Loves Roundness

From the third definition of “womanist”: “Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.” – Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)

“Girl, where you been hiding those legs?!” my high school classmate shouted. It made me regret the decision to wear my favorite outfit – a purple mini-skirt and matching top, ironically chosen because the long gold-flecked shirt covered what I considered to be my worst asset. Until that day, I hadn’t realized that my thick, muscular calves were just as capable of eliciting attention. I tried to hush my classmate, but he was unhushable. His appraising stare and loud mouth followed me down the walkway and onto the bus.

This was the late 80s, when skinny black women tried desperately to gain weight so that they’d be considered appealing to black men, whose aesthetic was defined by a preference for things thick. From the waist down, I had thickness in abundance. And I hated it.

Loves love and food and roundness…Loves herself. Regardless.

My classmate’s yell was eerily similar to one that I’d heard one day when I was at my grandparents’ house. “Where did she get that butt? None of y’all got butts like that!” That time, the voice belonged to a longtime family friend. “Her daddy’s people,” was the answer offered by one of my mother’s sisters. Oblivious to my shame, the woman kept going, “And ain’t got titties the first!” Damn. Did she really have to go there? She could have won the top prize in how to crush a teenage girl’s ego.

It was true, though. I was the inverse of my mother and her sisters, who tended to be heavy up top and narrow below. I was built just like the women in my dad’s family, more like an inverted P, the small of my back ending abruptly in a large mound. I once had to whip out my school ID on a clearly-too-old-to-be-talking-to-me man who refused to believe that those hips, those thighs, that ass belonged to a sixteen-year-old.

Being a natural introvert, I hated the attention that my lower half brought. It probably didn’t help that I spent my early adolescence in nearly all-white schools, where skinniness was in and thickness was sin. So as best as I could, I tried to camouflage it – loose pants, shirts that hung below the waist, ankle (or at least mid-calf) skirts and dresses. For most of my life, I have been incredibly uncomfortable with my body.

Strangely enough, while I have deplored my own thickness, I love it on other women. Beyonce is beautiful, but Jill Scott and Marsha Ambrosius are downright breathtaking! The irony is never lost on me. I watch them in admiration, wondering why I have had such a hard time appreciating that same roundness in myself.

Loves love and food and roundness…Loves herself. Regardless.

This month, I enter the last year of my third decade. Looking ahead to the big 4-0, I have decided that the next two years – preceding and then entering my forties – will be dedicated to celebrating me, loving me. And that requires me to learn to love roundness…my roundness. I have realized that 20 years from now, I will look at images of the 38-year-old me and wish that I had enjoyed this body while I had it. I have realized that it is time to do with my body what I learned to do with my hair – delight in it and all of its big roundness – rotund belly, ample derriere, thick thighs, and boulder-sized calves.

Even as it flagrantly violates the societal ideal of beauty, as it repeatedly sidelines me with chronic illness, and as it requires medication that causes it to regain much of the 35 pounds that I worked so hard to lose, I am committed to loving this body…this flesh…this round, brown flesh. And guess what? On more and more days lately, I actually do. Regardless.

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