My relationship with my body has always been turbulent. You see, I grew up in a culture where the words, “You’ve put on weight” were a common greeting, so my ever-changing figure has been at the forefront of my mind since childhood.
I wasn’t a ‘fat’ child, not by any means, but I did carry a little ‘puppy fat’ around the middle, and though I never really thought about it, it was glaringly obvious that others were watching my body as I grew up, and after a battle with malaria at just eleven years of age, family members never stopped complimenting me on how much weight I’d lost.
Long story short, my pre-teen mind managed to internalise the praise I was getting for losing weight. Add that to the growing pressures that TV shows and teen magazines like ‘Mizz’ (remember that one?) put on young girls to look a certain way, I was starting to understand that any self-respecting young woman needed to be stick-thin, with glowing skin, and long, straight hair.
So, of course, a decade-long battle with bulimia and body dysmorphia ensued. As did my obsession with working out to stay skinny.
Fast-forward to January 2020, two months postpartum. I was beginning to feel like “myself” again, ready to hit the gym, or the dance studio, or a capoeira class. And as if the gods heard my prayers, I met the wonderful human being that is Mele Broomes, dancer, artist, and director. She told me about a series of classes she was leading in support of the physical and mental wellbeing of female and non-binary people from non-European backgrounds.
“Hey, that’s me!” I yelled in my English-Yoruba-ness.
My mental health was my priority throughout my pregnancy as I have a long history of depression and anxiety. And taking care of my physical health was a no-brainer, having just had a baby.
We started with an upbeat flow to music that made me feel directly connected to both myself and the other, beautifully, melanated people in the room.
And I bloody loved it!
Not only was I moving my body once again (my gammy joints made pregnancy workouts feel like I climbing Mount bloody Everest), I was also socialising! As anyone who has moved to a new city would know, making friends with those who share the same hobbies as you is an absolute must if you wish to survive in this cold, cold, world.
Unfortunately, after just a few sessions, March 2020 brought us our first COVID-19 lockdown. We managed to move online, as did a lot of my other classes, but it just wasn’t the same.
I quickly descended into a deep state of (postpartum) depression. Except, this time, I couldn’t stay in bed and watch all the films I wanted, or go to a friend’s house for the pick-me-up that I desperately needed. I had a baby to look after! And with my anxiety soaring through the roof, I couldn’t bring myself to go outside for fear of bringing home a virus that could prove fatal to either me or my son.
Summer transformed into winter, and with even less contact with the outside world, my depression reached an all-time low. I ran on auto-pilot to keep my son fed while feeding myself with whatever sugary or caffeinated snacks I could to keep myself going. And I put on A LOT of weight. I don’t know how much because I refused to look at a scale beyond my first trimester, but it was enough that the comments started rolling in again.
“Your cheeks are looking chubbier.”
“You’ve really filled out!”