1.Bonka Fish (in Creole: Skinny woman whose features resemble that of a dry fish)
2. Duwawu ( In Hausa: A woman with big buttocks)
3. Duguwa ( In Hausa: “A tall skinny woman with no living particulars”)
4. Giwa ( In Hausa: an elephant)
5. Ta Ciko ( In Hausa: the woman has filled out)
6. Flat ( In Creole: Skinny, “chest-less” babe)
When you turn on the television in the West the face of a Skinny chick is what you see. However, most African men love, I mean love, Fat babes ( When African men use the word fat, they mean curvy and voluminous– big breasts and ass– like the shape of a soft drink bottle or an hour glass). Growing up in rural Middle Belt Nigeria, I frequently witnessed the execution of this unwritten constitution. Every man and woman was aware of its power. A woman was considered beautiful if she carried extra weight around the chest, and most importantly, her ass. The complexion should be very dark, the hair needed to be braided at least once a week, and let us not forget it is a must for her to know how to husband her husband’s home and those eight children she birthed from her ample hips.
As a young child, given this is the imagery that I was constantly reminded of, I fell in love with fat women. I remembered when some of my late yayah kaka’s (elder sister’s) friends were saluted by some men on the street with names such as Giwa (elephant- in Hausa) or “Complete” (meaning the babe got correct living particulars in the right places). As the African legend Fela Kuti puts, “ yansh is a wonderful thing.’ That is to say a woman’s big ass is a wonderful thing. I liked the way fat women attracted positive reception when they graced the sight of humankind, the respect they got whenever they exhale words in the midst of both sexes and the self-pride and self-worth that wrapped around their being. Hence, I was convinced that when I grow up I would be the ideal fat bush woman!
In my travels around the world, starting at the age of seven, I noticed and studied diverse ideas as per what represents a beautiful woman. In Liberia 1987-1988 and Sierra Leone 1993-1997 I noticed the glamorization of the large female body, so much so that she was placed amongst the goddesses who watch over us all. For example, I witnessed in Liberia and Sierra Leone Bodu Bush, a Female secret Society, when they would put on display for the community to watch girls turned women after months of confinement for nourishment of food and knowledge on becoming a woman. As the women paraded down the streets the leading figure for the procession is the mask goddess craved as a fat woman with layers, and layers of neck (anthropologist call this “cut neck”). The image of the fat goddess implies that the girls that now the entire society is blessed to gaze upon have become the ideal beauty that every young girl should aspire to become. Sylvia Boone, an art historian, explains my encounters beautifully when she states, “Beauty, prosperity, health, and fertility are explicitly linked to plumpness (gbogboto) most graphically in the mask image. The Opposite of plump is not thin but ‘dry’ connoting among other things a withered and barren uterus” (Radiance from the Waters, 57). The fat woman is not an ordinary being, she must be respected and looked up to in society, because she carries on her body the terminal where life passes through, but also the source of nourishment to supply her baby’s milk, husband’s nightly ecstasy treats and the beautiful painting that which is her lightens up days and years of mere fans.
The desire to have in one’s possession and to become a fat woman is spread across the African continent. We see even amongst African leaders such as president Jacob Zuma of South Africa, in his midst are three fat wives, and Nigerian former vice president Atiku Abubakar’s wife Amina Titi is a fat babe. This exigency for ladies to become fat fuels the popularity of fattening farms or houses. For example, the vital grooming process for girls to be married in Mauritania is by transforming a skinny girl into a fat woman. Sometimes girls would spend months at the fattening farm depending on how much weight they carried upon their arrival (seehttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3429903.stm ). Amongst the Igbos in Calabar, Nigerian girls spend up to six months in seclusion under constant watch of an expert who feeds them with food and massage their bodies in preparation for their future husbands. This practice goes back to nineteenth-century (see YouTube video titled, Fat Houses-Nigeria). I myself attempted to gain weight by eating more than my stomach could handle, especially when I was in Sierra Leone, I even went further by layering clothes as if I was set for winter season in London. I looked relatively fat and I tried my very best to keep the weight on, but I have high metabolism and I enjoy long distance running as stress reliever as a result I would lose the weight in a twinkle of an eye, sadly returning to my size 2.
It was shocking to me upon my arrival to America when I noticed how miserable most fat women viewed themselves. And the mainstream media didn’t seem to help the situation when popular magazines such as Vogue, People and Elle would grace most of their page with skinny, blue eye, blonde hair women. At fashion shows you see predominately a pool of starving, ill, pale sick looking ladies show-casing a million dollar dress. This media images of skinny women impacts the psyche of its viewers as a result they begin to associate them with high fashion, valuable women that needed to be treated with dignity.
On the side lines are fat women who are getting treated like left over dinner. It is ironic that mainstream American media seem all of a sudden interested in fat women’s narrative like that of the movie “Precious”. I mention “Precious” because when the movie came out, most viewers expressed remorse by how fat young girls get treated amongst their peers in American society, as if it is some new revelation. I read folks talking about how there is no room for fat women in mainstream media, and I thought that is exactly what Mo’Nique, the self-appointed spokesperson for “BIG” women ( BIG is a term many Americans use for Fat ) has been saying for years. Mo’Nique’s effort to empower herself and other fat or “BIG” women made her an icon, her Beauty pageant ‘Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance” music video appearances such as that of Anthony Hamilton’s “Sister Big Bone” ( see, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT21MqxOQtY), stand-up comedy, movie roles shows her commitment to promoting the fat community in America.
As Michel Foucault would say, those in power define what is and what is not. Using Foucault’s theory, in America the deciders say skinny is beautiful and fat is ugly. And to complicate matters, being fat and black makes life much more difficult as per how the society relates to you and how you see yourself in it. Fat black woman is now at war with three forces: racism, sexism and her body shape. That is why even Mo’Nique is on the move to lose weight claiming that it is for health reasons. We have folks like musician Missy Elliott, day time television personnel Ricki Lake, musician Jennifer Hudson, actress Queen Latifah, and musician, Kelly Osbourne who have succumbed to societal pressure to be skinny. (See Wonderwall, “Most Impressive Comeback Bodies”). This is not to suggest that I don’t support healthy living, besides that is one of the reasons why I chose to not bother myself anymore about gaining weight, but there are women who simply will never be a size 2; for that reason American society should be more accepting of fat women. However, because mainstream media is run by folks who promote mainly skinny white women, the propaganda has escalated overseas. Today African cities seem to desire skinny women, this is apparent when you watch mainstream African music videos, the local girls take extreme measures by bleaching their skin and their natural hair that they used to maintain with braids are replaced with wigs and weaves, in order to conform to the standards of the West.
This craving to assimilate into Western skinny woman culture is apparent in the lives of Africans in the diaspora. For example, if you look at their beauty contests, most of them promote the skinny, weave haired, blue contact lenses wearing women. I would suggest that, fat African women and fat babes generally can learn from skinny African women who have being under pressure to gain weight. Personally, I stopped making the effort to eat more than my stomach can handle. I learned to love myself. And I now feel appreciated because I associate myself with positive affirming people. Fat women who feel out of place in America should find themselves a community of friends and family members who would love them for being themselves. I can testify that whenever I am home and in the midst of fat women, I hardly feel out of place any more. And my mother always reminded me that, just because I am petite, doesn’t necessary mean I can’t achieve big things.
My fat sisters, just because someone said you aren’t good enough doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. If your present crew is the sort that talks around you, perhaps it is time that you widen your social pool, allowing outsiders into the inner cycle or try to insert yourself into one, this would help you even meet potential lifelong partners who appreciate fat women. Know that there are black men who love them some fat babes. And please remember my sister your weight is not all that defines you as a human being, you were made to love and be loved.
Please note: Pictures are property of google/ book those of Sande society , Miss. Africa in America, vogue, Monique’s pageant and the first photo is from bbc Africa/Ivory Coast.
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