by Rose Miyonga
Having a female body is exhausting, and today I feel really tired of being a brown woman.
Of being constantly policed, censored, judged, bullied and excluded – and that’s just what I do to myself.
I’m not talking about what other people out there in the world and on the internet say and think and do to my body, I’m talking about what I do.
Even though I am aware of the way society controls the images that are sent to me, leaving me with the feeling that I will never be good enough or beautiful enough, I have internalised the messages so deeply that I can’t help but believe that my body is somehow wrong as it is.
Even though I grew up with a mother who is very open about bodies and nudity- teaching me to look in the mirror and say out loud what I love about myself, I find it really hard to look at my naked body with anything like joy or kindness.
Even though I practice and preach yoga and meditation and self-love and body positivity, I find it almost impossible to inhabit my body unconditionally, without editing it or wishing parts of it away.
Even though I’ve always considered myself to be a kind person, I bully my body with my words and actions, punishing it for being only what it is.
Even though I’ve been lucky and never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, I can’t help but see my body as a bulging collection of flaws and imperfections, and food as a way to punish or reward myself based on how near or far I feel from an imagined ideal to which I will never live up.
Even though I am aware that I am privileged and genetically lucky, that I am slender and able-bodied, I struggled not take these things for granted, and treat my body with cruelty and ingratitude.
Even though I want to be valued as writer, a creative and an intellectual, I sometimes place more value on my physical attributes than on the brain my body houses.
Even though I am a vegan for ethical and environmental reasons, I wonder if I would be so enthusiastic about observing a vegan diet if it had lead me to gain instead of lose weight.
Even though I know that everybody is uniquely beautiful and different, I can’t help but compare myself (usually unfavourably) to every woman I encounter.
Even though I know am healthy and strong and young and beautiful, my inner monologue treats my body as if it were and inconvenience at best.
Even though years of therapy has given me a range of tools and skills to deal with my emotions, when I felt sad this afternoon, I sliced up a whole loaf of bread, slathered it in jam, and ate and ate until I couldn’t feel anything but full.
Even as I write this, I’m thinking that I had a lot to eat at breakfast and maybe I should just have some fruit for lunch and then go for a run instead of working on the essay I have due next week. If go running, it won’t be because of the tangible mental and physical benefits it may bring me, it will be to punish myself for eating my fill this morning after a ninety-minute yoga practice. My academic work, therefore, is directly suffering as a consequence of this toxic message that my body is not good enough as it is, and I know that I am not alone.
Or is it just me?
I could go on and on in this way, and I wonder if every woman feels this way, and what they do to resist it. I wonder if men feel this way, too; the ones I have spoken to about it don’t seem to understand what I’m on about.
And then, I feel like a hypocrite and a fraud because I truly believe in the practice of self-love and compassion and presence and acceptance and non-judgement, but I spend so much time judging myself and finding myself wanting. And then I start to judge and hate myself for being a hypocrite, and then to judge myself for judging myself, and so on, adding brick upon brick to the wall that stands between me and self-love.
Only occasionally, maybe when I’m practising yoga or meditation or when I am dancing or writing or eating or having sex or sleeping, am I able to drop judgement and just enjoy being me in this body and this moment.
The rest of the time, most of the time, there’s a war going on in my mind.
I have been in conflict with my body, and I am done. I’m waving the white flag and hugging it out, and I promise to try to not suck in when I look in the mirror.
I’m not sure how I am going to unpack all of this toxicity that has been built up in and around my body, but to start with, I am not feeding any cruel, untrue, judgemental thoughts about my body. When one comes, I notice it, and allow it to stay as long as it wants, but I try not fuel the fire. It’s really hard, but sometimes I can go several hours in a row without any thoughts coming because it turns out if I don’t pay them any attention, they don’t really come so much. The toxic thoughts are reducing from a constant flood into a trickle.
I have also found myself wanting to wear less revealing clothing, as though I don’t need the reassurance of external admiration of my body. At the same time, I have found myself wanting to dress up more and wear more makeup and adorn myself with jewellery, and dance and practice more yoga and meditation and celebrate being alive in my body, and I hope this continues.
It feels like my body and I are healing together, and if I keep at it and try to unlearn the lessons I was tricked into learning, maybe we can save out relationship.
By Oyin Akande
We are celebrating and you should be too. On Friday 21st, celebrated Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was announced as the commercial face of the new Boots No.7 campaign.
Chimamanda, who already has several critically acclaimed novels under her belt, TED talks viewed by millions and millions and a phenomenal cult following that includes Beyoncé, Zadie Smith, Dior and something like the entire population of Sweden, has just taken on the redefinition of the beauty industry.
What is really great is what this means for you. As the face of a huge beauty campaign, Chimamanda makes accessible the rosy and impossible fantasy of the beauty industry:
“I think much of beauty advertising relies on a false premise – that women need to be treated in an infantile way, given a ‘fantasy’ to aspire to… Real women are already inspired by other real women, so perhaps beauty advertising needs to get on board”, Chimamanda told Vogue in the November 2016 issue which is downloadable here. She challenges the ill-conceived unattainability of women represented in beauty campaigns, which leave the majority of women unrepresented and unable to relate. She has quite literally opened up the possibility that you- someone real- could be the next face of beauty.
What we really love though is that she has opened up a very public dialogue with feminism and make-up, two things long believed to be at odds. Where make-up has wrongly been understood to be a tool to hide yourself, Chimamanda is reclaiming it as a tool of precise autonomy over who you are and who you present to the world. Days before the campaign was announced, Chimamanda released an amazing feminist manifesto ‘Dear Ijeawele’, which you can view via her Facebook page. The campaign merges the voice of contemporary feminism with the face of a real woman and we love it.
Six years old, at my mother’s wonderfully cluttered dressing table in Nsukka, trying on her very sticky lip gloss.
I am in a good mood; I am fit and exercising regularly; I am wearing stable high heels; I have managed to do a flawless ‘cat-eye.’
She moisturized her entire body very diligently. Ashy skin was unacceptable. I remember watching her after her bath, how she would reach across her shoulder, hand coated in cream, to get as much of her back as she could. She liked perfumes. There were heady scents in her bedroom. I remember the green POISON, the fawn CHLOE. She wore perfume to sleep. There was nail polish, powder compacts, eye pencils. She always wore tasteful makeup. My mother is one of the most beautiful people I know, and I thought so even as a child.
It’s become an absolute delight. I was once interested only in the most minimal makeup – colorless mascara, that sort of thing – but became more interested in make-up when I started using it to try and look a little older. I was so tired of being told I looked like a child. Now, I like to try new things, and I like the temporary transformation that make-up can bring.
Yes. “Nekene nne unu,” he would say – “look at your mother!’ – when my mother was all dressed for church on Sunday mornings, sequinned george wrapper on her waist, a sparkly blouse, a beautifully-structured gele on her head. She knew he thought she was beautiful, you could tell.
I once decided I wanted a funky afro. So I colored my hair in my bathroom, with three different color kits because the first two didn’t quite show. The result was orange hair. But what brought despair was how dry and brittle my hair became.
A good facial moisturiser.
In a narrow train toilet, although that was less crazy and more uncomfortable.
A greater range of colors (and undertones) in foundations and tinted moisturisers. A greater awareness that dark-skinned women have enormous buying power and are as much interested in beauty as anyone else.
Some years ago in my hometown. It was very hot, I’d been outside for a while, and suddenly felt a gooey heaviness around my eyes.
Buy Boots’ No.7 products here.