Two in One

I’ve had another busy run recently so I am glad to finally get the chance to sit down again and put my thoughts down.  I read this article and decided to use it as a starting point for addressing some issues  about women’s bodies that have been on my mind. 

 Dressing to be Invisible

Here’s a little excerpt from the linked article.

“I never thought I would have trouble buying flattering clothes once my waist was restored. But two-and-a-half years after my daughter was born, I struggled to find tailored dresses in a sea of baby dolls, goddesses, empire waists, and wide A-lines. Why must it be so difficult to locate dresses cut for women neither childish nor with child?”

Unlike the author, I really like baby doll dresses. We are in different stages of life so perhaps the difference in opinions is not that surprising. What I find interesting is that I like non-structured dresses which she views as infantilising for precisely the reason she dislikes them. Very simply, it can be tiresome dealing with the attention that comes with wearing a form-fitting dress that highlights (or creates the illusion of) hour-glass curves aka figure 8. There are definitely times when you want a dress that makes the best of your figure – for instance a birthday celebration,  a date, a night out with your girl friends etc. On those occasions the attention is fine, maybe even expected. However, when you’re just trying to go about your daily life, that’s not necessarily the kind of thing you want to deal with constantly. There seems to be something about this particular figure that is associated with ‘being sexy/up for it’  which is not the image you want to project especially in a professional setting because sexy women are not taken seriously.  To be very clear, I am not talking about skimpy clothing, showing a ton of cleavage or dressing as if Amber Rose is your style icon. See the linked picture of Beyonce to get an idea of what i mean.

It is for this reason that non-structured clothes are indispensable in my opinion. They achieve the same effect of looking nice and making you feel great without the extra that can come with fitted dresses. In other words, they are useful for making you invisible (or maybe just a little less visible) and sometimes that’s just what a girl wants.   

 

The Body Police

It’s been disturbing for me to realise the extent to which bodies of females are under scrutiny. There are so many enforcers of the various ideals that we should supposedly be aspiring to that it’s a wonder any woman manages to have a healthy self-image. Perhaps most of us don’t. The scrutiny extends to so many aspects of life: I’m talking about weight, hair, appearance, food and diet, the way you laugh, the tone of voice you speak in and so on.   I remember reading a novel a long time ago in which the mother told her daughter that women should always leave the table a little hungry. She was basically portraying a lifetime of self deprivation as the lot of a woman.

You are supposed to have a ‘sexy’ figure which means amazing curves if you’re Nigerian/African or being suitably skinny if you’re white yet the range of what is acceptable is ridiculously narrow. To start with, ‘you’re so skinny’ is a compliment. But, and this is critical, you mustn’t be too skinny otherwise everybody thinks you have an eating disorder and is ready with tips on gaining weight for you. Of course, you can’t carry a few extra pounds either or you’d never hear the end of comments on how you should be dieting and should lay off pies/dessert/ whatever. And if you happen to be significantly overweight, then you’re practically fair game for every lay theorist on obesity in town.

People are comfortable analysing women’s bodies they way they would a lab rat.  Often, other women are the source of the most vicious comments.   Maybe some even consider themselves to be fulfilling their duty or performing a public service when they do this. It is so common that many girls/women don’t realise how odd this is so instead of questioning the motives of the enforcer, they join in bashing themselves. I have stopped reading blog posts about female Nigerian celebrities because I get so upset at the comments that follow. In one such post, the only thing a commenter deemed fit to say was ‘why are they all so fat’?  I had to take a second look at those photos  because I didn’t remember seeing fat women. What I saw was a group of actresses seemingly having a good time while working on a project so the comment made me wonder what exactly this person had in mind.  

Why this behaviour is normal is a mystery to me since I hardly ever observe randomers approaching guys to poke their pot bellies and comment on how it’s grown larger since the last time they met.  It is equally rare for me to see grown men being physically accosted over the clothing they wear whereas many people (and I am referring specifically to Nigerians here) don’t see anything wrong in ‘helping’ a girl pull up her top to properly cover her chest without her permission, regardless of whether it was actually revealing cleavage or not. There is a scene from the movie ‘Osuofia in London’ that I think illustrates this point very well.  While Osuofia is wandering around London after having left his limo driver behind, he comes across a teenage girl sitting open-legged with her friends. He goes up to push her legs closed and is offended that she insults him when he is just trying to help her. It is a great comedic moment in the movie but in the hilarity, I missed an important point which only dawned on me recently. 

I don’t think that this is a step he would have felt at liberty to take if the teenager had been a guy yet he felt perfectly within his right doing that to the girl and so was shocked when she challenged him for it.

Another area everybody feels free to chime in on is hair. I do think that there are benefits to be had from all the discussions on natural/relaxed/curly/straight/extension free (and whatever else) hair. However, I also feel that a lot of the debate is another way of policing the boundaries of what a woman and particularly a ‘true’ African woman should look like.

I am not claiming that men do not face disapproval for their sartorial choices or physical appearance. The difference to me is that people generally seem to respect the male form enough to refrain from  taking it upon themselves to change it. This is unfortunately, a level of respect that women are apparently not worthy of.  

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2 responses to “Two in One

  1. Years ago, I stumbled across a blog by a guy berating a female nigerian politician for being fat and ugly.
    I had to laugh real hard cos he was the male version of what he was berating her for.

    I have a figure, I used to hide it as a kid, cos the unwanted attention was too much, helped by the fact that I was a tomboy and into grunge the look was fine with me, however it wasn’t fine with my friends who thought I was ‘wasting my figure’

    I hung out with a Naija chick once who used to say to me ‘please dress cute’ ‘or please put some make up on’ then I hung out with a white chick who wanted me to grow my afro like Michael Jackson in the 70’s. no lie! She was offended that I wouldn’t do it for her and it actually cost our friendship. Yep we fell out over my hair.

    There’s this sense of ownership that people seem to feel over women’s bodies, living where I do, I never thought I’d say this but it’s worse than in Naija.

    Over here, it’s your hair, your attitude, your outlook, your body, your intelligence, your decorum everything.
    If the men aren’t trying to animalise you as some sexual freak, the women are trying to make you into their personal pet accessory. They want you to be their cute/alternative black friend, the one who looks like lauryn hill or beyonce, who can dance who should teach them how to shake ass and what not.

    • I find it funny that the guys who are so demanding of women’s looks are often not works of art themselves. The words pot, kettle and black come to mind.

      I don’t believe your ‘friend’s’ request. A sense of ownership is exactly the way to describe this behaviour. Otherwise, why on earth would she feel offended about what you do to your own hair? I guess in her mind, the Naija chick was being helpful. There was a time when i might have said something similar because that’s what i was used to. I was never too fussy about hair (i’m still not) but i used to get told by friends about doing my hair and nails etc. I’m glad to have grown up a bit.

      I think there’s racial stuff that plays into what you noted in the last part of your comment. It is exhausting dealing with people like that. As if the whole point of your life is to help them feel cool .

      Thanks for this great comment, there’s so much in it.

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