Dear Africana Woman,
You have gained so much weight! Have you been met with this greeting at least once this week? Or you have lost weight mama. People actually greet with the words, You are fat.
I want to let you know that because the village believed it had the right to comment on my body since I was a child, I learned to hate my body. I hated it for a very long time and yet it’s the only one I have. I cannot exchange it. If I am not content in this vessel, then my whole life is one of regret, shame and guilt. Listen, you do not need to tell me what you perceive my weight to be. I already know. My body is with me 24/7 honey. My clothes tell me whether I have lost or gained weight so your opinion is but a mere assumption not based on facts, that is violently harmful to my psyche. I don’t know what it will take to make the village realise that weight is not a greeting. In fact, it is not on the table for discussion.
My perception of my body has evolved over time. You see as a child my mother called me big boned. I was not overweight but in comparison to my cousins I was the biggest. As a result, I was labelled fat. You know where relatives are trying to identify you in a conversation and they would differentiate me as ‘the fat one.’ I grew up always perceiving myself as the ‘Fat Girl’. I remember around the age of 14, I wore shorts once and walked to town. I heard someone say behind me, “Oh my God she is so fat, how can she wear shorts?” My friend heard the comment and immediately tried to reassure me that I looked fine. It was too late the damage was done. I stopped wearing shorts.
From very early on I also noticed how my body attracted the wrong type of attention from grown men. I remember walking on a street and a group of young men walked passed me and one decided to grab my ass. Or the time I was deposited in a market at a hair salon to do braids. As it would take a while, I was left alone with the hair dresser. Then a man walked in and started rubbing my thigh until he was rebuked by the hairdresser as she pointed out I was a child. All this to say that I hated my femininity. I wanted to hide it so that it could not attract the wrong type of attention. Therefore, I wore very baggy clothes that were asexual as an armour to protect me from unsolicited advances. I did not want anyone to see my breasts or the curve of my hip. On a deeper level the story I told myself is that to be feminine was not safe.
Let’s not forget that beauty was defined as skinny, flat stomach, smooth face, and light skin. Y’all I failed all of the criteria. Sigh. I was curvy, had acne and a dark complexion. Listen I have heard family say things like, “I cannot walk in the sun because I will go dark” or “At least I am lighter than so and so” A competition that I could never enter lest I resign myself to be the loser every single time.
I say all this to help you understand why by the time I was 20 something at university, I was barely eating. It is not an exaggeration when I say at one point all I ate was cucumber. All in a bid to lose weight. In fact, I would starve myself for days. After university, I continued with this way of not eating. I remember my grandmother, Mama B, pointing out that I barely ate. By then it was not even conscious. It had become so natural. On another occasion a Pastor came to pray for me because my life was tumultuous, but he did not even pray about my job situation. He said to me, I kid you not, “God said you need to eat and look after your body. You will die if you don’t change.”
Now everything about my body to that point was an embarrassment. To whom, I am not even sure. I just did not meet the standards. To top everything off, when I was pregnant, I developed stretch marks. Then it was game over, because how do you go back from that. You know? That imperfection is irreversible, at least with my weight I could keep it ‘lower’ if I starved myself.
When I reached my all-time lowest weight as an adult, it was after I had been raped and I was taking ARVs. I do not do very well with taking pills. Therefore, I was vomiting non-stop. Everything that went down came up. It was inevitable the flesh would be stripped from my bone. One day I posted a picture on social media. Many people were rejoicing that I had managed to lose weight and were congratulating me, yet this was a moment that I was the unhealthiest in my life. I actually had not come face to face with my deterioration until people brought it to my attention. Whilst they were celebrating, all I saw was a gaunt shadow of a human being. I did not recognise her and I was terrified.
The first thing that I did was work on my diet. I started to force myself to eat. Then I started being intentional about what I ate. Eventually I transitioned to being a vegetarian. Mind you this took years. Then I started to think about my body differently. Like I said earlier, I only have this one body. I cannot take my consciousness and place it in another body. I realised that no one was going to love my body if I did not. It was my responsibility to accept the body I have been given and love it for its uniqueness. In addition, my definition of beauty is unique to me.
My Beauty is in having curves. It is my cheeky crooked smile. My narrow-slanted eyes and eyebrows that have been genetically tweezed. It is my complexion that swings from mahogany to pine depending on which part of my body you look at. It is the shapely legs that dew the nickname Bana Leggson. Someone else said I should only ever wear jeans. It is the soft mounds of my breasts that are in a constant battle with gravity. I admire how long they are holding out. It is the bulge of my stomach crossed with zebra like stripes. It is my rough face that tells me when my period has started. It is the handles on my back. It is the bumpy shape at the back of my head and the white that has salted my hair since I was 15. It is every part of me that functions without me having to tell them to. How grateful I am for this body.
Happy are those who love their bodies. Whilst many live with varying degrees of Body Dysmorphia. Take control of your thoughts to your body today. Show it some love. Show it off. Don’t pretend it does not exist. Some of us cannot even remember the last time we looked at our bodies in a mirror. These days, every day after I bath, I dance in front of my mirror, admiring and complementing my body parts. Remember, ageing is natural. Your body is meant to look different in different seasons. Talk to your body kindly. The Village will always have something to say about your body but if you are internally secure about your looks, what they say will not phase you.
Now, I must share with you a really exciting project. Kamanga Wear and Africana Woman have linked arms to give a special woman a Sombo Makeover. This is a transformation from head to toe. Everything from Hair, Makeup, a Kamanga Wear Dress AND to make sure you don’t forget, we have organised a professional Photoshoot. The winner will also be featured on the Africana Woman with Chulu podcast, where she will tell her story. Even though we can only gift one person, we hope this serves as a reminder that you deserve to practice self-love. You must look after yourself as a priority. To enter the competition, click HERE. The deadline to enter is 15th August, 2021.
Alrighty, I gotta run. If you are new here, welcome to the family. Click the subscribe button and I promise to send you a love letter every week. To my live hard readers, Thank you for your continued love and support. You can catch me during the week @Chulu_byDesign. Africana Woman has a blog, podcast and visionaries community. Do check out what is happening in these spaces. Remember, love yourself flaws n all and attract the life that you truly desire.
Love in spades