:: by Maureen St.Clair ::
Photo Source: Grenada Soul Adventurer
Twenty years ago when I first arrived to Grenada I was swept away by a radical way of thinking for this white middle class Canadian woman; fat meant healthy and thin meant stress. Having a body with some size meant you probably had someone home taking care of you and being too small meant the possibility of violence within the home. Of course these are huge generalizations but I have heard them on many occasions. The great irony of white middle class privilege is the large amount of women starving themselves in order to be thin, to feel good about themselves; in order to fit into a mold dictated by pop culture that views women as sexual objects and not individuals who hold their own natural beauty and style.
It wasn’t until I moved to the Caribbean that I began to feel comfortable within my body, I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them. It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.
Giving birth and raising a Grenadian/Canadian daughter in Grenada has been a gift, a gift in guiding her towards the holiness of her own natural beautiful self; a gift bestowed on her by being in an environment that is not saturated with thin white women smiling impossible images of billboard beauty. For the past 12 years she has been immersed within an environment where women move free in their bodies; from carnival where women of all sizes adorn themselves in colourful magical mystical sequenced costumes that free up the body to bounce, jiggle, wine, flow, flex to community exercise classes where women dance, laugh, keep fit and simply share good vibes. In one exercise session a woman jokingly asked another about her thighs; large billowy beautiful legs, “So I see you come to break down your thighs.” The women’s response, “Mi thighs!” slapping both legs with tenderness and love, “Nah man I come to work out the stiffness in mi belly.” My nine year old daughter in the corner laughing joyously.
Of course with the positive come the tainted corrupt violent aspects re the politics of women’s bodies; global patriarchal systems that favors bone over flesh, concrete over earth, profit over safety, man over woman; the effects of colonialism and now globalization continues to dictate, indoctrinate messages of beauty that very few cultures can escape. I recognize I write this reflection from a position of privilege and that the beauty myth comes from all angles and even though I witness the beauty of carnival with women freeing up their bodies I also know some of these same women will be sexually harassed, raped and even killed after they leave jouvert morning or the dance hall or their exercise classes by men who have a difficult time witnessing women’s power. I also realize the dictation of beauty comes in many disguises with many layers attached. For example the reality of using hard chemicals to bleach ones skin is a phenomenon throughout the world. The lighter your skin the more beauty you hold. In many families, schools, communities the lighter skin children are treated much better than the darker skin kids, many more doors open for those kids who look more European and less African; colonial mentality alive and thriving. I remember our 85 year old neighbour giving me nose straightening exercises to perform on Maya so she wouldn’t get her Fathers ‘African nose’ and getting angry, “cause I let this pretty fair child grow those nasty dreads.”
How do we raise our daughters to love their bodies, their natural curves; soft bellies, short limbs, wide hips, flat noses; thin noses; straight hair; fizzy red hair; small breasts; large breasts, coco brown skin; peachy white skin? How do we raise our daughters to love who they are free of societal perceptions? Many of our kids measure themselves against a saturated media market of thinness, whiteness, shallowness; perpetual images that squeeze our daughters and sons into inconceivable spaces that hold very little meaning outside a very small dull tedious box. And how do we teach our boys not to fall prey to this madness as they develop lookist and sexist attitudes from a very young age contributing to the violent beauty cycle, the violent patriarchal world system.
Today women continue to be underneath a male dominated microscope, a scope that dictates and defines how women should look, think and behave. These definitions reach deep into our psyches and we find ourselves becoming the biggest critic of ourselves and other women; robbing us our ability to celebrate and protect rather than condemn and judge one another. There are many complicated layers to the oppression of women but for now within this small reflection I write within a cultural space where I have learned how to love myself through witnessing the pride Caribbean women find through their bodies whether it be to the beat of the djembe or the rhythms of steel pan, the winding momentum of the dancehall, or the jump up for carnival. Perhaps this is why I find my own rhythms through the stroke of a paint brush, the mixing of colours the creation of women and girls doing their magical thing on canvas! And maybe this is why I find myself creating poems, fiction and non-fiction, themes embracing complicated characters immersed in complicated lives discovering who they are through beauty and pain. And perhaps this is why I am here in Grenada finding rhythms in my own natural beat leading the way for my Caribbean rooted daughter.
This piece is published on Groundation Grenada as part of Code Red’s Blog Carnival, an invite for bloggers to write on the theme ”To the Caribbean, With Love” this month!