I walked into a cafe a couple of weeks ago and a familiar looking elderly lady did not take her eyes off me. She said, with so much confidence,
“This must be a Karunwi".
I smiled and asked
“Why do you say so, Ma?”.
I was shocked, but mostly curious.
“Your stature. You have the Karunwi stature. The broad shoulders, the *hand gestures to signify curves*. The way you carry yourself. Yes, you’re a Karunwi”.
The conversation went into explanations of how I’m ‘omo (child in Yoruba) Bayo’ but it was her statement about my stature that stuck with me. She had said it matter-of-factly because it is just that - a fact.
It was not an opinion, a compliment or an insult. It was just a fact about who I am.
It left me beaming with pride.
Any woman who’s grown up or spent some time in Nigeria knows that weight is a major and grossly unsolicited topic of discussion. I’m assuming it’s a similar situation in other countries in Africa.
As soon as you walk into a room of people who haven’t seen you in a while (usually women of the older generation) it’s either
‘Are you not eating? You’ve lost weight o.’
‘Watch it o, you’re gaining. You’re so fat now!’.
Around the same time I had the lovely encounter at the cafe, I had a complete stranger, a man, say to me:
“Congratulations! For someone who is *hands extended by his sides to signify being big* your tummy is very flat. Well done.”
In that moment, there was so much shock that I could not respond to this man. Seconds later, other emotions began to flood in. Embarrassment, insecurity and ultimately, annoyance/irritation. Physically, I was on my way home but emotionally, I was ready to make a U-turn and give him a piece of my mind. I didn't act on the emotions-there's too much traffic in Lagos to be making dramatic movie-scene U-turns. My logic knew that wouldn't change anything. Even if I attempted to explain to him that my body is absolutely none of his business and the fact that he was so comfortable passing a comment on a female stranger's body shows how disgustingly entitled he is, there would be no point.
He wouldn't understand because he wouldn't want to.
It's not okay, whether by a man or a women, to reduce a woman to discussions centred on her body, especially because she did not ask for advice or opinions. It's not okay to reduce anyone to such mindless and one-dimensional discussions. Majority of these discussions are rooted in comparison; of oneself to their old self. Of one to their siblings, friends, mothers. Women are not size fits all. We are dynamic and diverse.
Why can't discussions be on our well-beings and our achievements?
However, I've come to learn that we cannot expect people to treat us how we would treat them. We can only control our reactions.
Recently, I travelled to Port-Harcourt for my dear late Grandma's funeral. I walked into a room and saw an Aunt I hadn't seen in a year. I went to give her an excited hug. She said to me, in a room filled with family and strangers,
'each time I see you, you are getting bigger and bigger'
and she didn't mean in it an 'aw, you're growing way'.
Her eyes told us all that she meant it in a 'you're gaining weight' way.
Usually, I would will my face's muscles into a pained and forced smile, ignore the comment and change the subject to the well-being of the children of whoever I was speaking with.
That particular day, I was on my period.
My hormones we're having it.
There was a monster clawing through my uterus.
I wasn't in the mood.
I confidently retorted, in what probably came out in a slightly annoyed tone
'and I look great, don't I?!'.
This destabilised the negative conversation; she stammered a sheepish yes.
It's tough to find the balance between respect and not accepting rubbish, but we try.
Over the past year, I have put on weight.
I am at the heaviest I've ever been and I am also the kindest I have ever been to my body.
I have found a new sense of confidence and acceptance for myself which I'm exploring daily.
I realised that New York was the first place I never experienced judgement and snide comments about my weight. It was the contrary; full figured women were celebrated.
I learned how to celebrate my body and carry with me that sense of owning it. These experiences have brought me a new found confidence; it's one that I work on and protect.
I nicknamed myself ThiccRina on a random night in Brooklyn because I chose to celebrate the beauty of my body right now. Not when I reach some society-imposed summer body. I’m celebrating the beauty in body diversity. The beauty in my curvier hips, fuller waist, jigglier arms and bigger boobs. I refuse to get into the unhealthy cycle I've found myself in at so many points of my life already.
gain weight --- self-loathe --- go on some diet --- lose some weight --- struggle to maintain it --- struggle to resist temptation to fall back into my previous eating disorder --- relax on diet --- gain weight --- repeat.
Don't get me wrong, there are days where I'm not comfortable at this weight.
There are days when I look at old photos of myself and fall into a rut, wondering how I did gain weight.
There are days when I see the number on the scale and I am insecure and just don't feel attractive.
And all this is perfectly okay; because we are human.
We are human so there are also days when I look at myself and see a beautiful, feminine, full woman and I can't stop staring.
There are days when I get dressed and think 'damn, Kari' (I talk aloud to myself, it's weird but it's great)
I hold on to those days because I know that whether I do lose weight or not, I love loving myself.
I love building myself up and training myself to only seek and accept validation from myself.
I am enjoying training my eyes to look into the mirror to see the positives.
I am learning to thank my body for being able, functional and healthy.
I am enjoying observing as I develop thicker skin because at any size, people will always talk.
I am learning that confidence is everything.
Many women are refusing to subscribe to the cycle of striving to a goal weight and I love it. I'm here for it. As women, our bodies are going to change a lot over the course of our lives. As long as we’re comfortable with & taking care of the bodies we’re in, they’re perfect.
I am coming to love and learning to dress these broad shoulders, my height and my stature that I had silently resented because I was always one of the 'tall girls' in a class, room and groups of friends.
Standing at 5'8, people have always and still refer to me as 'big'.
This has always made me want to shrink and wish I was petite, dainty, unnoticeable.
However, that day at the cafe, the elderly lady's words encouraged me to sit up even straighter; to take up even more space.
Her words reminded me that my features and stature go far beyond me.
I am a part of a beautiful family of women who have unabashedly taken up space for years.
Why would I want to shrink those years of family history and culture?
Photography: Deji Adejuyigbe
Creative Production: ItsPhugo