I moved from London to Nigeria when I was six years old. The first thing you notice is the heat. The hot, sticky feeling as if the sun is noticing you for the first time. There was an air of liberation in the Ondo market that spoke to my young soul.
The way women would be drenched in sweat, and there wasn’t a need to hide or be ashamed of what Mother Nature deemed normal. The way elderly women would sit topless outside their homes, just a wrapper covering their lower half. Bare breasts kissing the ground with carefree abandonment with no objectification of the male gaze, their age earning respect and permission to just be.
The bouncing curve of a woman’s derriere would be seen as a celebration of the female form. A simple statement representing how a female’s contour can be, rather than being reduced to overtly sexual. The way the women wouldn’t see the roundness of their tummy as a thing to get rid of. Instead, it was a sign of good health and wealth. The hair under their armpits, on their legs and face, wasn’t seen as the antonym for femininity.
The standard of beauty constantly changing and shifting until what was once beautiful is no longer. Until what you consider beauty is stripped from your mind.
Many years after returning back to London, I still think of how they seem to have something I didn’t have, for it did not take long for the lessons my eyes had seen to be forgotten. I forgot how the sun seemed to celebrate their skin, how their standard of beauty was different, how women were allowed to age.
I exchanged the lessons for a battle where I would dissect each outer part of my home, comparing myself to people who do not even resemble me, searching in places that were not designed for me. Emptying myself out to mold myself into what I’ve been told was acceptable.
Trying to remove all traces of my ancestral roots, seeing their aesthetic as a thing of the past, unsophisticated.
Though my six-year-old eyes were looking at the fellow Nigerian people with innocent eyes. I would have been too young to see how, perhaps, their own standard of beauty was putting pressure on them. How comparison culture played out over there, things being lost in translation from their adult words to my child ears. This may be a romanticized memory of a place I lived in for five years.
What I definitely know is, it took reaching my thirties, exhausted from the fight to ask myself: who was I doing this for?
And if I couldn’t accept my own body, if I couldn’t adorn my home with my own love, what was the point of inviting others in? Asking them to see me as whole when my own image was void of richness.
My body is my home. It’s the only one I’ll ever have. If I cannot learn to settle, to plant my feet deep into the roots of my ancestral pool, to celebrate the way Mother Nature has clothed me with ebony glow, then what is the point of searching for answers that reside outside of me?
I want to remember the lessons I learned over twenty years ago. To cherish and store them deep in my heart and bring them back to the surface when deceit tries to whisper lies into my heart.
My body is my body.
I must learn to return to it, to settle and call it a home. I owe myself that much, if not for present me then for the six-year-old who was taught to look at the female form in all its glory.