It is well known that insecure men make fun of powerful women to hide their own feelings of insecurity. So I was not surprised at the pictures in the Redpepper newspaper showing police spokesperson, Judith Nabakooba, being ridden on a bodaboda, that raised a two-day debate on Ugandans At Heart (UAH) Forum. While I personally thought most of the male debaters were ‘crazy’ for not seeing the attraction in the smile always on her face, I saw nothing wrong in them finding her seemingly ‘big’ thighs the real point of discussion.
The fact is that a woman’s body has historically been a subject of regulation, discipline, debate and management. The woman’s body represents the place to project the memories and fantasies of racial,religious and cultural authenticity. Most African men tend to be attracted to the ‘big’ thighs and bums in women, and it is the main reason body image dissatisfaction, dieting, and disordered eating are more common in white than Black females. Racial differences exist in attitudes towards physical appearance and the stigma placed on weight gain and obesity. A black woman can be overweight but black men will still find her attractive which may not be the case with white men.
As a matter of fact, female beauty has always been so pervasive, so profoundly ambiguous such that we all interpret it differently. In her book The Character of Beauty in the Victorian Novel (1987), Lori Lefkovitz provocatively argues that ‘we have actually been trained to ignore descriptions of beauty’ (1984: 1), claims as applicable to the debates men tend to have everyday about women, such as Nabakooba legging it on a motorcycle in tight jeans. But I would argue that beauty has always been something we feel individually. Let me give you an example, I was told by some mates of mine about some beautiful girl in a place where my wife works, but I did not recognise her beauty the first time we met till when I came to appreciate her character( after some regular interactions between us). This girl may have been beautiful by default (because mum and dad are beautiful) but I only recognised her beauty after knowing her properly as a person.
This particular girl has long hair which even the Bible bases on to define beauty: ‘’If a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering’’—1 Corinthians 11:15, but I never appreciated her hair till when I started appreciating the inside of her, but then again, how do we explain the fact that some guys noticed her beauty before knowing her? Does this mean that we are different as human beings in this context?
Among the blacks, during the black Movement of 1960s and 70s, blackness was redefined such that afro centric or “naturally” Black hairstyles became associated with the authentic. As such, the only authentic Black hairstyles would be dreadlocks, afro, cane-row and plaits. However, this has changed tremendously in this century as most black women would love to look like other races. Eurocentric beauty standard of straight, long and flowing hair is now almost the dream of any black woman who visits a hair salon. They just hate the authenticity that defined them in 1960s and 70s. Even Nabakooba’s hair as she relaxingly looked on a ‘bodaboda’ (motor cycle) is not an authentic hair style. These changes have also been reflected in the way black women dress, talk, and smile or sometimes treat themselves in public. There is a semi erosion of Black/ African culture in all aspects of life.
One possible explanation about this change can be explained by Leon Festinger’s Social Comparison theory(SCT) that suggests that people compare themselves to others when they are not certain about themselves. Before slave trade, black hair styles were a reflection of cultural and spiritual meanings, and some of these historical styles are still in existence today, for example: twists, braids, Zulu knots, Nubian knots, and dreadlocks. When slave traders were transferred to other countries, they found it difficult to keep African hair styles, so they resorted to wearing head scarves or handkerchiefs atop their heads, something we still see in Afro- American ladies especially in some black American films.
SCT was also shown among black men in the 18th century where some resorted to wearing wigs just because it was fashionable for white men of the upper class to wear wigs at the time. I guess this explains why Michael Jackson (RIP) and his brothers used to wear wigs when their music band had just started up. It is something that started when blacks (slaves) got jobs in influential white homes or plantations. They adopted all sorts of white cultures in order to fit in.
Already some black women have started seeing beauty in the same way white folks do due to assimilation into mainstream culture and acceptance of mainstream culture ideals of attractiveness as thin. As a student of public health promotion, I should probably go with my brain on this one rather than emotions, by accepting that fat is causing a lot of health problems to people. May be this black evolution in definition of beauty may be a blessing in disguise as it will encourage healthy eating and also control the ageing process of our black women which wasn’t the case in the past.
I know its fashion to some people and probably most men like it, but I still think that women with big hips should not wear clothes that accentuate their girth. If you are a Muslim lady, try to ‘fashion-out’ with a ‘hijab’ as it may give you the same confidence as Nabakooba in tight jeans.
Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba