A perfect body, everywhere, all the time, stories from Ivory Coast and France

A story from Ivory Coast

What is a perfect body?

Out of curiosity I asked people : « what is a perfect body according to you ? », and here are the answers:
– It is a figure first. It must be aesthetic, that is to say with correct proportions (size, weight, measurements), for example: 1m68 or 1m70, thin, well-shaped legs, average and firm breasts with an imposing presence …
– Being tall, thin, beautiful, with the right shapes (in the shape of an 8)…
– Having curves where it is wanted, looking smart in any clothes you wear…
– Having a flat stomach, looking smart in anything you are wearing and having a lovely complexion..

Why do we give so much importance to physical appearance? How can we be so prejudiced just by physical appearance?

I do not have the answer but I know that we do not make the effort to get to know other people any more, we judge them only by their physical appearance or the way they dress.

Here is my story…

I am of yacouba origin, it is an ethnic group of the western part of the Ivory Coast and I come from a Muslim family. Since I was a little girl I grew up in environments where appearance, physical appearance plays a prominent part (and I am choosing my words). Indeed, where I come from, either you have to be slender enough, to have a flat stomach (or well hidden), a perfect complexion, or you need to have astounding curves with prominent buttocks and of course you need a look that pops, otherwise you go unnoticed.

From my preadolescence to my adolescence years (12 in 18 years old), I was ashamed of myself, I was given nicknames like asparagus, giraffe, electric pole. The most glorious nicknames I got were olympic size or golden waist because where I lived girls with curves were QUEENS!!

On each of my moves, whether I was going to the market or to the shop, I endured taunts, teasing or hurtful remarks even offensive ones. I laughed about this but deep inside it was all the opposite.

Then I moved, I was sad to leave ‘mine’ but at the same time I was happy to see other things, to know other people but above all to stop being mocked.
And my prayers were granted. Not only did I like the area but slender girls were QUEENS there!
It coincided with the coming of a new fashion, legging pants which refined the shape, and it was a time of glory for me. But it was short-lived.

I became a mother, a step which makes you understand the very meaning of life. I got pregnant, I gave birth to a beautiful small boy. I put on weight and people did not like it. I could hear comments of hypocritical neighbours, relatives, friends and even my partner: « you got fat!! Look at your stomach! You eat too much!! Look at your friends they are still thin unlike you ». Or sometimes it was comparisons like: « here is Beyoncé after having twins!! Look at white women. Go and exercise ». They were forgetting that I was taking care of the house, I went to work, even if we had a housemaid she could not do everything…

I was exhausted, tired, furious that I always wanted to be like the others wanted me to be without taking the trouble to check if it suited me or if I felt comfortable or not, I made the decision to live FOR ME. Enjoying myself and liking myself became now my priority .

It is true I have put on weight and I accept it. Whether it is part of my genes or not I am not a thin girl any more, I gave birth, and even if it was not the case why I should live according to other people? Do they live for me? I don’t think so.

Over time, I have learnt that it is necessary to trust and accept yourself, not to envy anyone, to like yourself before trying to please others no matter who this person is. What matters most is to feel at ease, to feel good but especially to have self-esteem and to trust yourself.

A story from France

I am a 27 VERY proud Afrofrench and afrofeminist woman. I grew up, and currently live in France. I went to a catholic school. Although I believe in God I don’t recognize myself in any organized religion. I am a bit of a nerd, I am definitely a music head, love pop culture and I have consumed way too much TV shows in my short existence.

 

I love dancing. I took ballet classes for about ten years. I think dancing is one of the only spaces in which I feel comfortable enough to express myself fully. Where I genuinely feel confident enough to express my body the way I like. In this space, I don’t care if my dancing is too provocative, too lively, too noticeable or weird…I will transform into a rapper to spit all of Bodak Yellow, twerk on Rake it up, lypsinc Cece Penninston or slow motion to SZA.

In other spaces, my relationship with my body is much more complex. Like many women I have been bombarded by television, adds, fashion magazines, social media messages of what my body should look like. Make it skinny. Make it sexy (but not too sexy or you will be labeled as a “slut”). Make small because it cannot appear threatening or different. Make it delicate because that is how you will attract a man and that is all we should aspire to, right?

From the time I became conscious of my body, we embarked on a battle. I started watching my weight and hating any part of my body that made me stand out. I particularly hated that butt that I thought was too big. I vividly remember being thirteen and not understanding why the guys in my class pointed at it while laughing. That is around the time I started to cover it, with shirts tied around my hips or long jackets, hiding that behind that screamed a femininity I was not ready to claim. To this day I sometimes have the hardest time thinking as myself as attractive and understand why someone would want me when they could have someone who fits society beauty standards. I also go as far as thinking that maybe I am being objectified, here to satisfy someone else’s phantasm?

What triggered my path to self acceptance is quite ironic. When the Kardashians started to become popular and praised for their body, something shifted inside of me, rebelled. I was furious that a society who had told me all my life that I had to make my body invisible was now celebrating what I was so desperately trying to hide. Why glorify them? Because big ass, big lips and big breasts are accepted…If they are on white bodies? I progressively started to fight my insecurities.

« Yes, thank you I will wear those high wasted jeans and a body to go out », « actually this revealing dress looks very good on me so it will go in my cart. Boop! »

Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that I am healed from all my shadow parts, that sometimes when I walk down the street or jump in the metro I don’t have this irrational fear that everybody is actually staring at me because they are all thinking, seeing that my body is too big, too different. All that my mind has absorbed, both what I chose to ingest as well as everything I unconsciously believed is not gone. There are some days when I still struggle. However every day I wake up determined to fight it all because I simply refuse to let my mind bully my body.

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