So Cosmo Says You’re Fat

…well, I ain’t down with that!”

Maybe you don’t remember Sir Mixalot’s quintessential curvy-girls anthem, “Baby Got Back.”   But I do.  Growing up, I was sandwiched between skinny and fat in that gray area people called “sturdy” or “thick,” and I memorized every last lyric to this fat-bottom tribute because I knew I’d never look like those magazine models, and I assumed that beauty centered on some fixed, universal standard that I would never meet.  Then, in 2008, I moved to Ghana, West Africa and my perspective changed completely.

In Ghana, a place where food can be scarce and abs are chiseled by years of manual labor, roundness has become the sought-after ideal.  Women don’t compliment each other on their weight loss.  Quite the opposite: “Have you put on weight? You are looking so good these days!” I can’t tell you how many times my friend Judy, a nurse I worked with at a clinic in Ghana, greeted me with “You are looking nice and fat today.” Now, I have spent years nourishing a healthy body image, but “nice and fat” still feels like an oxymoron.

Women in Ghana are given images of voluptuous role-models: movie stars, singers, actors, even newscasters are all soft, curvy women.  Continue reading