Over time, I’ve gone back to it, time-and-time again. With the five year anniversary of the project, I’ve decided that it’s time to start sharing it: One chapter at a time.
The truth is that sometimes the only thing more vulnerable than looking someone else in the eye is looking yourself in the eye. Before comedy—before the hobby year, I went an entire year without looking at myself in the mirror—without seeing myself. This isn’t just a poetic way of saying I was insecure. I didn’t even own a full length mirror and only occasionally would I check my outfit before I left for work by using Photobooth on my Macbook. When brushing my teeth or getting ready in the bathroom, I’d only take quick glimpses, but I truly stopped really looking at myself. Some days I’d go as far as avoiding my reflection in store front windows and car bumpers. I was terrified of the person who might be looking back at me—and I was also terrified of whatever flaws I might see. My self-confidence was at an all time low. I’d break down in dressing rooms—surrounded by mirrors. I stopped shopping—because I didn’t want to have to go through the desperation of wanting to escape before I even tried to slide on a new pair of jeans. Quite frankly, I just didn’t want to look at a reflection that would stare back at me with disappointment.
In 2012, I was 5’2” and what felt…chubby. Currently–I’m near 180 pounds. Let’s face it, by definition, I am not “sexy.” I’ve never been meant for the runway, I’ve never been able to sport a bikini, and I couldn’t even imagine gracing the cover of Cosmo.
My abs aren’t defined, my legs are stumpy, and my hair is flat. I am convinced that if pictures in the dictionary matched words, my mug shot would be the perfect candidate for “average,” and in a thesaurus: “your plain old Jane.”
Until my senior year of college, I was constantly fearful of going to group gym classes. Television commercials and infomercials always showed slender women in spandex who knew the choreography and routines better than I knew my menstrual cycle. Simply put, it was intimidating. I never wanted to go into a gym class and be the bigger girl who just didn’t get it. When I moved to New York City, I tried my first zumba class—and walked out in the middle. These gym-goers were fit and slender—and I was uncoordinated, clumsy, and chubby.
But I had decided, going into my yearlong adventure that I was tired of being simple. Flat. Adorable. That I was exhausted of hearing how lovely my dimples were—how wonderful my smile was—how cute my giggly laugh was. That I was tired of hearing the words “you’re just perfect the way you are,” “you are so cute.” The truth was—I really just wanted to be sexy. So I jumped into the year–or one might say swung into the year– with a quest to channel my inner Marilyn—and my deep dark Hepburn.
That brought me to my next dilemma…I didn’t know what sexiness was—or how to obtain it. For so many years I had just been intimidated by the thought that I would never achieve true sexiness.
I began to question if sexy was what I saw on all the magazine covers? If it was puckering my mouth up into a kissy face, or opening it just slightly enough while winking one eye?
Did sexy mean sipping on a cosmopolitan in a short black cocktail dress, dressing my eyes in dark mascara, and painting my lips a luscious red?
Did it mean buying a full-length mirror—rather than using the Photobooth application on my Macbook?
I googled “sexy hobbies”and regretted the search instantly as several hundred links to porn sites infiltrated my computer. So I put a condom on my search and revised it to “How to be sexy,” hoping that it’d be a bit more…safe.
I was drowning in the Internet. Advertisements were popping up right and left. Mass-marketing rhetoric on “sexiness.” What perfumes to spritz. What leggings to rock. What diet to go on.
My mind tried to understand everything I was seeing, everything I was reading. It was becoming very clear, very quickly, that sexiness was a math code that I couldn’t quite crack–that I might never crack. I tried to work through the calculations, but I found myself, instead, just talking in circles: “I’ve never done any of this stuff–This isn’t me at all–Is this what it takes? Could I only be sexy if I did everything opposite of how I already do it?”
And then I saw it—the piece of the calculation I was missing. A woman was staring at me from the computer screen. She was elegant. Flexible. And she had both her legs wrapped around a pole. I stared at the advertisement for what felt like hours.
“Pole dancing,” I said out loud to myself. “I could try pole dancing.” “This could be my answer to sexiness.” I looked back at the advertisement again. Yes, this was the way to find my inner sexiness–or outer sexiness–and this was the way to truly start my year of firsts and prove I was committed to the new, the novel, and for me, the unexpected.
When I first told my best friend that I would be signing up for a pole dancing class, she looked at me, and burst into laughter. “Please, please, please…video tape it,” she begged. “I need to see this.” While her initial laughter made me uncomfortable–I was after all, on a serious quest, I realized her laughter was warranted.
She had known me for years, and to her, everything I was telling her about what I was setting out for–and to do–with this first hobby was opposite of who I was—or at least everything the childhood and teen version of me was. In high school, my hair was a bit messy, I wore my athletic sweats to school and I was always talking about the big game coming up–whether it be field hockey, basketball or softball. I wasn’t sexy.
As I talked through the pole dancing thoughts with my friend, I couldn’t help but to laugh at myself, too. The truth was at the time the closest I had ever come to a pole was on an elementary school field trip to the fire station. However, I also didn’t want my own laughter to make it seem like this was something to take lightly. The reality was that I was on a quest, and this was my initiation to the year. If I couldn’t take this activity seriously—how would I make it through fifty-one more weeks of new terrifying, exhilarating, sometimes also self-deprecating activities? The answer was simple—I couldn’t. So instead of letting myself go down the path of deflecting by laughing it off or making too much fun of myself, I got down to business.
I began researching pole dancing facilities in New York City, and very quickly came across Body and Pole on 27th Street. The company advertised a “Pole Dancing Virgins” class on the front of their website, and so I thought what a perfect way to pop this cherry. I didn’t care what the price was. I submitted my Visa card number and sat back. I closed my eyes and basked in the moment. This was it: I was on my way to becoming …. sexy.
Then it dawned on me. What the hell does one wear to a pole dancing class?
As I thought of all the pole dancing videos I had seen on YouTube, I suddenly felt ill thinking of what I would have to wear—nearly nothing.
I went back to the Body and Pole website and decided to see if they had recommendations, and they did: booty shorts and a tank. I had never sported booty shorts in my life. I ruffled through the fine print on the site to see if I could get my money back. “This isn’t what I signed up for,” I yelled into my pillow and panicked.
But it was what I signed up for, and in the moments that followed, I made peace with the decision. I also decided that it was time for a shopping trip.
The next day, I set out on a search for the perfect outfit, hoping I would find something I’d feel comfortable enough in. I started at the mirrors of the dressing room. Nothing was right. The blue booty shorts came up my thighs too much. The black ones gave me a wedgie. In the orange ones, I had a muffin top. I began to be reminded of all the years I avoided the mirror. I was ready to avoid it again.
As I hastily handed the clerk my stack of clothing, I turned toward the men’s department. Maybe booty shorts wasn’t the answer. …Maybe something else was.
I walked to the men’s underwear section and located the boxer briefs.
I laughed… “I guess….maybe this works??? I mean…I guess a lot of women feel sexy in their man’s clothing the morning after….?”
I pulled a red pair of boxer briefs off the rack, along with three back up pairs, and a black tank top from the women’s department. Then I darted for the changing room, and threw on the red boxer briefs and black tank.
Begrudgingly, I turned toward the mirror. But then something changed….I wasn’t repulsed by the figure in front of me. Instead, I felt comfortable….and cool. This wasn’t anyway I’d felt in front of a mirror in a long time. I took a moment, and was grateful to have found something. However, as I went to change, I decided I wasn’t quite ready to put my street clothes back on quite yet. I wanted to indulge in this moment, so I immediately slipped the guy’s underwear back on, threw the tank top back over my head, and began posing in front of the mirror. Smooching my lips together, winking, shrugging my shoulders, waving my hair wildly. Then I started firing off mirror selfie after selfie. I was in the dressing room for over a a half hour. I was already beginning to feel sexier—and I hadn’t even started the class yet. “Good,” I thought. “This is fun. This is how it should be.”
Just one day later I headed to the Body and Pole studio, and prepared to get my sexy on.
As I walked out of the center’s changing room, I realized that many of the girls waiting for the class were much, much prettier than me, and I rushed into the bathroom to clear my nerves.
After calming myself down, I headed into class—red boxer briefs and all.
I grabbed a mat and placed it in the back of the room. As soon as the teacher walked in, she laughed and said “Why are you all so nervous? Move your mats to the front.” Then suddenly, with no way out of it, I was in the front row—staring at myself in a mirror. At this moment, I wanted to run as far from this spot as I possibly could. But the door was too far away, and the warm up was starting. And I was already behind, trying to catch up on the stretches. What I learned quickly about group classes like this, is that the instructors don’t pause for your self-esteem: That’s on you to work out.
As we moved through the warm up, I began to feel even more uncomfortable. The early instructions involved a lot of pelvic movement, hip rolling, and awkward discomfort. Suddenly, with the full mirror in front of me, I realized I wasn’t looking at the woman I had been photo shooting in the dressing room the day before, I was looking at woman full of imperfection. I noticed where my flabs were as I stretched my body from side to side. I was nervous that this case of self-consciousness would continue for the entire class.
All of this was just a prelude, of course, to our first moments on the pole—our first moments of real sexiness. It was just a half hour into class that we began to make our first moves on the pole, leading the way with our hips, extending our arms, and pointing our toes.
“It’s a body roll—not a pole hump,” our teacher yelled. “There is nothing sexy about pole humping,” she laughed.
I watched as she smoothly and seductively grasped the pole, rolled, spun, and turned. I was inspired. “Hot. Damn. That’s freaking sexy,” I whispered.
I looked at the mirror and made a kissy face as I went to take a spin.
I then fell off the pole trying to complete my turn, bruising my knees. I looked back into the mirror. This wasn’t sexy. This was hard. This was terrifying.
But while I’ve never been sexy—I’ve also never been a quitter, so just like a horseback rider gets back on her horse—I jumped right back on that pole. ‘Sexy is painful,’ I thought, and nailed the next spin I did.
“How we feeling?” The instructor yelled to pump us up.
Giggling, I responded, “Sexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxy.”
She laughed, and headed to the front of the classroom, and took a moment to explain that pole dancing can be anything you want it to be. It can be sexy, gymnastic, aerobic, athletic, a way of getting fit, a try at something new. Sexiness, she started to describe, is something we feel inside ourselves. It’s not the way we dressed or the faces we make. Feeling sexy is a state of mind.
And she was right. In the hour and a half that I stretched my body, popped my hips, and shook my booty, I had felt more “sexy” than I ever had in my life. Was it because I would have sexually aroused another person if he or she had stood within ten feet of me? Likely, no. (Trust me: I watched the video of myself doing some of the moves.) But had I played dress-up, again, like a little kid? Yes. Had I taken every part of the class seriously? Yes. And had I done something I loved to do (try something brand new and unusual)? Yes. Had I been anything other than me? No. And that made me feel like the sexiest person in the room.