I am Beautiful : Fat Thighs, Flabby Arms and A Pot Belly

Posted March 13, 2009 from Canada


The tabloids and media today are swarmed with the images of celebrities either spotting the ideal bodies or those who need to work on their physical images to look the expected and accepted way (slim). Gyms and health spas today are a common sight as they are springing up in all corners of urban centres with imported diet tablets, herbal diet teas and other “healthy” meals and snacks which would help achieve this ideal image infesting our markets in the last decade. It is interesting to know that the modes of usage on some of these imported drugs are not even written in English! Not left out too are the traditional African herbal mixtures which also aid with weight loss.

It would be easy for one to assume that the concept of the beautiful African woman began with the younger and more “expressive” or “enlightened” generation that is gradually being blindfolded by ideals that are not ours. Yet, a deeper look by the more inquisitive mind however, would reveal that, which really was beautiful and ideal before the infiltration of our thoughts by western ideas, ideals and the rephrasing of terms for the beautifully voluptuous with words like “flabby, fat and etcetera.”

If the stick thin shadow of a woman of today, was ideal and appealing to the African man; why in the early days did the African man who was either a farmer, hunter or warrior look forward to coming home after a hard day to the warmth of his wife’s body? How do we explain the description of beautiful women in African literature? How also do we explain the undeniable high level of sexual energy generated by some of our very vigorous and sensual dance movements passed through generations and still in existence today? Or the waist beads that adorned the thick waists of some of the maidens of old, our mothers, grandmothers and even some of our women today or voluptuous bodies once referred to as birthing bodies? Or even some of our present day popular hip up lyrics which says “shake what your mama gave you”?

Dance and Mate Selection……

The Makosa dance which originated from Cameroon, that has been made popular by our new generation musicians and the Mapouka dance, which to the closed minded is a vulgarization of the Makosa dance are very good examples of these sensual dances for the beautiful voluptuous African woman . It involves the movement of well rounded thighs and buttocks sensually which in later years men too have also adapted their way of dancing to the same rhythm. Interestingly, these dances are neither a recent development nor discovery. In some African cultures it was used as a practical means of mate selection for young men and women of the community and marriages built on such choices were believed to last the couples entire life time without any need for divorce! It is unfortunate that some of these dances in recent times are being judged by western or so called “moral” standards as being vulgar and indecent without much thought to the cultural relevance or reverence of the dance it self.

Our Waist Beads and Body Shape…..

Another phenomenon are waist beads. Why waist beads? These beads, traditionally worn by African women mostly around their waists (under clothes these days) and on the wrists or ankles in other cases have several meanings. The ones worn on the waists was held in place by the buttocks with its uses, ranging from enticing your husband, rites of passage, to healing and rejuvenation. Traditionally they were constructed in the “fattening houses” used as initiation lodges for young girls in the Old Kongo Empire. They were a symbol of the beginning of a young girl’s reproductive cycle and this was a rite of passage to the mysteries of womanhood. It was also a time of learning from the older women who linked the physical mystery of these beads to menses, courtship, sex and childbearing .

Since the art of self adornment has been practiced in Africa since the beginning of time, in Egypt, waist beads were uniforms for teenage girls ignoring any sexual nuance and they were called girdles. In Ghana, women believed that these beads helped achieve the hour glass figure and sexually stimulate their men just as some Islamic cultures allowed women wear these beads under their clothes also for a husband’s pleasure. In other parts of West Africa, women went as far as dipping their beads in scented oil or made them from fragrant material like sandalwood and wore them with tiny bells around their waist so that they jingled as they walked by. This signaled to the man that they were clean and ready. These days it is interesting to know that the waist beads of old are once again becoming more visible especially amongst the youth as our jeans are getting lower and lower and people are showing more skin . The fit of these beads around the waist, is also used as a means of maintaining women’s body weight and figure, especially after childbirth, which simply shows that they were health and beauty conscious despite their large frames.

Birthing Bodies and Comfort For The Unborn….

The effect of dance and waist beads cannot be achieved without voluptuous bodies. This is not to say that slim women do not partake in the Makosa dance nor wear waist beads. Of course they do, but before the rave of the western ideal of what a beautiful woman (slim) should look like, flesh was in. This explains the Makosa mate selection dance which by a girl’s movement (shaking her ample bum, hips, belly or bosom) one could tell how good a wife she would be, also the fattening houses where young (skinny) girls were taken and taught about the intricacies of marriage (preparing their bodies for babies) and most importantly, pleasing their husbands and finally the waist beads. Since beads were mainly worn around the waist, women would require either a belly or a bum or both to hold these beads in place. A woman was also supposed to be not just a wife, mother and lover to her husband, she was also literarily supposed to provide warmth. This explained why men preferred women with “something” they could hold on to and why young wives to be were taken to fattening huts to prepare their bodies for the ability to provide a cushion effect (comfortable) for the unborn.

Celebrating Curves and Loving me…..

I sometimes find it interesting that some men still appreciate the well rounded built for comfort type of woman and not surprised at the image conscious ones, who still believe that people should either look or strive to look a certain way (slim) to be termed as beautiful and healthy. What then happens to those born with big frames who just can not be thin? Just the other day I was listening to the lyrics of the song “pot belly” by the South African Group known as Freshly Ground. The title of the song first caught my attention and I wondered what anyone would have to say about a pot belly and when I listened to it , I couldn’t help appreciating and smiling at the chorus which says , “Fat thighs , flabby arms and a pot belly still gives good loving….” . The truth is, I do not need to be thin or a shadow of myself for the society to accept me as healthy or beautiful. In the midst of all this hogwash of what is and what the society thinks should be, it is important to note that we are beautiful just the way we are and that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder with a big heart and mind. I’ll just stand here confident, strong and healthy and celebrate my curves for I know I am beautiful.

Comments 2

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  • mrbeckbeck
    Mar 24, 2009
    Mar 24, 2009

    Ooluss, your writing is wonderful to read! Thank you so much for sharing your voice with the community here.

    You start this piece with a wonderful question: Why should women feel they have to "look" a certain way to feel beautiful, be loved or accepted by society? My answer is short and sweet: "They should not have to feel that way!" You express this feeling much more beautifully in your conclusion:

    "The truth is, I do not need to be thin or a shadow of myself for the society to accept me as healthy or beautiful. In the midst of all this hogwash of what is and what the society thinks should be, it is important to note that we are beautiful just the way we are and that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder with a big heart and mind. I’ll just stand here confident, strong and healthy and celebrate my curves for I know I am beautiful."

    That confidence you speak from is what is truly beautiful. Knowing who you are and being at peace with that is what is really important, not living up to some manufactured ideal! Men and women are everywhere confronted with images of an ideal body that has been created. In different times and in different places, this ideal changes. It is a strange thing once we start to notice it. That is the challenge, to see these images as only one of many kinds of normal instead of the one and only "norm." I am eager for the day when we celebrate the amazing diversity of life, rather than try to eliminate or reduce difference. I think we can agree that it will be a beautiful day, and we are already on our way.

    I hope that your bold voice reaches many women and girls around this world, and inspires them to be happy with their bodies as they are. I especially like how you weave together the strands of history, pop culture, personal experience, and a vision for a brighter future. It is very engaging to read and hope to hear more from you.

    Mar 28, 2009
    Mar 28, 2009

    thanks Beck,

    I must say a very Big Amen to your kind wishes.