Over the years, many of my relatives and friends at home in the USA ask me what I like about living in Africa. (*Most Americans are clueless about geography. Africa is one country in their minds with Wakanda as the capital city).
Therefore, I have given this issue a lot of thought. One of the nicest things about living in Africa is that my bubble butt is called an “African endowment” and my balloon belly is the same as everyone else’s. Negative body-conscious paranoia hasn’t yet taken over completely in Namibia, as it has in the USA.
Here in the motherland, being Junoesque or XXL is not a social life-ending or career-threatening problem. Few people here automatically assume heavier people are lazy, ugly, stupid, smelly or slovenly just because we don’t fit western images of sexy body sizes. The Caucasian-centred perspective of body beauty is defined as being starvation thin, having flat abs, and thin thighs. In Namibia, thankfully, the better body size is based on the natural attributes of African women who make up the majority of the population. I am liberated!
I find it pleasing to see women with after-birth bellies, boldly wearing clinging or crop tops. They wear flamboyant colours and prints and are not fussed about it. These unflinching sistas’ strut down the street, doin’ their thing. They reveal their muffin tops, bulging bellies and cavernous navels and couldn’t care less. Women in Namibia are free to think about more important things than body size.
Many women worry about finding food for their kids. Others fill their thoughts with ways to pay school fees. An astounding number of women helplessly watch as their unemployed/underemployed partners feel emasculated by poverty. They have little time or energy to worry about wearing a navy blue dress with a ‘slimming waistline’.
Women who are able to buy more clothing are free to buy a colour or style that they like. They don’t care about a fashion that ‘makes them look fat.’ They see a bright orange dress made of a thin polyester fabric that they want to wear. If they can zip into it, then they buy it. They are not very worried about their belly fat or jiggling bottoms.
I’ve written columns chastising women for wearing too-small blouses with straining buttons. I scoffed at women wearing tight bras that ooze cleavage and blue jeans that look like they have been painted on. But, I have changed my mind. Women need to be free to wear what they choose and celebrate who they are. If a particular clothing item suits your taste and makes you feel wonderful, wear it and enjoy life.
Feeling liberated, I have decided that my belly is what it is. I get out of the shower each morning and give Madam Tummy a nice rub-down with scented oils. Spending N$300 on a body shaping foundation to squeeze the blood out of my stomach, butt and thighs to make me look a few centimetres smaller, no longer sparks joy. So why do it?
My ‘living-with-weight’ experience is not universal. Some large-sized women suffer socially. Shallow men prefer women who look like Bonang and are unkind to all others. On the other hand, there are men who realize that beauty may be only skin deep. They know that a woman's dress size is not a measure of her value as a person, co-worker, supervisor, lover, life partner or best friend.
Let’s keep it real. The majority of Namibian men I have seen have bubble butts, balloon bellies, and floppy muscles! Vapid men who scorn naturally large women and obsessively desire those that are sveltely toned should make sure they too are that size. They should not be beer-bellied, untoned, kings of flab. Sexism and hypocrisy stink.
That said, the pressure on women to meet an unnatural body standard translates differently in Namibia than it does in the USA. That is just fine with me.