I don’t remember ever not being skinny. I have too many disappointing memories of my younger self looking down into that extra space between the waistband of my trousers and my waistline. Then I would slowly look back up at the expectant and excited faces of my mother and aunt, and watch their expressions morph into disappointed stares. I felt like I’d let them down again with my inability to add some weight. Once again, I’d have to resign to having the cloth resized, just like all my other clothes that are adjusted at the seams.
My teenage years were such a tumultuous period filled with tears behind the smiles, emotional bullying from just about anyone, self-berating, a harsh, constant telling that I was nothing like the other girls and just a sprinkle of sass I managed to pick up along the way for self-defense.
It didn’t help that the narrative of a black woman, African or not, often included the stereotypical visualization of a woman with thighs as thick as thieves and a lot of curves to boot. To a lot of people, the African woman is the perfect picture of full hips and waist beads. It isn’t really out there that black women are made in mini and skinny sizes too, and I often wonder who created this singular narrative of the thick African woman. In my opinion, the media is a major culprit, with its toxic introduction of unrealistic stereotypes in the name of ‘trend’ into society. Imagine having to live with the thought that you look like a lie, since apparently, African women aren’t ever skinny.
It is harder when you are in a clique of girls who rolled with the ‘Big guys’ in school. One would think I was lucky to be ‘up there’ even with my skinniness, but it only made me an easy target because apparently, only I had the ‘flaws’ thing that was bad amongst them. The anxiety-inducing fact that you only need to get picked on just a little, and you’ll crumble into an emotional mess for days or even weeks, was a disheartening fact to wake up to each day.
It was quite the mental challenge to remain around my friends when they talked about bras, especially when I was the subject of the discussion. Apparently, it was a curious thing that mine was the smallest cup size of the lot, and I either laughed the comments off awkwardly, shrugged or remained silent, when what I really wanted to do was tell them to shut up and let me be.
I was spiralling down into a dark place too fast, and the fact that I wasn’t aware of it is even scarier now that I think of it. I was closing up and ducking my head everywhere I went, so that no one would notice me long enough to tell me hurtful things. I was also dressing so dowdy, even I had to agree I had the fashion sense of an llama.
It wasn’t until my late teens and early adult years that I started to see things from a different perspective. And it really helped that I had a prompting towards finding God at that point in my life, because I couldn’t have realized what I had become anyway else. I was an intrinsically bitter, reclusive, somewhat confused and still skinny almost-woman.
On one of those long, sunny days that preceded my admission into the University, I had something of an encounter. Before this time, I knew something was wrong with me, but I couldn’t place my finger on what it was. I was lounging lazily on my bed that day, when suddenly, I started having these alien thoughts about getting up to fix it before it became too late. It was a prompt that came with a sense of urgency and a feeling that I would know what to do once I was ready to make a change. Those thoughts? That can only be God.
The first thing I had to fix was what I perceived as my identity. Who I am shouldn’t be defined by my bra cup size, what the tape measure says about my waistline, how many feet off the ground I am and most importantly, never what people say or think about these things. All these are just fractions of a person and not the whole definition. And when you look at it, there’s really nothing wrong with these features; you shouldn’t have to look like each passing trend to be human.
I had to shed the bitterness too. Yes, people hurt me and I need to protect myself from that, but I was doing a great injustice to myself. I thought it would be hard to learn to be a happy person again, but it wasn’t at all. I only needed to be me, and joy trickled out of me until it burst into a dam.
I also had to do away with shame. It inevitably enshrouded me during those trying times. When you are constantly told that you aren’t good enough, being ashamed of yourself is a likely result. It doesn’t just stop there; it invades other areas of your life, making you ashamed of things that you shouldn’t be the least bit embarrassed about, and making you close-mouthed in the process.
In doing away with it, I had to learn to talk too. I told people when they said things to me that I didn’t like or appreciate. I offered my opinions respectfully. I shared with the people I loved and listened to them too. I think people find it shocking when you are honest with them about how they’ve hurt you, and they almost always act accordingly in response. Besides, it is such a liberating feeling to let things go and not pile them up till they hurt for a change.
Lastly, I had to learn to respect other people too. It’s not an easy thing to do, as no one is perfect, but it’s worth the try. Everyone, whether you share their beliefs and views or not, deserves basic dignity. You don’t have to like anyone to respect them. Besides, we are called to do unto others what we would like them to do to us. Surely, nobody wants to be disrespected.
These days, I like to define myself in better ways, like who God says I am and who He has called me to be. It has been so much better. I’ve learnt to focus on my innate qualities, sharpening and making them more pronounced, and being happy at my results. I’ve also learnt to derive joy from both the little and the big wins; and not to dwell on negative thoughts for too long. I see my body in a new light now; as only a part of the whole me that deserves respect and appreciation from everyone but first from myself. And oh, you should see my legs; they are super cute and look like they go on forever!
What I feel now is not a mere acceptance of who I am; it is a sheer delight in every inch that is me. And if you still want to know if skinny, black and woman mix well, you only have to take a good look at me. You’re welcome.
Chimdiogo Nsude is a Nigerian writer who loves God, crime thrillers and the letter ‘J’. When she isn’t being a student, she also likes to research African history.