The society that grew me celebrated the ‘English’ figure. The reference has probably changed. But in our day this referred to a body with an almost flat behind.
This body could be adorned with almost anything, anyhow. The owners had the luxury to move from a maxi dress, for example, to a skinny jean and the onlookers would cheer in approval. No lumps or curves showed on the dresses; no hips and behinds on the jeans. They didn’t need to cover up. They tucked in and belted up with their heads high; enjoying their freedom of expression.
You see, society is often founded on binary oppositions; approving of one usually means marginalising of the other. Thus an approval doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It a result of comparing and contrasting, of deliberately deciding which one should be adopted as proper and which shouldn’t. Thus in approving the ‘English’ figure, society was in a way disapproving the ‘non-English’.
Mine is a ‘non- English’ figure.
I am a self declared pear shaped. Whether it be the avocado pear or the normal pear fruit. That is how I describe the structure I walk in. Like the fruit, small upper body and broader bottom.
I don’t know when the awareness set in, but I grew up alert that people with my kind of body hide it. That the curves and corners should not be seen in public. So I grew up covering everything that fell outside what could be seen. Hear me right, I am all for decent dressing, but I have a problem when decent means ladies with pronounced behinds and hips should cover every part of their structure. When they are expected to pile layers of cloth over their bodies to conceal their curves and creases, hiding their make-up. But this was one of the commandment when I was growing.
I was discussing this with my elder sister last week. Her shock surprised me. I was telling her that I lived my life hiding under clothes, conscious of the bend and bulge society preferred invisible. I told her that I am alert to my ‘non-Englishness’ so much I’m uncomfortable when people walk behind me – so I often slow down to let them pass – especially when the clothes are closer to my body.
“I never could have imagined that. You have such a beautiful body” She said ” and you are so assertive I am surprised you are struggling with that”.
I must confess that I’m grateful for the blessing of assertiveness. I can handle a lot.
My sister was surprised that my affinity to A-line designs was not only a chosen fashion taste but was also a response to a disapproving culture. That it was an effort to blend in among the ‘English’ figured.
Because of my awareness of the expectations or maybe my genuflecting to them, I am almost an expert on what prints, threads, textures of cloth hide the corners better. I don’t, wear, for example, skirts with horizontal stripes; my skirts are hardly light in colour and I do not wear skirts and dresses with big flower prints . What all these have in common is make the bottom part of the pear look broader, exaggerating its size.
But I got my Mojo back.
I will remember 2017 as the year when I stepped out of the societal shell. When I showed appreciation for my God given structure. I will celebrate my ‘non-Englishness’. My A-line designs will probably still dominate but I will celebrate my new found freedom by daring other designs. The ones I have admired from a distance. I will, through clothes, challenge the view that the pear is too curvy to be allowed the freedom of dress.
I will still be decent, nevertheless.
Yes, I am aware of the influence of popular culture on what we deem the ideal body. Aware of the kind of body that dominates our media. But my chat is with the society that I often hear talk about and to this body. It is the society and not the media that is more immediate to me. Its voice whispers in my ears at every clothes shop, directing me to its approved patterns; unwavering in its explanation on the inappropriateness of straight skirts and dresses on the curved and creased.
I am free at last. This year I will ignore ‘banyana ba ga Mmangwato’ songs. I am not going to ask anybody to explain their “a o tswa kwa ga Mmangwato” questions. No. It is my year of celebrating this body. Of being fully aware of its deliberate shape and being grateful.
2017 I am daring the straight. I am lifting my head adorned in the straight and narrow. Come with me all yee pear shaped.