Dance — and work out — like nobody’s watching

Don’t let your anxiety about what other people think of your appearance stop you.

In my late teens, I was dreadfully insecure.

Having struggled with my weight and a poor self-image since I was 12, I was terrified of what others thought of me. I wanted to fit in and be accepted as “cool.”

I fretted in front of the mirror as I struggled to cover up zits, conceal my expanding waistline and get my rat’s nest of frizzy curls to look chic. My hair, makeup and clothing had to look exactly right before stepping out the door. At social gatherings, I didn’t dare do anything to draw attention to myself for fear of looking the fool. I was shy, unhappy and utterly weighed down by anxiety over what others might think of me. It was a horrible way to live.

On my 21st birthday, I went away with a couple of girlfriends (who also struggled with weight and body image) to the ocean. Maybe it was being away from our peers and the people we felt we needed to impress, maybe it was the salty air, or perhaps it was the fifths of vodka we had stashed in our duffel bags, but something snapped in us that weekend. Fed up with giving a rat’s you-know-what about what everyone thought, we cut loose.

And oh, what a trio of idiots we were! We whooped and hollered our way through restaurants, beaches and booze cruises. I danced so furiously at the resort’s nightclub (wearing cork sandals with 4-inch platforms), I had shin splints for the next three days. I was gonged off the stage at a local Karaoke bar for attempting — and apparently failing — to impress the audience with my rendition of “Rainy Day Woman”.

In the morning, my friends and I rolled out of of bed and headed straight to the breakfast buffet, looking like holy hell. We bummed around the beach in full-on slob mode: no makeup, no style, our hair a tangled mess of sand, salt and chlorine. We truly didn’t give a crap about our appearance or what anyone thought of us — and damned if we didn’t have a marvelous time. It was one of the most freeing adventures of my young adulthood, and my first glimpse of how fun life could be when I wasn’t consumed with my image and my size.

My advice? Don’t let your fear of other people’s opinions stop you.

Embarrassed to workout in public? Nonsense. Head to the gym without caring what anyone might or might not think of you. Play upbeat music through your headset and sing loudly if the urge overtakes you. Don’t worry — the man on the neighboring treadmill will survive the sour notes you hit.

If donning neon pink exercise wear from head to toe uplifts you, by god, wear it. Dress for yourself.

Got two left feet? So what? Hit the Zumba class — or the dance floor — and flail like a bloody fool, onlookers be damned. I danced like a total jack— at my brother’s wedding, and nobody gave a hoot. I always say, the more ridiculous you look when boogying, the better. The goal isn’t to come off as sexy or cool — it’s to have fun, laugh and enjoy yourself.

Take heart knowing this: Be it the gym or the dance floor, bystanders are not watching and judging you for what you think is embarrassing behavior or an unforgivable appearance. They don’t care about your skills or ability, and are likely just as caught up in their own image as you are with yours.

Nothing kills joy like trying to be what you think others want you to be. Women are particularly guilty of this self-defeating process. I still struggle with it, and I think it will be an endless work in progress for me, but progress has definitely been made. I hope you make progress as well.

Now get out there and cut a rug with gusto.

Catherine Bongiorno is a personal trainer, nutritional therapist and owner of Lift To Lose Fitness & Nutrition. Email her at info@lifttolose.com or visit www.lifttolose.com for more information.

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