‘I wish I didn’t care’: On body shaming and trying to be body positive
I have so many other things I should be writing… essays, assignments, reports, and and and…
But anyway, at least I am writing something ne
Christmas 2016 was nightmarish for me. Short, but fucking traumatic. I, like most black women, have a number of family members who think commenting on your weight is an acceptable form of greeting. I have always been conscious and sensitive about my weight and so I purposefully avoid big family gatherings. Mother if you are reading this, this is why I avoid going to family functions. I would just rather not deal with unsolicited comments about something that I struggle with every single day. I love to eat. But I also have a very contentious relationship with food, constantly worrying about every ounce of deliciousness I put into my mouth.
As a black woman there are many things I have committed to unlearning in the pursuit of a feminist existence. Things I am relieved to have to unlearn. Things I am excited to unlearn and hungrily (pun definitely intended) try do so every single day. But there’s this one thing that I would literally kill to be rid of and yet I cling to it and aspire to it every time I feed my body…to be thin, slenda, fit, ngifane noMinnie. Unlearning mainstream standards of beauty has to be one of the hardest journeys I have embarked on.
So, Christmas 2016. I adorned this lovely maxi dress from Cotton On and I drove home for Christmas carrying an incredible amount of anxiety with me. I saw my grandmother before Christmas and she didn’t comment on my weight and so I wondered if that meant I would be spared. I arrived and greeted and hugged grannys, aunts, grandfathers, uncles and cousins discreetly trying to hide my body in plain sight. It was time to eat. The plates ran out and I went to the kitchen to fetch more. There was no one in the kitchen. I reached to get the plates out of the top cupboard, stretching my frame. And then it came! The comment I had been dreading and viciously avoiding. The voice said “Woooo!!!!!! (the wooo with grossed out sound effects) awusanonanga!! Yini!! Woooo!!!!”. I literally shrank and bitterly fought back tears. Another aunt of mine had also walked into the kitchen at that time and heard what Sibongile had said. She tried to buffer the words of fire by saying “No its the dress.” “Is it not the dress?”. I couldn’t even speak. It took the energy of all my earthly and spiritual mothers for me to take the plates to the dining room and walk (I wanted to sprint) to my car to find solace and a safe place to cry. And boy did I cry and cry and cry. And eventually I started my car and drove my nonile ass home without a word to anyone. I cried all the way home and cried when I sent my mother a message to tell her that I had left and why I couldn’t stay.
She called me, of course, and very gently asked me to stop crying and to not allow ‘her’ to ruin my Christmas. I was inconsolable. I had been ‘ugly crying’ for well over an hour and not even the gentleness of my mother was helping to draw me out of it. Instead it made me cry harder – my mom’s voice has this way of making me feel all the things I am trying not to feel. My aunt, who had tried to buffer the comment, also asked me to come back and to please stop crying. Another aunt also tried. And eventually I told them I would come back. I knew I wasn’t going to go back, not on that day anyway. I couldn’t.
I stopped wearing that lovely dress from Cotton On. Maybe it was the dresses fault that I ‘looked’ fat.
Crying because who has ‘body shaming PTSD’. Crying because I am a silly girl who should know better than to ‘allow’ anyone to so profoundly affect her sense of self.
Today, after failing to find something to wear, I saw the dress in the back of my cupboard and decided to wear it. I slowly ironed it. Put it on carefully, eyeing myself in the mirror. I immediately felt overwhelmed with sadness. I went to tell my baby and started crying again. Crying because the dress somehow carries in its fabric the horrible memory of Christmas 2016. Crying because of the shock at how strong the emotions were. Crying because who has ‘body shaming PTSD’. Crying because I am a silly girl who should know better than to ‘allow’ anyone to so profoundly affect her sense of self.
If I am honest I have thought about Christmas 2016 almost every week since December. Worrying about December 2017. Worrying about big family gatherings that I won’t be able to avoid. Worrying about how everything I put into my mouth will contribute to a good Christmas with everyone marvelling at how slim I am or another shitty one with someone calling me fat.
But the problem isn’t me or how much food I eat or don’t eat right? The intervention by my mother and aunts pleading with me to come home and forget about ‘her’ was misplaced, good intentioned but misplaced. I should not be the one who has to shield herself from the ugliness of the next person. I should not be the one asked to self correct and swallow and digest ugly words like they are tasteless. The intervention should have been directed at the body-shamer, a black woman, like myself, who used her words to hurt me. Words that have probably been used to hurt her. But I am sure no one spoke to her about her conduct, about her choice of words and tone. The soul responsibility of rehabilitating the situation was placed squarely on my shoulders, to develop a thick enough skin to not be affected. Which means the body-shamer gets to stay as they are. It’s just me who develops armor think enough to not be affected by her. But she gets to stay the same.
I don’t want to constantly criticize my body. I don’t want my self-image to revolve around food. But I want to be considered beautiful with a ‘beautiful’ body. So ironically, hypocritically, I somehow want to unlearn mainstream standards of beauty while still being considered beautiful by the mainstream?
There are many ways you have fucked me up patriarchy, but this one, this one fucking haunts me.
This post was first published on Amanda’s blog Autono|Me
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