My relationship with waist beads didn’t get a fair start. It was actually pretty toxic. Let me explain!
My Nigerian Yoruba family did not practice any traditions around waist beads, and I did not learn about them until much later in life, when I noticed them around my cousin’s waist one day when she was in the kitchen cooking.
When I asked her about them, she was SO excited to share her experience with them. Because the elderly women in my family leaned conservatively and feared a loss of our innocence, they would rebuke the showing of skin (waist, thighs, chest etc.). With that came the rebuke of accessorized mid sections. It was as if they felt that wearing them was inviting inappropriate attention. They also associated everything with some form of witchcraft, so I recall some of that rhetoric being used as well.
Our parents were prudent, so I witnessed my cousin get ridiculed from time to time for having them showing, even though we were at home. This caused me to have a negative association with them.
My cousin was raised in Nigeria, and I in the States, so she knew the history way more than I did and got to experience the joy of waist beads much earlier in life. Out of honor of our parents’ wishes, I avoided them at all costs.
I’ve come to learn that many parents used fear as a tactic to gain respect, honor and keep the younger generation in submission to their authority. They were also fearful of us straying too far from their own morals and what that will do to us, slash how it will reflect on them, so out of love for us and protection of image, they use fear to keep us in line.
My cousin was quite the rebel, so she would roll her eyes and just tell me more in private. I loved her boldness, and I’m so grateful she introduced me to this hidden gem of a culture.
It was not until college, when a Sierra Leonean friend of mine introduced me to my very first set that I truly got to experience waist beads for myself. This friend also wore her beads with pride, and told me not only about the history but about her waist line goals and how they were a great way to measure progress.
At the time, I worked as a supervisor at the campus gym, and was heavily involved in fitness training. So I thought it was brilliant. I made a purchase for myself and began wearing them to motivate my body shaping journey.
I thought that if I wore them I would become obsessive about my waist size and changes in my weight patterns would be too noticeable to me. Quite to the contrary, whether they dropped lower because of weight loss or felt tighter due to weight gain, I always felt beautiful with them on.
When I dropped a size, it was a pleasant surprise. And when I gained weight they just hugged me a bit closer. And who doesn’t love a good hug?
I accepted that nothing was wrong with a lil extra cushion, when they’re accessorized this cutely. So either way, it was a confidence boost, and that is what I love about them.
In retrospect, adults had no business commenting on our bodies as often as they did and do. They meant well, and were simply projecting their own fears of how society would perceive or abuse us based on their own childhood experiences. They wanted to protect us from harm, abuse and ridicule. So in a way, I get it. But it still has a grave effect on us. Being constantly criticized about our body leaves us feeling self-conscious, insecure and not valuable unless we are a certain size or shape.
To this very day, I do not know if I am thick or thin because I get every comment in the book, such as “where are you disappearing to? To wow you’re putting on weight.” But nary a, “wow you look good.” Men often say I am thick. Women often tell me I’m small. I no longer keep track. I’ve learned to just accept what I see in the mirror and have become deaf to the comments. I want to get to a point where I can confidently say, “do not comment on my body.” And I’m like one comment away from doing so. Ha! But I mostly let people live.
I’m always wanting to understand the meaning and reason behind what people say in general, so usually I’m just reading them in my mind anyway. That makes it comical for me, and then I am less bothered. They either have negative body experiences, or want mine, or are somewhere in between. I cannot waste energy on that. People can say what they want. But today, no matter what I see in the mirror, whether pudge, or food baby, or stretch mark or other, my sole thought is “Bih, you look the f* good!”
Not even joking. How I got here was really deciding, if I never reach the unrealistic, manufactured image society “demands,” am I seriously going to just hate myself forever? That really didn’t align with the life I planned to live of joy and acceptance. And I also accepted that if I expected a man to accept me wholly one day, I better accept myself first. People think because you’re not over a certain weight you are perfect and should not have any qualms about your body. But that is asinine and selfish af. Body dysmorphia is real. And no one knows what is going on under those clothes and underneath that skin but the person who has had to endure the life and comments that came with that body to that point. So we should really just all shut up about it and focus on loving ourselves.
So I started focusing on what I saw in the mirror. Really focusing on it. Like getting to know every inch of my body. So many people hate themselves and their bodies so much that they won’t even look at it. There are women who don’t even know what certain parts of their body actually looks like. I was one of them. I would just put on clothes in the morning and never spend time in the mirror noticing and nurturing my full body.
I recently started spending deep reflective time in the mirror. Simply noticing myself, I started to see my humanity beyond what I wanted to see, what I thought others saw, but what was actually there. I discovered freckles, dimples and veins that I never had before. And I also started to speak to myself. Tell myself and my body parts things like, “you’re not where I want you to be, but I love you.” And certain parts, I was honest and said, “Ew, I wish you weren’t like that, but man do I love you anyway.” Words are deeply powerful. What we speak comes to life. And now, I truly do love everything I see.
Rebbecca Bakre is an Author, Certified Life Coach & the Founder of Captivative Coaching that helps transmute pain into power for aspirational women. Retreat with her @YourFaveLifeCoach on Instagram or visit her website at yourfavelifecoach.com to connect.