"As a child all I ever saw myself becoming was a fashion designer. I lived in the Middle East and moved to India when I got admission to the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi. But when I joined college I realised that I was cut out for more than just attending classes and listening to lectures. It was in doing what I always wanted to (fashion design) that I realised what my true calling was (belly dance). Dance had always been a really important part of my life but only as a hobby. Somewhere along the line, I realized that I wanted to motivate women to love their bodies, I wanted to change the Indian mindset about belly dance and express myself through dance.
Being a belly dancer in a country like India is not easy. Even though things have changed a lot over the last 10 years, however there are still people who judge. But I think an artist's work speaks for them and I believe that if I carry myself with dignity, I cannot be disrespected. I also don’t give anybody the power to make me feel lesser than what I am. If you believe in yourself in due course the world comes around to it too.
I have always loved making myself uncomfortable. I love challenges and the rebel in me just loves it when I'm told that 'I can’t do something'. That pushes me harder to achieve what I want. I've always been headstrong and fought for what I believed in. My first few years in India toughened me up. People were always looking to hire foreigners and weren't too keen on Indians. It was these people that made me think to myself - "this is not a problem, this is an opportunity". Today, it’s the same people who love and respect my work.
I believe fitness is like eating, drinking and sleeping - it should be an important part of everybody's life. Exercise keeps me happy, motivated and truly makes one feel like anything is possible. But fitness to me is about being healthy and not about achieving the ‘perfect’ body.
Belly dancers come in all shapes and sizes - as a dance style we don’t discriminate. Exercise keeps me happy, motivated and truly makes one feel like anything is possible. To me every woman that walks into my studio is beautiful. Each one with her own story and beliefs.
My family has been my biggest support system, they might have not always been keen about every decision that I made but they allowed me to make my own mistakes and learn from them. Which honestly is the best thing that the people you love can do for you. And the fact that when you fail they're still standing by your side means everything. But at the end of the day it’s your own will and determination that helps you through tough times.
We live in a time where we have no control over what people say about us on social media platforms. But I can control what message I send out to the world. My message is and will always be – Wake up every day telling yourself "Today I will be better that I was yesterday". Stay fit, exercise, be happy, don’t let anybody dictate your actions and definitely don’t let them decide how you feel about your body."
Meher Malik is a belly-dancer and the founder of Banjara School of Dance.
*In association with Puma.