Happy Kinyili, Mama Cash’s senior Programme Officer for our Body portfolio, recently attended the Bodies Unbound! Conference in Uganda. There she had the chance to spend five days with 30 girls who are pushing back on the world’s demands on their bodies and celebrating their bodies, just the way they are. These are her reflections on her experience.
I like my body. I (sometimes) eat nourishing food. I (occasionally) exercise and move my body to get the juices flowing and I always get a good night’s rest. Yet I very often take my body for granted, and rarely pay attention to the ways that I experience my body – I move my fingers, I mull on thoughts, I twist my hair and I feel the air in my nostrils. My body doesn’t present too many challenges.
Beyond liking my body, I enjoy my body. I like to run my tongue on my lips and feel them get wet with saliva. I love to bend forward with my head hanging down and feel the tension run up my back and out my shoulders. I smile when my stomach is filled with food I love. I enjoy running up the stairs and arriving chest heaving, out of breath.
I enjoy my body until I slam into the world and feel the weight of the world’s demands and expectations of my body.
Since my body has been declared “female” by the world, my lips are expected to remain in an almost permanent “smile” position and be nice to everyone: more so because my skin is black and I don’t want to scare people. Since my BMI index does not fit into the “healthy” category, I am supposed to ignore the hunger rumblings of my stomach and keep my mouth in the mostly locked position allowing minimal food in at all times. Since my breasts have succumbed to the pull of gravity and are not locked in the “perky” position, I have to climb into a bra each morning and seal them in place, and I will earn double points if they manage to catch someone’s attention from behind their prison quarters. And the list of demands goes on and on…
Well, because I want to keep liking and enjoying my body, I have to work at silencing the demands of the world. Therefore, I jump at all opportunities to spend time with others, who like me, are resisting the demands of the world and living liberated and unbound in their bodies. Fortunately, this past August at the Bodies Unbound! Conference, I had the chance to spend five spectacular days with 30 girls who are pushing back on the world’s demands on their bodies and celebrating their bodies, just the way they are. Through conversations, playing games, watching movies, dancing and a little self-defence training, we interrogated all the demands placed on the bodies of girls and shared strategies of resistance.
One of these shared strategies was to write love letters to our bodies. We identified one part of our body that we cherish and poured words of adoration all over it. We then identified one part of our body that the world’s demands still has in its grip and bathed it in reconciliatory offerings to begin the work of reclaiming that body part. We also took pictures of these body parts.
This photo gallery offers us a snapshot into this particular strategy. I put my own words to these pictures so as to share my memories of this powerful reclaiming and celebration and to honour the innumerable lessons I learned in the time shared with each of these girls.