Getting older isn’t funny. It’s very serious business. I’m now in the age bracket that requires a healthy sense of fear about not only your mortality — but also the seamless bravery to slowly bid adieu to the softness and plumpness of youth — in all its immaculate glory.
When I was a younger — I had a remarkably low key relationship with my body because to be honest — there wasn’t much of it to contest. I was as thin as a rail all through childhood into adolescence and finally adulthood.
During my boarding school years ( 11–17) — I began to notice how most of my classmates were blossoming — and yet my breasts were still not big enough to give up training bras — and my hips didn’t have enough meat to fill out the navy blue skirt we inherited once we hit the upper classes.
That was the only period of my life when I began to buckle under the pressure of keeping up with what was viewed as desirable. As an American-born Nigerian girl — growing up in her native land — I was privy to the power that was allotted to food in the sense that we were encouraged to eat as much of it as we could — so that the results reflected our pompous lifestyle.
I was almost always the thinnest girl in the class and instead of relishing it the way my American counterparts would — it made me feel like something was wrong with me. I vowed at the end of every term that I would return to school with a physique that would once and for all prove my ability to produce ripened bosoms while enhancing the other assets that still resembled the template of boys my age.
While on break — I indulged in all the stuff that is supposed to fatten you up if you don’t watch yourself.
I ate tons of vanilla ice cream. I drank Fanta like it was water. I raided the pot of fried meat and chicken — every Sunday before and after dinner. I descended on mountains of meat pies, puff puff and chin chin — while watching back to back episodes of Dempsey and Makepeace.
None of it worked. I literally wouldn’t gain a pound — much to the delight of my school mates — who would tease me incessantly once they caught a glimpse of me for the first time — and noticed that I was returning to class with my stick figure intact.
As the only daughter — my mother lavished me with love and praise. She knew I was slightly annoyed at being the focus of jokes that were meant to playfully draw attention to the fact that no matter how much I ate — I still couldn’t transform my body into something that showcased my efforts.
Things didn’t change much when I left my country to pursue college in my other country — America.
But — by then I was eighteen and well aware of how lucky I was to be naturally slender — without lifting a finger. I also enjoyed the way White girls in particular — were wowed by my ability to chow down a platter of corn dogs for lunch and then attack a plate of fried rice with short ribs for dinner — and not have to worry about the consequences.
Their admiration didn’t go to my head because it was almost like taking credit for something that is beyond your control. I never thought about my body as being this vessel of perfection because of it’s unique method of storing junk in ways that didn’t betray my bad habits. I just accepted it for what it was without pondering why it was that way.
Of course after graduation — when I went back to show off my degree and reunite with my family — the jokes started again — but some of it laced with genuine concern. My maternal grandmother was the most dramatic about her fears that I was suffering in a foreign land that was eating me alive. She was convinced that if I returned — I might die.
Older and wiser — I was able to explain to her that I may be too thin for our culture — but in America — I was perfect. I showed her the images in magazines — depicting models who were just as slim if not slimmer. Since my grandmother was still learning the English language— she depended mostly on visuals. She seemed to get the gist of it — but I know that her concern for me was always there.
Living in New York and Los Angeles was bearable because I was thin.
Comments from those who just met always revolved around how small I was and how they wished they could be that little. A former roommate — A White girl — who was also in her mid-twenties — made it a point to shame my voracious appetite. She wanted to be an actress and at that point so did I — and we both enjoyed food — which was evident in how much we took advantage of the vibrant options in Astoria, Queens.
Her issue was how much I ate and the fact that even though she ate a little less — I managed to avoid gaining any weight — while she was frustratingly trying to maintain hers. Her meanness escalated and I ended up moving out — but I never forgot how she would turn my well-slathered bagel in the morning — into an opportunity to grill me about how I was able to store “all that food” from the night before.
Looking back — she probably wanted to believe I had an eating disorder.
I had another friend who made it impossible for me to shop with her due to how much shit she would give me for not stocking my wardrobe with “barely there” items. She had weight issues that were mainly connected to her diet. She wasn’t threatened by my thinness — but she was irritated with the way I chose to present my body.
She assumed that being slender — automatically gave me permission to wear the shortest skirts — the tightest tops — and deepest V-necks on the sales rack. She wanted me to dress like she would if she were “lucky enough” to have my physique — and her meddling grew offensive as I tried to make her understand that my stylebook was the essence of who I was at that time.
Thankfully she made drastic adjustments to her regimen — lost a ton of weight and began to dress the way she always wanted me to — and her self-indulgence worked out for both of us.
As I approached my mid-thirties — I had grown accustomed to the mechanics of my body and enjoyed the reward of my daily workouts. I remember an ex-boyfriend likening my buttocks to two fists and taking it a step further by comparing my body to the leanness of Usain Bolt.
I was a bit taken aback by his comment as I imagined how in the world he could enjoy fucking me — if my body was similar to one of the most revered male athletes in the world. He cited that since I had divulged that I used to be a runner in boarding school — he was simply expressing his awe for something he considered to be “flawless.”
After years of being secure with my well-oiled machine — I’m not experiencing the incredible blow of re-defining myself without the assistance of the one thing that has never failed me.
I am no longer my body. I am now the oldest — but not the thinnest girl in the room. I can’t eat whatever the fuck I want without paying dearly for it. My once muscled arms — thighs — and calves are slowly — but surely giving way to the oddities of aging. The shape of my derriere changes monthly and so far — I’m not impressed. And my once-enviably flat tummy has become a demonic appendage.
The frustrating aspect of it all is that I’m not over-weight. I’m just not that girl with the impossibly lean figure that I never asked for and now miss with a level of vanity that I find almost repulsive.
My worst moment happened when I did the short film for Medium’s “Noteworthy” series. I was appalled at my “thickness” and instead of appreciating being honored for what I was doing — I was distractingly involved in how I looked and why it mattered.
But — my body — myself — will both have to figure out how to agree.
I’m not totally against the revisions that are being made without my consent — although I resent the fact that I’ve lost the privilege to shop for the sizes that I used to slide into with comfort and grace. I also hate that all that time at the gym really doesn’t count for as much as it used to anymore. And the hips that I so desperately wanted when I was sixteen have finally arrived — and I can’t send them back.
I also miss the compliments that used to amuse me not too long ago. Now — I have that average body that I never mocked others for having because I never thought I would end up sporting it.
The model-like limbs have succumbed to the symptoms of being alive long enough to watch how your self separates from the body that doesn’t even know who the hell you are.
I guess I will spend the rest of my life introducing myself. To this body.