My sister and I traveled to Ghana at varying points in the year; she in April and I in September. Whether we find ourselves in the country at the same time or not, we have historically (and reliably) been subject to the same phenomenon: comments about our weight. By “people”, I mean women. They could be blood relatives or brand-new acquaintances, all connected by a singular concern.
“Why are you so fat?”
Or, expressed with slightly more joviality: “You are fat oooooooo!”
Upon landing in Accra, I braced myself for the onslaught of judgment…and for the four weeks I was there, exposed to none. When I realized this, I was exultant. I called my sister to share my observations.
“Hey, Adwoa! When I was in Ghana, guess what? NOBODY called me fat!”
I could almost hear her eyes widening on the other end when she gasped, “Me too!”
We were both giddy with joy…which quickly gave way to suspicion.
Adowa: Ah. So does this mean we’ve gone from ‘sister’ to ‘auntie’?
Adwoa: In fact, now that I think about it, NO ONE referred to me as ‘sister’. It was either ‘Madame’, ‘Auntie’ or ‘Mumeee’. I suppose it’s because I always had the kids with me.
Me: I had no kids and I was never referred to as ‘sister’.
And then suddenly it made sense: None of those recalcitrant women who hitherto made uninvited comments about our bodies felt the need to do so anymore. We weren’t among the ranks of small girls. After all, WE WERE NOW ONE OF THEM.
My sister tasked me to find out at what point an African woman crosses from one realm into the next (and I promise I will), but I have a more pressing concern, that is ‘In general, am I still considered fuckable?’ It’s not a question I’ve had to interrogate before, as I have lived in perpetual presumed fuckability. However something unknown about my outward appearance/attitude/aura has shifted and now I’m not so sure.
I know, I know. This line of inquiry is incredibly anti-feminist as it objectifies the subject (me), but we are all still fighting our inner misogynist, which is mine took me into the DMs of three male friends (F1, F2 and F3) to explore the topic. These are all men whom I consider good friends, who have never signaled or expressed sexual interest and are profound thinkers. I considered them the perfect respondents, even if the sample size was small. In separate messages, I asked them one simple – although alarming, I admit – question:
AT FIRST GLANCE, DO YOU CONSIDER ME MATRONLY OR FUCKABLE?
I peered at my phone for what felt like ages, awaiting the responses after the shock wore off. Finally.
F1: OH my God, Malaka! No. No. No!
I asked him to explain. He refused to.
F2 and I spoke on the phone as part of my data collection.
“You’re a mother,” he said flatly, clearly unimpressed.
“But I should also add that because of my Christian background, I don’t think of women in that way. I think it’s so dehumanizing.”
This particular friend is a newlywed, so I listened while he launched into an explanation about why his wife was the hottest thing since the invention of the Ghost Pepper, and how even when she makes silly faces she’s just SO sexy, and blah blah blah. Because that’s what you do when you care about someone. You listen keenly to the other person’s irrelevant spiel even when it’s got nothing to do with the pressing topic at hand.
“And all that aside, you’re my friend.”
F3 was far more diplomatic in his response, but just as unhelpful as the rest.
“You are both. Although motherly is the word I’d use, not matronly.”
Ah ha. I see.
“Residing in both places is genius.”
Aba! Really, I should’ve just asked three lesbians. I feel like women who sleep with other women would be able to assess attractiveness and answer the question objectively without projecting that the line of enquiry means that I want to have sex with them. Noooo… I just had to ask thoughtful men; men who would consider the ramifications of their responses instead of answering viscerally as I requested! You see? My heterosexual bias is what led me to this path of further confusion.
Does any of this even matter? Does the relationship between the auntie factor and fuckability quotient make a difference in the price of rice? Well no…and yes. I suppose for me, it signifies one of the many phases in women’s lives that we all go through, but rarely discuss. I sometimes hear from women of a certain age discussing how invisible they feel – something I have not yet confronted but am curious about. What does it feel like to exist in the world yet feel unseen? Likewise while the question my perceived fuckability may be steeped in vanity, I still am curious.
What about you?