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Black Body-Positivity

What is Beauty?

Beauty is an ideal sought after worldwide. People both live and die for beauty. For some beauty is tangible and for others it’s more abstract, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is regarded in one way or another by most living beings. In fact, to disregard beauty and its importance almost always has to be a conscious choice, whereas to praise the elements and characteristics that are deemed the most desirable to whomever it may concern is implicit; it’s just a way of life.

Why is beauty so important to us?

That’s a root I’m sure many of us would like to dig up, at least anyone who has spent as much time considering it as I have, but I feel that the answer, or answers, to that question lie in the definition(s) of beauty itself.

I’m attempting an eight part segment to attempt to explain all the definitions of beauty as I’ve pondered them in my poster-clad dorm room while eating French Fries and drinking Arizona. I’m neither an expert nor am I a sociologist or an anthropologist or anything of the sort, I’m just someone who’s been wondering things and wondering if people are wondering the same things I’m wondering.

Think of this series as more of a discussion than anything; interaction and feedback is more than welcome so long as it is constructive.

B.I.T.C.H. part 2

Because

In order

To be

Considered whole, I must only be

Half myself and find a way to dispose of the rest

 

Because

I prayed to be thinner more

Than I prayed to live longer despite the

Curse promised for those who do not

Honor thy father and mother

 

Because she

Insisted upon making me everything

That I

Could never be: waif-like, obedient, and

Happy to be nothing more than a wife to be

 

Because nothing

I could ever

Think or do

Could ever disappoint

Her more than the way I looked

 

Because

I regretted

The way my appearance

Caused so much pain and

Heartbreak in her

 

Because the

Internalization of self-loathing

Turned all the blood between us into

Callousness in the name of brutal

Honesty

 

Because the most

I can achieve with

The woman who gave me life is

Cordiality at best and

Heavy silence for the sake of self-preservation

 

Because

I learned from her, not only how

To obsess over

Calories, but also

How to kill someone with words

 

Because a bitch

Isn’t

The worst thing that you

Can call me,

Honestly

-Chido

 

Image Source

 

B.I.T.C.H. part 1

Because

I

Thought that

Circumstance

Hated me

 

Because

I had

Thick thighs, a round stomach,

Cellulite, brown skin, and locks that coil relentlessly and

Hate the fine tooth combs they used to straighten out girls like me

 

Because even on my best days

I could never be

The kind of pretty that

Could redeem me from my self-

Hatred

 

Because

If he doesn’t

Think you’re fuckable, you

Change yourself

However you need to

 

Because men know best, what

It means

To be a desirable woman:

Coy, quiet, and gentle, with

Heavenly smiles that caused men to sin

 

Because

I was

Taught I

Couldn’t be whole without

Him

 

Because

I

Thought I

Could use pretense as makeup and

Hide from the expectations

 

Because

I knew

The only life that would make a mother proud was

Circumscribed for me with

Hereditary lies

 

Because

Innocence was

Too easily revoked before I

Could even

Have 10 years of naïveté

 

Because, all of a sudden,

Impurity was

Tattooed all over my

Careful skin,

Highlighting my every move as potentially deviant

 

Because

I had never been

Touched with my

Consent nor

Have I ever been still

 

Because

I had

To learn that my body tells people things that

Could send me straight to

Hell

 

Because other women

I know also have bodies

That say things they’re unable to

Control, things that only men are able to

Hear

 

Because

I knew

Too many

Close to me who’ve been bruised and battered by forceful

Hands

 

Because

It’s always our fault, but we’re supposed

To welcome the unwarranted

Caress and calamity

He gives

 

Because what she called

Invasion, he called persuasion,

Till he

Clipped

Her wings and she showed me her scars

 

Because

It’s always her fault even if

The

Crime was

His

 

Because

It’s still not ok

To

Confess what

He did

 

Because

It’s never ok for girls

To be

Confused for

Helpless kids

 

Because a bitch

Isn’t

The worst thing that you

Can call me,

Honestly

-Chido

 

Image Source

The Trigger Warning: Where my issues with my body image began

***TW: numbers associated with weight loss are mentioned

One of the hardest choices I’ve ever made was the decision to leave my small town in Delaware and my family and friends to go to university and pursue my dreams in New York City. The distance may not have been too great but the differences were abounding.

Adjusting to my new life was rough for many reasons: being away from home for the first time, missing my close friends and feeling the pressure to make new ones, and, of course, the new pace and attitude of the city.

All those reasons I predicted and expected; it didn’t make them easier to deal with but at least I knew what I was up against. However, other issues arose that I am only now starting to fully comprehend. At that point I was attending Parsons at the New School for Design and anyone who has ever been there knows that the students attending that school are largely Asian and White. I was one of only four black people that I met during my short time there which, besides being surrounded by so much talent that I felt I didn’t measure up to, made me feel like I didn’t belong there. I felt as if they were just trying to level out the demographics or something, like there was a quota they had to meet for some reason even though it is a private school. I later learned is called Impostor Syndrome, but I still to this day do not doubt that my accusations could be true.

Another representation issue I encountered was the overall lack of fat people. Every time I walked into a classroom, I felt like the complete embodiment of the proverbial elephant in the room.

Body image has been something I have struggled with since as long as I can remember, as is true for many of us I believe. My struggle traces back to puberty when my body was stripped of all neutrality. I started to develop noticeable curves and gain weight in some areas where there wasn’t as much fat before (i.e. my thighs and my ass) and before I even noticed these things myself, everyone else around me did. On one hand I was sexualized by male family members and classmates and on the other hand I was socially demonized by female members of society, including my mother. All of a sudden life went from being a carefree and oblivious child to becoming a woman whose main responsibilities were achieving thinness and becoming a woman that a man would want to marry one day while simultaneously doing nothing to attract male attention or stir up impure thoughts in the men around me, all before I even turned 12.

The unwanted attention from boys and men was the first issue concerning my body that I really had to face head on. As a 5th grader, I dealt with not only unwanted attention but unwanted physical contact from some of my male peers. Boys that I had considered friends just a year before, all of a sudden, became fixated on staring at my ass whenever I turned around, walked by, or bent over. Even worse than that was when they began to make a game out of copping a feel whenever they could. Not only did I feel unsafe to the point that I stopped going to recess, only went to the bathroom between classes when there were a large amount of people in the hallways, and tied a sweater around my waist every single day, I also blamed myself heavily. I thought that if I was thin and had a different shape, I wouldn’t have had to go through the harassment that continued for the entire school year and followed me until I moved to a new town and school district.

I want to note that my family and parents are African, specifically Zimbabwean immigrants and first generation Americans. Knowing this may also raise the question about the pressure I started to feel to become thin, outside of the sexual harassment. Typically Black people embrace thicker body types as the standard of beauty, especially Africans, but my immediate family did not see things this way, unfortunately for me.

Thus began my self-esteem’s downward spiral. Sometimes I thought I would try to diet but whenever I thought about dieting and how the only way I thought I could be deemed acceptable to the world was if I lost weight and became skinny, I would become really upset and do the opposite, which was to consult sugary snacks for consolation. At this point though, I started to become occupied by time-consuming school activities and countless crushes that prevented me from dwelling on too many internal issues. I was also, thankfully, surrounded by a positive group of friends that helped counteract many negative thoughts I had about my body so I was able to suppress them for the time being.

Graduation was bittersweet. I was glad to be out of the purgatorial hell-hole that was high school, but I knew that in 3 months, I was going to be leaving behind everything comfortable and familiar in my life. On top of being anxious awaiting the impending transition, I was mostly isolated from my friends the summer before starting college. Everyone was taking vacations, getting together their college dorm needs, working summer jobs, and otherwise occupying themselves with menial things just because we knew that this was the last time we could. The problem for me was that I hadn’t realized how toxic my home environment could be until then.

Within a month of being home I remembered exactly what I used extra-curricular activities to escape from. Being with my mother day after day constituted constant harassment about my weight and size. Every time I picked up a fork my motives and habits were verbally questioned. “Are you still eating?” “Do you really think you should eat that?” “You’re still hungry?” “Why is all the food gone already?” “I put food in your plate for you. No more eating tonight” These are but a few of the many quotes that began to perpetually circle around in my head.

It got to the point where I could not eat in front of her, or anyone really. I also reintroduced the concept of dieting into my life and it was the first time I really took it seriously. What got me was when I was told that I’m limiting my chances of succeeding in my career because I didn’t look the way a designer should supposedly look. Even though I knew the comment didn’t necessarily hold any merit, considering the wide range of outrageous appearances I know many successful fashion designers to have, I didn’t want to make my life any harder for myself than I already knew it was. So I went on a diet.

This diet consisted of a calorie counting app that I referred to like the Bible, taking multiple daily walks/runs, drinking about six bottles of water a day, getting on to the treadmill when I could, and sleeping constantly, fearing that being awake might make me think of how hungry I was. Using the app I programmed my goal to be to lose 30 pounds before school started in a month and a half. According to my weight and the goal I programmed, the app dictated how many calories I could intake and how many I had to burn each day. Many days I would eat under the amount of calories I was allotted in hopes of speeding up the weight loss process.

The first couple days were the most successful. I lost about 4 pounds in a week. I didn’t realize then that it was mostly, if not all, water weight. More days went by and the loss was less rapid. Then weeks went by and there was little to no change. I didn’t know how to deal with plateauing so far away from my goal. I still persevered anyway, telling myself that one day I’ll just wake and notice the transformation as if it were overnight as long as I stopped obsessing and kept persevering, so I decided to only look at the scale every other day.

By the time school started, I had only lost 10 pounds. I didn’t feel like I looked any different and the only difference I felt was utter emotional and physical exhaustion. In the last days before I started school I had made a tumblr account, for no reason in particular, but shortly after, discovered *thinspo (tw on link). It wasn’t long before I fell completely down the rabbit hole, lusting after thigh gaps, visible rib cages, and defined collar bones the way I used to lust after cute boys in high school.

Starting college, deprivation and self-loathing had already conquered my entire being, which made facing the other elements of my transition that much harder.

The best dating advice I’ve ever gotten…

The best dating advice I’ve ever gotten was to not come on too strong.

Unlike a tea bag

Helplessly sinking in a mug of torrid water

Oozing out its essence and

Altering its surroundings to become akin to its own sensibilities,

My nature is not at all welcome,

Much less desirable.

At least that is what I understand,

“One day you’ll find someone who tolerates you,” to mean.

“Don’t come on too strong”

In my brown ears,

Hidden beneath my Kanekelon twists,

Means don’t be strong at all.

Everyone already expects me to be ‘strong’,

Which is why most men are wary of me from the get-go.

“Don’t come on too strong,” means that

Any man who distrusts his initial better judgment and decides to approach me,

Is looking for something out of the ordinary.

He wants to find a docile heart underneath these

Ombré high-yellow breasts.

He wants to find room to plant, sow, and reap underneath this

Shining copper five-head.

He wants to find trembling hands at the ends of these two-tone wrists,

Not a black power fist.

He wants to find a tender apathy inside my soft belly,

Not a tenacious intensity.

He doesn’t want to find that respect is a prerequisite

Between my ghostly stretch-marked thighs

Much less than he wants to find hair there.

He doesn’t want to see anything but his own reflection

In my lined mascara eyes,

So I should act like I don’t care.

He doesn’t want to find a weapon of self-defense

Inside my black lipstick mouth.

He wants to tell his friends that I’m not like the other black girls

Who have the audacity to speak out.

He wants the black girl equivalent

To the one he feels he doesn’t stand a chance with.

He wants the black girl antithesis

With the black girl ass and lips.

He’s just another fuckboy looking for a fuck toy,

But letting him know you can’t be fucked with

Won’t help you, so here’s a tip:

Don’t come on too strong, you angry black woman.

That’s the best – and only – dating advice I’ve ever gotten.

-Chido

Image Source

Has Africa Fallen Out of Love With Plus-Size Women?

Zion Tribe by Maelle Andre
motel-magazine.com Photography by Maelle Andre

It’s quite possible that I was raised by the only African mother who doesn’t believe that voluptuous body types are beautiful, but if I’m not, I blame colonization (as I do for pretty much everything).

Growing up, it was always hard to find the strength inside me to shut out the thousands of reasons both she and the media gave me to hate my chubby tummy, thick thighs, and round face, but from time to time I found comfort in knowing that the being tall, thin, and white was a eurocentric beauty preference. Being American (first-generation), that’s what I always had to consider, but, being African, it made sense to look to the elephant ear-shaped continent where I found that there are many more things that different cultures find beautiful, including big women.

Fast-forward about 10 years and you’ll find a world where technology is wholly accessible and social media is king queen*. Press play in 2015 and you’ll also find that African fashion has gained steady popularity, though it is still in an early adoption stage. As an aspiring fashion designer, the new-found Afrocentrism is extremely exciting for me. I and other African designers’, both aspiring and on the rise, only hope is that African designers and African nations will be the main ones profiting off the adoption of African fashion in the western world. Racism in the fashion industry is a huge issue that I will continue to explore in this blog, quite often I’m sure; however, I want to start by asking the question that my colleagues have not and probably will not ask: Why are African brands not making clothing for plus-size women?

African Print Turban by The Pretty Caps store on Etsy.com
African Print Turban by The Pretty Caps store on Etsy.com

Like the fashion-loving fat girl I am, the first thing I thought about upon realizing the doors being opened for African fashion, was that there were going to be more people in the industry fighting for, or at least catering to, plus-sizes. Call it wishful thinking or just plain naivete, but imagine my dismay to learn that most of the apparel designers’ sizes stop at size 10. The first thing I asked myself was, “Is this the new standard for Africans now or is this the compromise we have to make to succeed in the Western-dominated industry?”

Stella Jean & Tata Naka designs
Stella Jean & Tata Naka designs

Am I wrong to believe that in promoting diversity in the fashion industry, designers should also promote diverse beauty ideals? The same way that non-Africans who make collections “inspired” by African fashion without using any black models leaves a bad taste in my mouth, African fashion that is inaccessible in bigger sizes just feels plain wrong. Pop in any given African movie into a DVD player and you’ll see thick and fat women galore because Nollywood doesn’t play by Hollywood’s rules—yet, but neither should African fashion. I implore African designers to take this opportunity to twist, bend, and turn the fashion industry inside out. Celebrate the fact that Africa is an entire continent full of beautiful black women of all different shades, shapes, and sizes, and bring that realization and mindset to the industry. It’s time to refuse compromise and break down the boundaries, especially since there is a HUGE market of women like myself who have nothing to wear and would love to know that there is a place in this world where fat, thick, and curvy women are not only accepted, but admired, that is, of course, if that is still the case.

***

Oh yeah, and please do it before the culture vultures in the fashion industry stick a dashiki on a size 8 model and not only call her plus-size, but say that they came up with the idea. You know that’s how it ALWAYS happens. For once, let us be the first to make money off our own ideas.

Stella Jean & Tata Naka designs
Stella Jean & Tata Naka designs

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