Hulisani

When I blog I often refer to my life as pre and post 22. They are very distinct parts which need to be recognised differently as they shaped me in their own way.

So to start off this piece I will dive into my pre 22 body image thoughts.

Pre 22 I never allowed myself to love me.

For the most part I am certain that nobody noticed bar my closest friends, and even then nobody said a word as they battled their own demons. I had a large enough personality and so it wasn’t obvious that I was hiding behind a mask that shielded others from knowing me and my deepest fears that I housed permanently at the front of my mind.

I lived in my own head and was convinced that the only true way that people would love me and really appreciate me in their lives was if I lost weight and could do all these fun activities with them. I was surrounded by people hiding their eating disorders and those who exercised excessively to lose weight that they didn’t even have. My wish to be loved by these friends was based on fictional friendships. Where convenience was the name of the game and not actual meaningful relationships.

As much as I wanted to lose weight I would be too ashamed to walk outside and participate in the necessary physical activity. The weird thing about running when you weigh more than the ‘acceptable’ amount is that people expect you to fall or trip over your own feet. I would often ponder if these very people would go to a hospital and judge the those lying in the beds asleep from medication that healed their bodies. As if the hospital isn’t meant for the sick just as much as the sidewalk is meant for both people who are fit and those seeking to be fit.

Hence this catch 22 where I was stuck between a rock and a packet of chips. That was the extent of my issues. I only ever thought that body image was directly linked solely to the number on the scale.

I was so naïve.

Post 22

They say that a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life. Man, is that statement ever so true in my life. From the moment I shaved my head I realised that there was so much more to body image than just the scale. You can find insecurities in the smallest of things if you stand in front of the mirror for long enough. When you no longer have hair to distract from your acne prone skin and small ears you find yourself in a peculiar position.

The thing about being a black woman is that you constantly have to validate the fact that you have the right to exist in any manner that you wish to exist in. I understand that this may be true for women of other races too. However, being that I am black and female, I can only speak truthfully from my own lived experience. How I see my body is directly linked to every aspect of my black life.

I first need to be able to exist as a black person in the black community and be accepted by people whom I call brothers and sisters. I had to learn to wield respect in every step that I took because it is was not automatically granted to me. Men with a similar melanin count to me automatically think that they have rights over my body based on the fact that I am a female who is walking past them in the taxi rank.

Once I move out of the space of people where I should feel safe I enter another battleground. One where people who don’t share my melanin count are envious of certain features that I have but not envious of the life that I live. Where having big lips is shameful if you are black but beautiful if you are white. Where there is a fine line between someone being curious about your hair texture to becoming a convenient petting zoo.

Cultural appropriation doesn’t only steal fashion trends and genetic markers from their rightful ‘owners’ BUT it leaves those who have been stolen from feeling less worthy. Less human. Disregarded.

Post 22 my relationship with my body has become a complex web which I have to actively engage with on a regular basis. I haven’t consciously thought about my weight in a long while. Sure, I am aware that I am a L-XL when I go to the shops but for the most part living in my body has become a joyful experience. My body which houses so many parts of me that I love. That love outweighs any negativity that I may feel about it sometimes. Being aware that society challenges my claim of self love by telling me not to accept myself the way that I am is a good thing. You can never fight something that you are unaware of.

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