Is Beauty Really in the Eyes of the Beholder?

Oprah Winfrey famously said “inside every overweight woman is the woman she knows she can become”. Perhaps you, like many women, are looking for that woman. Where is the smaller me I knew when I was 18? Or 25? or before I got married? Or had kids? When will I get smaller? This awful message is reinforced daily with mainstream advertising, social media (oh the dreaded filters!) and targeted online messages. I mean, who has not received an endless bombardment of dieting, and fitness apps after just one Google search? Women are taught almost from birth to fear our changing bodies. And bodies do change; it’s one of the inevitabilities of life. Whether through birth control, childbirth, post-partum effects, dietary and fitness changes, menopause or aging, body parts grow and shrink, bulge and sag. Yet a pretty normal process, often independent of alcohol or food intake and related to genetics, leptin resistance, medication etc is something to be dreaded and staved off for as long as possible or even avoided altogether.

Some women are plus-sized and some are not. Some carry weight around the mid-section, on their hips or not at all. Weight is not necessarily an indicator of health or beauty. Women run marathons, lift weights, look beautiful and eat chocolate regardless of the number on the bathroom scales. There is no denying that being persistently overweight can have health consequences but on the other hand, focusing on these body changes or allowing weight gain to become central to your body image is itself a mental issue which can lead to depression. Having a positive body image is a great asset as a woman. It is the outcome of your thoughts and feelings. Confidence is built, no one is born with it.

In some parts of Africa, a woman’s weight was actually seen as a good thing. We have all heard of the fattening rooms of Calabar and Mauritania. Then came the Sixties and Twiggy, and then thin was in all over the world. These days, thicc is the desired body shape. The one thing all these ideals of body shape in women have in common is that they promote a patriarchal society, reflecting what is deemed desirable to men and ignoring the diversity of body shapes that women have had throughout all of human history. Trying to conform to this ideal is toxic and reduces self-esteem. The constant changes in desirable body shapes, exacerbated by media influence affect our ability to think clearly and can make us unwilling participants in our own objectification.

Our CONFIDENCE as women is built on many factors: our mindset and that of our partners, our friends and family who know us best and in whose company we spend the most time, and external triggers designed to make us compare ourselves to others. in the face of all this, we need to be intentional about building great self-confidence. Have sex with partners who adore your changing body. Make friends with people who encourage and love you. Really look at and explore your body, appreciating the beautiful stories of creation and survival that its changes tell. Self-care means being selective of the media you consume, focusing primarily on your physical health and mental wellbeing through the drastic yet normal body changes caused by pregnancy, menopause and aging. Accepting yourself boosts self-esteem which in turn builds your confidence. Black women have never fit social beauty ideals; destroy the idea that one must exist and understand that your body in its current shape IS the ideal as long as it is relatively healthy.

Remember the words of Virginia Woolf, “The Eyes of Others Our Prisons; Their Thoughts Our Cages”. Your body is a tool of strength.

                                       YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE YOU

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