‘Chai! See your cheeks!’
‘Ahn-ahn, you have added o!’
‘This girl, you too dey chop!’
Africans, or let me say Nigerians because I don’t want to generalize too much, have become just as judgmental about body size as, well, foreigners.
It’s a result of the whole urban revolution, I guess, all of us being swept up in the need to not be a third-world country. So we mimic, mimic, mimic.
Apparently, and this was probably before I was born, Nigerians used to value a little meat on the bones. Not to the point of obesity, which is clearly unhealthy, but a little plumpness was valued. It used to show that you were enjoying your life, in good health, being prosperous. Skinniness was a sign of some misfortune, maybe fasting because of mourning, or anxiety. ‘You’ve lost weight’ was accompanied by a frown and a look of worry. But now, the same way ‘foreigners’ say ‘oh, thank you’, because it’s a compliment after all, we find ourselves smiling when people say ‘you’re so much slimmer’. ‘You’ve added weight’ will now make you feel embarrassed and want to provide an excuse for why this awful thing called fat has happened to you. You’re chubby means you’re lazy, it means you don’t have self-control, it means you should get a hold of yourself.
My dad is always saying I should watch what I eat so I don’t ‘lose my shape’, or no one will want to marry me. And if I ever even date someone who demands that I can’t put on any weight, I will have disappointed myself most of all. Now in Nigeria, for women, you’re only allowed to have fat in your ass, because that’s what shows you’re African. Ye ‘strong black women’, go to the gym and do a million squats a day please, even though it isn’t for your benefit, its for the guys. So you may be called a ‘bad bitch’, or I guess a nigerian guy will want to marry? No woman actually wakes up in the morning in need of a big ass if not to impress men with.
But mind you, that ass better not give you the illusion of bigness or else you’re right back where you started.
You could say however, that as we are becoming more educated, we are becoming more aware of the need to stay tight and fit. Even though I’ve never seen someone with a roll of fat here and there die of a heart problem. And let’s face it, this isn’t about health, it’s about needing not to be scorned or mocked for that extra pound or two. About needing to also wear those crop tops and booty shorts and dresses with the pelvis-high slits. So we’re all throwing out the chocolate and ice cream, and more importantly the pounded yam, garri, egusi, and our many, many rices, and embracing the green smoothies and baked chicken with greens and no salt. Walking around with water bottles all the time as if we are just now realizing that wow, it’s hot around here.
But don’t think if you’re proper skinny, you’ve gotten away. Because in that case, you don’t have a ‘woman’ body. If you have a flat chest or ass, your body is almost laughable because you’re too ‘lepa’, you don’t have an African enough body. So the ideal is an hourglass figure, what women slave in the gym doing waist exercises for. As if your body shape isn’t already pre-determined and everyone should just learn to deal with it.