The last time I was in bed with a man he had to reach down and lift my breast up to his mouth before he could suck on the nipple. I’ve slept with this man in the past — he is an ex —
and there was a time when he just had to put his mouth to my chest and suck away. Now my boobs are three full inches lower, gravity is no longer my Facebook friend, and my boobs got covered in deep jagged stretch marks on their journey to my toes. In the last four years I’ve gained over 40 pounds. It’s not just that I’m fatter. Things have … shifted. After having an ovary removed I have the equivalent of a C-section scar running from my left hipbone to my right. Somehow this scar has caused the skin to pucker and created this weird flap of skin that has filled with fat and become a floppy pouch. So basically, I have a gut, and then beneath it I have a fleshy fanny-pack. The inside of my thighs have grown these fatty pockets that stretch around to the bottom of my butt and when I pee this hybrid-inner-thigh-lower-butt-fat-pocket crowds the space around my ladybits and the pee splashes up against it. The muffin top struggle is real outchea in these streets. I used to have a waistline. You know what, screw the faux-humility, I used to be a frickin Coca-Cola bottle. Any issues I had with my body came up when I was buying or putting on clothes but, naked, I felt like a goddess — free and sexy, and most importantly, present.
Things are different now. Once I take my clothes off I’m all up inside my head. I can’t relax and be in the moment. I’m seeing myself through the guy’s eyes and grading my body. I know I shouldn’t feel this way. When it comes to sex my view is that you do not ever take your clothes off in front of someone whose attraction to you is even slightly ambivalent. There are enough things that are not within your control that are designed to make you insecure and so the things you have some control over shouldn’t. I only get naked with men who make me feel good about myself. This was an easy rule to live by in the past; how I looked naked was exactly how, or even better, than how I looked with clothes on. So, if a man was attracted to me then the fact that he’d still be nuts with lust when I undressed was verifiable. Now I live in Spanx and a part of me, though I know it is rubbish, feels like I’m engaging in a little bit of subterfuge. False advertising, if you will. So the guy might be attracted when I’m clothed and then lose his mojo once the things come out of the support garments and start flopping around. I know enough about men to know that they don’t notice a lot of things that we do— we’re naked, we’re eager, that is usually more than enough for them. Yet I have trouble reconciling what I know with how I feel.
I think this is really common for all of us. We’ve believed Oprah, we’ve read Phenomenal Woman, we know the magazines are airbrushed. We know we are worthy of desire. Yet somehow we don’t feel it in the depths of our feet. We come from a community where, despite all the studies that claim that black men don’t care about weight, there is still a distinct standard of beauty. You can be what white people might consider fat but it all has to be in the right places, in the right proportions. And if you are dating professional men then all that has to come with the right face and the right hair and the right values and the right stove skills and the right credit score and the right degree. It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t just insecure about my body, I was insecure about allllllll these things. I defined myself more and more by my appearance the more I felt like I didn’t have all the other qualifications. I measured myself by the “young, gifted and black” metric instead of the “me, me and me” metric. Which is the only one that matters.
I had to do a lot of work to realize the standards of beauty and achievement I was holding myself to. I had to think about what it meant to live in this body in this country with these standards. The epiphanies I had didn’t come from looking at myself naked in the mirror and writing down the things that were beautiful (I’m sure it works but it was beyond my emotional maturity). It didn’t come from repeating affirmations in the mirror every morning. It came when I made some assessments about my sexuality and admitted three things to myself:
- I defined the degree of connection with someone by how good the sex was. I fell in love with a person’s values, personality and character but I stayed in love with them based on how often they made my toes curl.
- I measured a lot of my self-worth by how good I was in bed. The thought that a sexual experience with me wasn’t amazing made me pitifully melancholy. In order to be whole I needed to look good in bed and be good in bed. I thought of the look of my body as part of the sexual experience I was offering.
- I had never not hated my body. As much as I had convinced myself that I was comfortable in my skin and grateful for my figure, at every point in my life I had longed for the body I had before, instead of reveling in the one I had then. At 125 pounds I cried because I had lost my curves and longed to be 135. At 135 I felt flabby and wanted so badly to be toned. At 145 I was more toned but thought there had been less cellulite in my butt at 135, and at 160, how I had looked at 145 was suddenly perfect. At 180 I would have bartered my niece to look as stacked and snatched as I did at 160 and at 200 pounds I would have given all four limbs plus eight toes to go back to 180. I realized that one day I would be 250 and then the 200-pound body that I hated with a passion now would suddenly become something I aspired to. When would it end?
I think as black women our bodies have so much historical baggage attached to them. As I start to unpack mine I get a little closer to a path of acceptance. The last time the ex and I were knocking boots I tried to remind myself that just because I noticed he had to lift my boob to attend to it didn’t mean that he did. And even if he did, just because I minded didn’t mean he would. I told myself that it was silly to keep wondering if he was grading the average sex we were having against the always mind-blowing sex we had in 2011 and if he was feeling dissatisfied with the level of service at the establishment. I needed to focus on the sensations on my skin, revel in my limbs being moved around in interesting ways, enjoy the privilege of having a warm, chocolate, happy body to touch and remind myself that whatever was happening in that bed did not define me.
I’m not sleeping with anyone right now and there are still days when I look at my body and go “damn homie, in high school you were the man homie, what the f**k happened to you?” When that happens I take a breath and try to keep some perspective. I remind myself of all the things that I’ve learnt. I close my eyes and tell myself that I am whole and I am enough.
F.N. is a thirty something Ghanaian free-lance writer who alternates between living in Accra and Washington, DC.