Glorious tummy pudge
‘You know, I really don’t like going out dancing these days. Last time, my clothes didn’t fit right and everyone could see my ‘tummy pudge’.
That’s what my 28-year-old sister Káyọ̀dé said with a concerned look as she surveyed Brighton beach whilst visiting me at university. I’d always looked up to her all my life, mainly as our 8-year age difference meant I was still in primary school when she herself was at uni, that big, brilliant place of learning. Her higher education status had meant she was a genius of immeasurable proportions in my young eyes, so now aged 20, I wondered why she’d said such an unintelligent thing regarding her body shape. A split second after her self-doubting declaration, I replied with a big enthusiastic smile on my face ‘Oh, I LOVE that!’ Her equally instantaneous response was to whip her head towards my face, her concerned look replaced by disgusted confusion. Her negative reaction to my positive one put me off explaining the nature of my self-assured stance.
|Big Black Girl Magic!|
Not too long before, I’d been out clubbing along the same beachfront dressed to look good (cute flowing top) but more importantly to comfortably bust my killer dance moves (flared black trousers). After seeing my jovial vibes on the dance floor (seriously though, I can move people!), some guys came to join in and I let a tall, dark, handsome one hug me from behind. As he did, his hands made contact with my own tummy pudge that my flowing top had concealed, particular with my ample bosom forming a protracted ridge. Clearly surprised by my considerable mass juxtaposed to my considerable hot-stepping, he’d quickly patted his hands across my mid-section inspecting just what I was working with. Then a second later, he actually grabbed both sides of my pudge and started bouncing it up and down, like gently shaking a tambourine to the music beat. I started laughing at his mini journey from dancing queen interest to pot belly surprise to playful acceptance of my body shape, which aligned with me being happy as a UK size 20 at age 20.
Neo-Eurocentric aesthetics inducing insecurity
Surely it was the mature thing to recognise that different physicalities, and indeed personalities, can be attractive in their own way (okay, and killer dance moves!) So that really flew in the face of my more mature sister’s irrational concern as a UK size 12 at age 28. The fact that she was a full foot taller than me further demonstrated the proportional distribution of her body fat, never mind supposed ‘tummy pudge’, was negligible in comparison to mine. Yes, there is a valid health concern regarding abdominal obesity which should be acknowledged. But that certainly wasn’t the context or sentiment of Káyọ̀dé’s apparent indignation on the subject, she was worried about neo-Eurocentric aesthetics vs morbidity/longevity. So it begged the question, why this significant mismatch of outlooks between siblings? It would take several years after that Brighton beach interaction for the answers to finally come to me…
Matriarchal vs patriarchal mindset
Background: Growing up in the same Yorùbá-Nigerian family, Káyọ̀dé and I had the same DNA from the same parents, in the same household, sharing the same culture, language, etc. But it took me a really long time to extrapolate that we’d in fact grown up in completely different social circumstances. This was due to our father’s death when she was age 13 and passing into puberty, whilst I was 5 and just emerging from infancy. This meant that for the first 13 years of her development, Káyọ̀dé had seen a patriarchal husband-wife dynamic as the norm, which I’d only seen (and hardly remembered) for 5 years. The rest of my development was defined by a matriarchal single-mother dynamic as the norm, leading to our two very different tummy pudge perspectives as adults…
Matriarchal conditioning = confidence building
So I now understand that appeasing the male gaze is what drove Káyọ̀dé to worry so much about her negligible tummy pudge from her wider exposure of patriarchal norms….That’s why she and so many other ladies at that Brighton beach club as I was shaking it and getting down to the music felt they had to be ‘showy’ through certain hairstyles, colourful makeup, and alamode flamboyant fashions to attract males dressed in comparatively dull colours… Though…when I went clubbing, …my matriarchal conditioning and subsequent self-confidence meant …I primarily dressed not so men thought I was pretty, but because I thought it was fun, even artistic, and certainly comfortable enough to bust my big girl moves!
Most important though will always be not how I, woman, interact with men, but how I, woman, interact with myself. …So, my message would be, stop having the wool pulled over your eyes, ladies. Cast off the patriarchal chains, wear what you want, look how you want, and be happy in yourself. Do you hear me big sister??
internalised sexism vs Internalised Feminism
...Truth be told, all those years after dancing up a storm on Brighton beach, I still have and still like my tummy pudge. To what extent 8-year-older Káyọ̀dé became comfortable with her own curvaceous glory (negligible as it may be), I’m still not sure. After all, without a shadow of a doubt, it was my earlier introduction to death that helped me recognise what is truly important in life. In any case, I do hope over time she moved away from seeing her value through the male gaze (internalised sexism) and more through the female one (internalised feminism), bringing our mismatched sister outlooks into closer alignment.
And above all else, remember that God made us this way. If we are good enough for God, we are good enough for anyone, with added tummy pudge and all.
If you enjoyed this abridged ‘women empowerment feminist manifesto’, the full version of ‘Tummy Pudge’ delves into biology, psychology, sociology/anthropology, and linguistics in a fun and relatable way. Coming soon...
Check out a live reading of this abridged version at the iEMPOW3R International Women's Day Spoken Word & Poetry Event 2023:
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