Living large… and loving it!

When Meryl took the stage with three of her plus-sized girlfriends on America’s Got Talent, she earned the respect of women across the country… and caught the eyes of most men.

Her fishnets drew attention to her thick thighs, and her corset hugged curves that most women cloak in sweatshirts. She climbed on stage in front of millions of people in lingerie, something few of us would be willing to do even if we exist within our healthy weight range.

But the vixen who made it to the semi-finals last season wasn’t always living large. She said she’s always been a big girl, but something about going from a 13/14 in Juniors to a 16 in women’s clothes caused her to start a painful phase of self-loathing.

“It killed me mentally,” said Meryl. “I couldn’t face having to shop in a plus-size store.”

In college, she decided to take Fen-Phen, a controversial weight loss medication that was eventually recalled. She lost the weight, but she also lost herself.

“I thought if I lost all this weight, I would be happier, more social, date more; I thought I would be perfect,” she said. “That’s not what happened. I wound up becoming totally anti-social. I didn’t want to see anyone. I had no energy. I was always tired and fatigued. And, yeah, I could wear clothes that were nice but I look at pictures of myself then and I was so sad.”

Eventually, Meryl was diagnosed with heart valve damage from the Fen-Phen and she was forced to ask herself if thin was worth dying for.

Meryl learned to love herself and accept her body in part because of the positive support she received through her song and dance troupe, the Glamazons. The quartet regularly performs in New York City and has appeared on The Insider, Entertainment Tonight, and Access Hollywood.

“When I decided to embrace my body, I started getting my boobs back, wearing bright colors and dressing sexier, and suddenly, I felt like a beautiful woman,” said Meryl. “The Glamazons are the result of that change in me. The group is an opportunity for girls who are big and beautiful to sing and dance professionally. We get travel and meet all kinds of girls who are inspired by us and who are moved by what we do.”

Meryl and the other Glamazons took inspiration to a whole new level in 2007 with America’s Got Talent. Singing sultry numbers like “Lady Marmalade,” “Hey Big Spender” and “Fever,” they made women of all shapes and sizes want to tie on something lacy and prance around like burlesque dancers.

Meryl said that dressing like you love yourself is part of the process to learning to love yourself.

“Dress according to your personality, not your size,” she said. “Covering up your curves just makes you look bigger. Wear clothes that make you feel good about yourself and that you feel good in.”

Once you’re outfitted, the next thing to change is your mind. Meryl’s shown it can be done, but the rest is up to you.

Feeling the big love? Watch Meryl perform “Lady Marmalade” with the Glamazons last season on America’s Got Talent.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Sexy Mamas
Check out the web site for Meryl’s group, The Glamazon Girls. These “America’s Got Talent” finalist may just be performing in a city near you soon!

Be Yourself and Like It
With the Woman’s Guide to Total Self Esteem, those high pressure board meetings or day care politics won’t seem nearly as intense as they do now.

Curvalicious
Follow the soft swells of plus-size fashion with Venus Diva Magazine, brought to you by ‘curvy’ women and teens on a mission to help big girls live big.

A+ Plus
At the Plus Size Clothing Scoop, you can stay on top of all the plus-size trends in fashion and activism.

Bellydancing — A Woman’s Workout

To watch her belly wave in and out and side to side as though she’d been doing it since the gypsies of 1000 AD, you’d never know that Teresa was all set to be a pharmacist before belly dancing shook her awake.

In the 12 years since she took a class with a pregnant friend, she has gone on to open a dance studio in Lexington, Ky., and perform on stages across the United States. When she steps into class, she helps women reconnect with what makes their bodies worthy of admiration and reverence that’s as long-standing as the human form itself.

“I’ve always been pretty physical, but belly dancing started bringing me into myself as a feminine creature,” Teresa said. “Belly dance, for me, is so good because it gives me that physical high, but it also connects you with music and your own sense of self and your feminine sensuality. You’re like, ‘Oh, okay. I like jewelry. I like being a goddess.'”

Teresa’s belly dancing practice has not only improved her mental state and made her more appreciative of her body, it’s also had physical benefits. In belly dancing, the torso is engaged at all times, so any movements you make work your obliques, your lower abs and your hips.

According to Teresa, “A belly dancer prides herself on being able to isolate all her body parts, to independently move her chest or move her hips or move her belly or move her head or whatever. There are all these amazing isolations happening, and they involve huge amounts of physicality.”

Learning to move the way Mother Nature intended doesn’t come instinctively. Even Teresa admits to feeling lost when she first got started, and she likens the experience to learning a foreign language.

“If you initially come in and get totally caught up in the technical aspects of which muscle is moving, your brain won’t let you have it because it’s not the way you move in your daily life,” she said. “Just like learning a foreign language, you might first learn how to pronounce the words. Then you’re able to form sentences. And then you can speak in paragraphs. And then you don’t sound like Tarzan when you speak.”

The kinship with other dancers is also an attractive part of belly dancing, and Teresa has performed with some of the best contemporary dancers on the planet, including Rachel Brice. Brice is probably the best belly dancer in the world, and to see why, watch this.

Where in the world can you take a belly dance class, you ask? Try http://www.bellydanceclasses.net/, a comprehensive, global list of instructors and studios all over the world.

To dress the part, check out Velvet Peacock Designs, a woman-owned and operated business in Maui.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Notes from the Belly
At Teresa’s dance studio and gallery, you can get in touch with your inner dance goddess.

Poi-ty Please
Enter the world of poi by stopping by the Home of Poi, the fire twirling authority. Find friends, get online lessons, understand equipment, and, most importantly, you won’t get burned.

Hoop It Up
Find hoops, DVDs, classes, clothes, performances and everything else you need to wrap your mind around the hooping phenomenon.

Ohm My Gosh!
Can’t seem to find any peace and quiet? Find yoga classes, events, businesses, products and lots more at Yoga Finder.