Explore the ancient allure of waist beads, an adornment with a rich history tracing back to ancient Egypt and pre-colonial West Africa. A growing number of people across the African diaspora are discovering the beauty and significance of waist beads.
Join us as we dive deeper into the world of waist beads and hear from our founder Brie Penermon for this complete guide to waist beads!
The Growing Popularity of Waist Beads
In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in waist beads across the African diaspora. This coincided with the Natural Hair Movement of the last decade, in which more people continued to celebrate their African hair and features through different forms of expression.
“During the most recent Natural Hair Movement around the 2010s, more people began to embrace their African hair and features. This naturally progressed into exploring the ways our ancestors took care of their hair and bodies with natural products and how they adorned their bodies with different fabrics, headwraps, and jewelry including waist beads,” says Brie Penermon, the founder of Fitbeads.
“Conversations about fitness and body positivity peaked during quarantine, so we saw a lot of interest from people who may have never considered wearing waist beads before.”
A Milestone Marker
Waist beads are more than just a fashion accessory - they are traditionally used to mark major milestones in a woman's life, including birth, puberty, marriage, pregnancy, and death.
“They grow with you, not just physically, but emotionally and become a representation of your life's journey," says Brie.
How to Tie on Waist Beads
Tying your waist beads is easy and can be done by yourself!
“Traditional waist beads come at a standard length so that most people will be able to size them down to their specific waist size," explains Brie.
Here’s a breakdown of how to tie on waist beads:
1) Wrap the waist beads around your waist, like you would a belt. Then, push down the excess beads.
2) Double knot the string and cut off the extra string and beads. You can cut the ends to use as a bracelet or anklet for yourself or a child.
What Do the Colors Signify?
Waist beads are typically composed of colorful wooden, plastic, glass, metal, bone, cowrie, shell, or crystal beads.
You may be attracted to a certain set of waist beads due to its various, vibrant colors.
But what do the colors symbolize?
The meaning of the different colored beads varies across cultures.
“In Ashanti culture, the color red could represent death or mourning and in Zulu culture, red may represent love and passion," says Brie. "Some common ones I see are white representing purity or innocence, green symbolizing life, growth and abundance, and red for love and passion.”
Here’s a few more color associations:
Are you looking to try out more vivid colored fit beads or switch up your existing collection? Here are a few different colored Fitbeads for you to try out:
1) Connect with nature and honor life’s cycles in Earth Traditional Waist Beads
2) Stay committed to learning and celebrate your growth in Bloom Traditional Waist Beads
3) Make every moment of your life’s journey count in Sure Sign Traditional Waist Beads
How to Wear Your Waist beads
Are waist beads to be seen or to not be seen? That’s been the hotly debated question regarding the ancient adornment.
Here’s what Brie has to say on the topic:
“I can't tell anyone how to wear them, but I do try to educate them on how they are worn in different places on the continent. In many cultures, especially in West Africa, it is a taboo to have your waist beads showing. Some take it as a sign that you are overtly sexual or maybe even a prostitute."
Brie continues, "But in some other cultures on the continent, it may be more acceptable to have them showing in public. In some traditional cultures waist beads were the only form of covering the women wore, so of course they would have to show. There are also different kinds of waist beads. Some are ceremonial and meant to be worn outside of the clothing and some are considered private like lingerie only meant to be seen by yourself and your intimate partner.”
Weight Management with Waist Beads
You can use waist beads to form a deeper connection and relationship with your weight and body. Depending on how the waist beads are fitting over your waist and hips, you can track changes in your body and weight.
“Waist beads are a great way to communicate with your body,” Brie explains.”You can easily see how your waist is losing or gaining weight over time by paying attention to where they sit."
WIth waist beads, you can not only see, but also feel weight changes.
“When they get tighter and roll up you know you've grown and if they get looser and drop lower towards your hips, you know you've lost weight. You can also track things like a growing baby bump or bloating from your monthly cycle or different foods."
Brie continues, "Noticing weight gain or loss does not necessarily mean something is wrong, but it is an invitation to look at your most recent habits and routines to determine if you're taking good care of yourself or if you need to make some adjustments.”
Waist Beads and Body Image
Waist beads have helped women embrace and honor their bodies for centuries. Brie reminds us how vital it is to celebrate and love our bodies regardless of their shape and size.
“For many women, waist beads are a constant reminder that their body is worthy of celebrating and adorning no matter the shape or size," says Brie. "Our bodies, just like our lives, go through so many changes and it's up to us to learn to embrace and accept them all. That's a major lesson wearing waist beads will teach you if you wear them for long enough.”
Equal parts beautiful and sentimental, waist beads represent different phases in the wearer's journey while empowering them to continue on their life’s path. Do not underestimate what these ancient adornments can do for your self-esteem and body image!