Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sometimes, bigger IS better!

“Tracy! What is wrong with you? Are you sick?” These are words I have heard a number of times over the last few months, as female friends here in Ghana have noticed I have lost a bit of weight.  Now, I haven’t lost crazy amounts of weight, and I am by no means thin by UK standards (my dress size is still in double figures!), but in Ghana weight loss is approached quite negatively.

You see, having a healthy weight or even being “fat” (let’s approach this with the same attitude as most Ghanaians I have met and not mince our words!) is considered a sign of wealth, a sign that you have plenty to eat. A curvy ‘structure’ is desired by most women I have spoken to, and appreciated by many men.  It is remarkably refreshing to see women embrace a larger body type and not be obsessed with conforming to a Hollywood/celebrity body shape.

Sorry Renee, but being a bag of bones won't cut it in Ghana....I don't think this is such a good look either.  Perhaps you need a bit more banku or fufu in your life!

In the UK, I feel like it is well documented and debated about the ideal body type imposed on girls and women by the media and fashion world, with campaigns such as the Dove Real Beauty campaign trying to change perceptions that thin is beautiful and we must all have a size 6 body to be beautiful and sexy. It is a wonderful lesson in body confidence then, to walk down Sandema high street and see women enjoy their curves, and walk around in well-fitting clothing which display who they are quite naturally.  A few weeks ago, on a visit to the Bolgatanga team, we went to a local night club, Soul Train, where we saw Ghanaian girls showing us how to dance and laughing at us because we didn’t have enough meat on certain parts of our bodies to dance well.  For me, I was overwhelmed with how body confident they were, particularly as I am often quite self-conscious dancing and wearing revealing clothing in nightclubs back home – it was quite the attitude adjustment!

What do you think? Is she trying to hide behind the tree, or is she  enjoying her lunch without a concern for the effect on her hips?

In my opinion, this acceptance of the human form and an appreciation of a “healthy” weight translates to a positive attitude towards other issues, such as breast feeding.  It is not unusual to be on a tro-tro, or even sat in a restaurant or Church and casually glance to the left to see a woman breastfeeding quite openly and with no embarrassment or need to be discrete; it is viewed as a natural and necessary process.  Tolu, one of Team Tamale’s first volunteers, wrote an excellent blog on her reaction to breastfeeding in Ghana, which I urge you to read, and means I won’t dwell on the topic any further, but will use it as an example of how a different approach to the human body has further implications than what clothes look good.  

Aside from the professional work experience I am gaining by being here and working in Ghana, the cultural experience is affecting me in many positive ways too.  Don’t get me wrong, I cannot deny my pleasure at losing a bit of weight (it certainly saves on the Slimming World membership fees!), but I think, more importantly, I will be leaving Ghana not only with a streamlined body, but will have streamlined any negative and anxious thoughts about my appearance and my size.  

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