My life’s mission to empower women to feel sexy at any age has evolved out of my own journey, from childhood nerdy bookworm to going public as a burlesque dancer at age 41.
I grew up getting A+s; winning essay, art, science and math contests; and dying for boys to like me. These were back in the days when I was scrawny and wore glasses, had bad haircuts and acne.
Ah, the awkward years! These lasted through the 8th grade for me.
I was in my own mind at least the quintessential Ugly Duckling, although looking back at pictures now I see a skinny, pretty little girl who didn’t know her own value.
Before the start of the 9th grade, I cut my hair, got contacts, started wearing make-up and basically just decided that I would “make boys like me.” I became a cheerleader as part and wore mini-skirts often.
I worked out like crazy. I was determined to transform myself on the outside – even though it would be years before I truly underwent a deep internal transformation.
My Ploy Worked!
Although I would not be able to accept the compliment “you are beautiful” and really believe it until about age 35, I transformed myself on the outside, and in my metamorphosis got the boys to chase me.
I was bright enough that academics at a public high school, with the exception of some terrific AP Physics, Math and English classes, were not generally overly challenging for me.
So it was a personal mission, challenge and goal to transform myself into someone the opposite sex would find more attractive.
I did not yet understand what I know now: that what makes a woman truly sexy is the self-confidence she exudes, her love of self, exactly as she is, her heart and purpose and passions.
I was “faking it ’til you make it” and had to practice convince myself that I was attractive.
With the pressure to live up to media ideals of perfection, societally created false ideals that I compared myself against, and found myself lacking, I still for a long time had a difficult time believing that I was “really” attractive.
For years, I focused on what I perceived to be my “flaws,” rather than appreciating what others saw in me: my big blue eyes, my bright smile, my red hair, and the energy and passion I exude.
I battled my body for years into my 20s, before finally learning to love my figure. Dancing helped tremendously with this, as did years of inner personal development work and progress on the spiritual path.
Learning to Love Myself
Learning to truly love myself, from the inside out, took years. I think it does for many women because we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, when there is no other you and no real basis of comparison. (As one of my mentors likes to say, “To compare is to die” – it makes no sense and is generally just an exercise in making ourselves feel inferior!).
Really, it was the spiritual journey I embarked on in my 30s that shifted that. After years of feeling restless, of suffering silently with post-traumatic stress disorder from traumatic events in my early 20s, and of not really loving myself fully, I decided to make inner peace my central goal in life.
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” as they say, and I attracted teachers and guides into my life who taught me meditation, yoga and the Law of Attraction.
The regular practice of meditation transformed my life by helping me calm my “crazy monkey mind,” the Buddhists call it, helping me to live much more peacefully. I’d suffered from anxiety for years, despite my outer successes and appearance of happiness.
I had a great life for many years, but had a hard time appreciating it, or myself.
Dancing as a Spiritual Practice
Dance was a spiritual practice for me even before meditation. I took up ballet in college, then fell in love with flamenco, salsa, tango.
In my mid-20s I took up swing dancing with a vengeance and before I knew it was teaching and performing lindy hop with my dance partner at the time and now ex-husband.
It was the first time I could remember that I could fully be present, in the joy of the dance, and drop back into my body, vs. just hanging out in my head. As a very cerebral girl, it was such a relief to not be constantly thinking, to just move sometimes, and feel into the music and the dance.
Of course, when learning to lindy hop there is initially a steep learning curve, so I did have to overcome some anxiety and get over the fear of looking less than graceful on the dance floor as a beginner.
Once I had been dancing for several months, I could drop into these moments “in the zone” when I would just feel like I was flying on the dance floor.
It was the pure joy in movement, and in using the body as an instrument, that had made me fall in love with dance in the first place.
The Burlesque Revolution!
Nothing made me feel sexier than belly dancing, until I tried burlesque.
Vaudeville-style dancing with fun costumes that can incorporate “the art of the tease” turned out to be incredibly fun for me, when I first tried it in San Francisco back in 2007. I kept that a secret until earlier this year, however, just since I still had active aspirations to run for political office at the time, and felt like people might not find those two paths compatible (although I personally don’t see a conflict, others might!).
I came to love it that on the “burlesque scene” the dancers are all different ages – I’ve shared stages with women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even in their 60s! – and different shapes and sizes. The important thing is to love your body and to be comfortable with it, and to own that power.
It’s the attitude and confidence that make an awesome burlesque dancer.
All of it for me – burlesque, swing, belly dancing, teaching and performing these – is about embodying the Divine Feminine, our inner Goddess, and about feeling sexy and beautiful.
Which is why I love to teach dance, and share it with others as well. I want all women to feel powerful, sexy and beautiful, at every age, shape and size.
It’s really about loving yourself as you are, and pouring your spirit, light and joy out into the world so your radiance attracts people into your sphere.
Men and women both love a radiant woman, a confident woman, a happy woman, a woman who emits light.
One of my heroes is Mimi Kirk, a bombshell who was voted PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian over 50 when she was over 70!
Phyllis Sues is another one – 90 and still dancing and doing yoga daily!
My book in progress, Hot for Happiness, is about empowering women to feel sexy at any age and to live with passion, pleasure and purpose.
My dancing is about this. My life is about this.
Love yourselves ladies, from the inside out! Dance to feel how beautiful it is to move in your body.
Remind yourself daily that you are beautiful, exactly as you are, and that it is your heart, soul and spirit that make you truly beautiful.
Shine your light!
Know your power as a Goddess, and own it!
Lisa Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on the Madam President Project.