Waist beads are an ancient adornment with a history that can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt and pre-colonial West Africa.
There has been a significant increase of interest in waist beads across the African diaspora within recent years. “I think in the 2010s, during the most recent natural hair movement, more people began to embrace their African hair and features and that 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. And when the conversations about fitness and body positivity peaked during quarantine, we saw a lot of interest from people who may have never considered wearing waist beads before,” says Brie Penermon, the founder of Fitbeads.
Brie is lending us her expertise for this complete guide to waist beads!
Across the diaspora, waist beads are used to mark major milestones in the wearer's life. "They are traditionally presented to women during those pivotal moments in life; birth, puberty, marriage, pregnancy, death, etc. 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
Yes, you can tie on your waist beads by yourself, and it may not be as hard as you first thought. “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. "You just wrap them around your waist like you would a belt and push down the excess beads. Then double knot the string and cut off the extra string and beads. You can even use those cut ends as a bracelet or anklet for yourself or a child.”
What Do the Colors Signify
Waist beads are commonly comprised of colorful wooden, plastic, glass, metal, bone, cowrie, shell, or crystal beads. You may be attracted to a certain set of waist beads because of its various colors. But what do the colors symbolize?
“I see a lot of generic charts about what different color waist beads mean, but it can actually differ from culture to culture. For example, in Ashanti culture the color red could represent death or mourning and in Zulu culture red could represent love and passion," says Brie. "Some common ones I see are white for purity or innocence, green for life, growth and abundance, red for love and passion.”
To name a few more color associations:
- Black can signify power
- Purple often denotes royalty
- Blue is said to bring peace.
How to Wear Your Waist beads
Waist beads. To be seen or not to 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 to elaborate, "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
“Waist beads are a great way to communicate with your body. You can easily see how your waist is losing or gaining weight over time by paying attention to where they sit." Waist beads are a useful tool when you wish to be mindful of weight changes. Your waist beads will help you see and 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. “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 path. Do not underestimate what these ancient adornments can do for your self-esteem and body image!