Body blessings/body burdens?

BODY LANGUAGE

Being young, entering the gauntlet of supposed adulthood and still feeling good about yourself is a tricky task — especially when you’re a woman. We chew the fat over the prevailing narratives about women’s bodies.

Refiloe: I feel like our bodies tend to be a way of representing us before we even speak.

Youlendree: Ja, and a lot of the time we can’t really control exactly how our bodies look.

R: Right! And that’s my main issue.

Y: It’s usually those things that you can’t control that people fixate on. It’s what they think you should look like. So, being a cisgender woman [someone whose gender identity corresponds to their birth identity] but not conforming to a rigid role, you get comments like: “If you’re a girl, why don’t you look like a girl?”


R: It’s kind of natural because humans judge each other based on appearances. As a woman, it just seems like the shape of my body becomes a factor in how I’m perceived — or how I perceive my perception. The whole narrative of women being “too big” or “too small”, “too curvy” or “too skinny” is so outdated. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t — but you don’t choose your shape.

Y: And the way in which our bodies are policed every day — just walking down the street — it’s ridiculous. And it’s one of those uncontrollable things. I’m small, so my curves are amplified. So if I want to wear a low-cut top I know I’m gonna get comments, which is why I don’t. And that’s the way I censor myself before that even happens.

R: And I think that happens for all women, no matter what their shape. It’s gonna be something — your boobs are huge, or you have no boobs. It just affirms this thing that women’s bodies are for public consumption.

Y: Exactly!

R: It’s your body but …

Y: It serves the needs and purposes of everyone else.

R: And it’s just completely okay for it to be scrutinised — it’s normalised. It almost belongs to men — from a heteronormative perspective, anyway. Or it will ultimately belong to a man, even if it’s just for the purpose of scrutinising. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I’d care that much — I mean, we all have insecurities but I don’t think my lack of “curves” would be such a point of conflict for me if I didn’t feel like my body was subject to criticism all the time.

Y: That judgment can really come from all sectors — from family, your partner, even a child. As a child, you may believe bodies need to look a certain way because of the ways we are indoctrinated to think about gender and beauty.

R: It’s true, it can come from a variety of places. For me, it doesn’t come from my mom — she’s always said: “You’re beautiful as you are and you are enough as you are.” But I do struggle to believe that fully — she has big boobs and a big bum. But then I come into contact with other family and I literally get comments like: “You look like a boy — where are your breasts?” There’s nothing I can do about that, so it makes me disappointed in my body for performing my femininity in a way that’s not acknowledged.

Y: Ja, it also comes down to the performance of gender — I had the opposite experience because when I hit puberty, my breasts started growing. You could already see: “Whoa, now this is a girl child. This is not just a flat-chested, tree-climbing hooligan …

R: That would be me, hello!

Y: But then all of a sudden there were these signifiers of womanhood and I thought: “I’m not okay with this.”

R: Right, a signifier!

Y: So, I would wear baggy clothes to try and hide my body. And I would get people saying: “You look like a boy.” I didn’t want to look feminine but there I was.

R: I know very well that I am still a woman. But then when I hear that “a real African woman” has a big bum and boobs, where does that leave me? Does that mean I’m undesirable? Unwomanly?

Y: All this boils down to is that men and patriarchy are trash.

R: But it’s not like I base my worth on the opinion of patriarchal men because they’re wrong about a lot of things.

Y: Yeah, it’s just this noise that stops you from living your best life. And having a loving partner helps loads when you’re tired of fighting negative body perceptions by yourself.

R: Well, I’m single, so I guess it’s about self-affirmation — even if I’m a flat-assed girl in the Age of the Booty …

Y: Which isn’t always genuine, anyway — we can celebrate thick thighs but not a muffin-top and stretch marks? There’s a double standard at play. I think being kind to your body and loving it is the key.

R: Major key.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Youlendree Appasamy
Youlendree Appasamy
Youlendree Appasamy is a freelance writer and journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Refiloe Seiboko
Subeditor at Mail & Guardian

Related stories

How to get women’s voices heard in African politics

Getting women into politics is only half of the challenge. The second half is to make sure that women are not only seen, but also heard

You should eat your words

My weight gain does not entitle you to comment on my body

Women refugees take contraceptives in fear of rape

Refugee women and girls fearing sexual violence are taking matters into their own hands.

Despite the advance of feminism, there’s still an ugly truth about keeping smooth

Females are still being told what’s in vogue – such as shaving pubic hair – and it’s less about being womanly and more about trying to stay girly.

What department of women? For many, it may as well not exist

Many people don’t know it exists, and those who do don’t feel that it is improving their lives.

Coffee delivers a kick to the hair follicles

German scientist Dr Adolf Klenk has developed a brand of shampoos and conditioners containing caffeine to combat hair loss.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

‘We struggle for water, but power stations and coal mines...

A proposed pipeline will bring water polluted with Gauteng’s sewage to the Waterberg in Limpopo to boost the coal industry during the climate crisis

Journey through anxious Joburg

A new book has collected writing about the condition of living, yes, with a high crime rate, but also other, more pervasive existential urban stresses particular to the Global South

Football legend Maradona dies

The Argentinian icon died at his home on Wednesday, two weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain

Covid vaccines: Hope balanced with caution

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…