May 23, 2019 • Lucy Muiruri
I am in a love-hate relationship with my body. Some days I wake up and I love the solidity of my limbs, I love the feel of a silk shirt on my skin, and other days I hate the way my body takes up space, I hate that it bruises easily, and most of all I can’t stand how aware of it I am.
The running joke in Hollywood movies is that small talk revolves around the weather, the small talk version of Rwanda revolves around weight. It is not unusual that on visits to see my aunties the very first thing I hear when I walk in the door is almost always a version of this question: “Have you gotten fatter or skinnier?”. It’s the most maddening way of showing affection. I hate myself for the perverse pleasure of being told that I have lost weight, or when you flip the coin, the crisis mode I get into when I am informed about my weight gain.
It is not enough to be slim as a Rwandan woman, but to be slim-thick. The word slim-thick in itself is an oxymoron. You have to be thin but also have curves. And if you have paid any attention to the runaway hits at Miss Rwanda contests, it is often the contestants who fit this narrow box of a stereotypical Rwandan beauty. This often leaves those of us who fall outside of this beauty standard to put a question mark on our identity as Rwandan women: “Do we belong?”. That might seem trivial, but what is happening is a communication of a beauty ideal. Who is worthy, and who isn’t. Pretty privilege exists, and women existing in patriarchal societies are at the mercy of the ever changing goal posts of acceptable beauty standards. The precarious balance of skinny and curvy.
We tend to think about beauty as related to taste, as something deeply personal, something that is organic, something that comes out of the self. We also tend to think of beauty culture as being static, but beauty norms everywhere are constantly in flux. The skin lightening cosmetics industry is projected to reach 31.2 billion USD in 2024. This is driven by a rampant darker skin stigma that can be traced to colonizer-colonized relationship based on white supremacy. The slim-thick phenomenon is taken to greater heights by our exposure of social media (read Instagram) models. You have scrolled past one; ethnically ambiguous, non-existent waist and flared hips.
I can identify with all of this – the societal pressure to be the slim-thick, the politics of my black body and the contortion of my body to conform to the male gaze. It is exhausting. At the end of the day my body isn’t even MINE. For a spell, I forgot that my body isn’t the entirety of who I am.
Lately, I am training myself to place clear demarcations between me, the person, and my body. I am getting halfway decent at reclaiming my body on my own terms. I want to be more aware of the world around me than my body. I am grateful for the way my body holds my insides together, the ease with which it moves, but most importantly I accept its imperfections because I realise it’s only a part of who I am.
Author: Shaki Toni
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