Sometimes, you think you are free. That your mind is free. You think you’ve outgrown trauma from childhood, that you are better, that you know better. You think you have walked away from the shackles of your adolescence, from when your almost-boyfriend in secondary school left you for a thicker girl and everyone in your class knew. You think you’re better because you affirm every day that all bodies are good bodies. You wake up, walk in front of the mirror and look at yourself. You know your first thought is you could be curvier, your hips wider, your waist smaller. Yet, you quickly reaffirm what you think you know now, what you think you feel. But what you feel and know are two very different things. They are almost night and day.
I come from a diverse-looking family. Here, the round uncles, the huge in-laws, the dark-skinned family friends, and the albinos live in disregard for each other. My mother, a perfect hourglass-shaped woman, is one of the most beautiful people I know. But she is not blameless. Her hips and her words remind me almost every day of this.
Where 9-year-old me could have used a “your body is fine, don’t worry”, she got a “wear this bum short under your dress so it looks like you have more bumbum, more flesh.”
“Ne zie ka i di ka bonga fish” jokingly uttered a couple of times, but still hurtful.
And so when I sat in church, wearing my oversized satin dresses from Turkey and my velvety berets, it was with caution as the band of my baggy jean bum shorts pressed into my skin. I knew there was no point; everyone could tell I was wearing something underneath, the way you can tell when your coworker or the random babe on your street is ‘wearing nyash.’ But I had to wear it.
Where 15-year-old me could have used an “I’m sorry he made you feel this way”, she got a “he left you because you have no shape.” Kids can be cruel.
I’m now 20, almost 21. My hips are round, my waist gets tinier by the day. I can wear a crop top without shame, and in pink or flowery dresses, I look like a dream. I know I’m beautiful, hot too, but there are dresses I can’t wear, won’t wear. Skirts and bodycon gowns I dare not dream of. Offshoulder tops that bring too much attention to my collarbones. Collarbones I know are stunning, but I just won’t.
Old insecurities have grown into newer, more powerful, and yet meaningless constraints. Where my butt was the butt of the joke, the length of my back now keeps me up at night. Where my thin arms made me cry, my knuckles and eye area — which, mind you, have been darker my whole life — make me insecure. How pronounced my shoulder blades are is now a problem, how inverted my nipples are stunt intimacy. Contextually significant insecurities have given way to more minor, unnoticeable insecurities but they are just as powerful.
My bum is no longer flat, yet why do I obsess over how it is two or three shades darker than the rest of me? I’ve outgrown childhood trauma but I see it every time I buy a popular dress on Instagram and I hesitate to wear it because someone curvier, shape-lier, or prettier has worn it. It affects the way I see other women too. I catch myself wanting to be you if your hips are wider than your shoulders (way too much Twitter). And I find an odd sense of kinship in the women whose shoulders refused to come second to their hips.
I know I’m beautiful, that my wide-set breasts and tiny waist are the stuff of dreams. I know my skin glows, everywhere. I know my faint freckles and moles are the last few splatterings of goodness from a God I do not believe in. I know my nose is strong like my father’s, in the way that commands attention. Gozie tells me that my omalicha no dey this world. Tochi tells me my onlyfans would bang (pun not intended) and Dani always confirms that I am God’s Masterpiece.
But what I feel is different. And sometimes when I catch myself in doubt, I ask: Will I ever love this body the way I know I should? Will my butt ever be big enough?