I recently saw a tweet about how Congolese women were injecting themselves with chicken stock, to make their bums look bigger and subsequently more desirable. This to me was perturbing, not merely because of the blatant disregard of their health, but also the reasoning behind their actions. These women use Maggi cubes, which prior to this were simply my favourite seasoning, to “enhance their assets” regardless of the effects this can have on health.
It led to a conversation between myself and a friend, about the importance of self-acceptance and the detriment of standardised beauty within societies. In all cultures, we celebrate and subconsciously reinforce a singular manufactured standard of beauty. In the Congo, being bigger is the set beauty standard, so being “skinny makes Congolese women feel bad”. Alternatively it is well known that being skinny has been glorified for decades in Western cultures.
I have been an antagonised victim of both standards. Growing up in Africa I was constantly scolded by almost all my family for being ‘too skinny for a girl’. My grandmother would occasionally hail me back to the village in fear that city life was the cause of my small frame. She would feed me to her heart’s content and to my dismay. When we moved to the UK, I was greeted with compliments about my size and upraised for looking like a ‘model’ by my friends.
Luckily within the West, this current wave of feminism has founded an eminent movement towards self-acceptance and discredited the idea that there is one set standard of beauty. This change has come about only after extreme cases such as: the rise in eating disorders, depression based on body image and self-harm. In contrast, it seems as though African cultures remain unaware of the effects of such detrimental social ideals, and harmful practices such as this continue to happen.
As Africans, we value our culture very dearly; despite its blatant value of misogyny and lack of mental health awareness. This expectation of women in Congo to have big bums, serves the sole purpose of satisfying male desire. It does not occur to the said men, the risk these women are undertaking to fit their perception of true beauty. These flaws in our cultures restrict growth and ensures that we stay stagnant as others grow and evolve. Both mental and physical repercussions will be sustained overtime if such ideals continue to be accepted as the norm.
In discussing these issues, my friend and I were wondering how to pioneer the same feminist revolution within Africa that we can see developing today in the West. We worry that these ideals have been so deeply ingrained in those raised in Africa that it might be difficult for some to initially understand and support such a considerable change. Therefore it might be up to the African diaspora to bring awareness to such issues. As diaspora, we have had the privilege of experiencing and understanding the different cultures, including the benefits and downfalls. It is our duty to share this knowledge in hope that we might inspire change.
I have been an active participant in many similar conversations, where issues such as misogyny, the corruption in the African government and lack of advocacy for mental health awareness, have led to faint and indistinct claims to go back and “be the change we are looking for.” I guess the dreaded question is, how many of us are actually willing to challenge the ideals of a home we never really knew?
By Mabel Mukandori