FAT. That’s a word that has women the world over trembling with fear. In fact the kind of fear inspired by the word ‘fat’ can sometimes cause near paranoia in a woman’s image of herself. And I say woman because I don’t know of any men who stand in front of the mirror bemoaning their fast disappearing waistlines or the incumbent cellulite on their thighs (lucky buggers).
A generation or two ago being ‘fat’ wasn’t an issue in the general African setting. A woman was expected to be curvaceous and ample. To be less than that indicated a failure on the part of your male ‘keeper’ (either husband or father) to provide for you. In fact, in some cultures women were sent to fattening rooms to bulk up before they would be considered ‘wife material’. Having a plump woman connoted wealth and prosperity and the plump wife was the pride of her husband. Obviously being extra curvy didn’t affect their sex lives adversely judging from the number of children they had on average (between 7 and 12). Breasts were feeding apparatus and a big bum was…well, it was cute.
Fast forward to the year 2010…and things have changed…a lot. For all the good brought about by the importation of some aspects of Western culture and ideals there has also been a negative impact. Nowadays a lot of African women have a negative body image and are striving to live up to the ideals of the media. And what is the ideal? You don’t have to be a genius to know that. What images do we see on TV? The internet? Magazines? We see pictures of ‘fabulously thin’ Angelina, Jennifer (not J-Lo), Paris, Britney, Halle etc and we feel that we have to look like them.
What we fail to understand is that the African body is not like the Caucasian, Asian or Latina body (and I don’t say that in a negative way). There are some people who are naturally slim and others who can only get to a Size 10 by starvation! We are all made in different shapes and sizes and we should celebrate rather than denigrate our bodies, right? Easier said than done. I am guilty of those same feelings of self loathing sometimes. I gaze in near envy at my friend who has had 2 kids and still looks the same way she did when her husband first asked her out. What makes it even worse is that even in her present state of pregnancy her belly is smaller than mine…and I had my baby 4 years ago! Oh the horror!
I have exercised and ‘dieted ‘my way down to a manageable size but I still don’t think I’m fully there. The problem is…I just love food too much… and I can be bloody lazy about exercise too. There! I said it! Can I see heads bobbing in agreement? I don’t think even I understand what I want. I want to look like Halle…and Gabrielle Union…and Jessica Alba…and…oh, I don’t know. I have tons of Women’s Health and Oxygen (okay, just 1 Oxygen) magazines lying around. If I want to go through a particularly depressing mode of self flagellation I just have to open the mags up and gaze at taut bellies and toned thighs and…sigh…sniff, sniff. Get the picture? Sure, you have to exercise (and I did) but truly exercising isn’t that much fun unless done to a particularly up tempo beat (and as we all know, PHCN doesn’t help matters but that’s another story altogether). Gym memberships are not easy to come by but then again I’m a DIY type of girl!
I have yet to come to a point where my brain and body align and view each other with mutual respect, if not love. Are we all happy with ourselves and the way we look? There are days when I get up, look in the mirror and say to myself ‘Good Morning, you gorgeous piece of Hot Mama-ness! Your hubby is one lucky Dude…’. And then are days when I can barely look and if I unfortunately catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror it’s like ‘Oh Good GOD…would you look at that? Sheesh, YOU should have been the one to pay Groom Price because Hubby obviously didn’t get his stress’ worth…’ Ever felt that way? It’s worse for me because I am literally an advert for the before and after…with the pictures reversed! I was very slim in school but then when I graduated I came in contact with a wonderful combination of a generous husband, working in a dairy company and lots of take out dinners. Voila! Well what do you know…I’m starting to look like a real Madam!
Now I look around and I see thinner girls than I saw growing up in the 80s! Now when you go to boutiques you’ll see the racks full of Size 0 (yes boys, SIZE 0…aka ZERO) clothing! I mean, some of those jeans wouldn’t go past my calves…and that’s the part meant for thighs! Sometimes I’m tempted to ask ‘Sheesh, who undressed all the Barbie dolls and hung their clothes up for sale?’ That’s almost as bad as Size 5 shoes (but that’s a whole new story as I have unusually gargantuan feet and getting shoes in my size is…okay, I’m rambling).
For some people I’m the perfect shape while for others it’s like ‘Uhm…I have this diet that works wonders…’ The funny thing is that I look at ladies like Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson and I think they are beautiful and stylish even though neither of them could be honestly described as thin. Women come in all shapes and sizes, GOD bless ‘em, and as far as I know the larger percentage of men don’t seem to mind as far as we have all our bits and pieces intact. Some of us are vertically, follicularly, or aesthetically challenged (although I hope not a mixture of all three because then…) but then that’s the whole point of being unique, right?
So let’s celebrate our differences instead of sulking over them, okay girls? Please? Pretty please? Do I have a resounding ‘YES’ from you? Oh, that’s good. Now let me go and have those 3 carrot sticks and glass of water that I put aside for my lunch… (okay, okay I’m lying…my big plate of chips and fried chicken!)