Written by Chidinma Ekekeh
For about 20 years, Emedaobi had uterine prolapse, which caused her to feel ashamed. She didn’t attend any functions that required an overnight stay or any that would involve having her bath with other women.
Uterine prolapse occurs when a woman’s pelvic floor is weakened such that her uterus and the organs around it move out of position and are no longer supported properly, leading to the uterus protruding into the vagina or out of it. Research shows pelvic floor disorders are associated with childbirth. However, women who give birth through spontaneous vaginal delivery have a 70% higher risk of developing pelvic organ prolapse compared to women who deliver via caesarean section.
“It was after I had my second child through vaginal delivery that I experienced uterine prolapse, but it wasn’t severe, so I didn’t go to the hospital for it. But when I was pregnant with my third child, whom I had to deliver through a caesarean section as the doctor instructed, the weight of the baby worsened the condition, and my uterus came out more. Since then, I’ve felt ashamed.” Emedaobi explained.
From uterine prolapse to weight gain, pregnancy affects women’s bodies differently. For Zed, it was weight gain and “tired boobs” due to pregnancy and PCOS that made her feel like she wasn’t pretty.
But pregnancy isn’t the only thing that affects women’s bodies. Illnesses, disabilities, age, et cetera, also affect our bodies.
After Seyi was diagnosed with a mental disorder, she started taking medication which made her put on so much weight. Seyi shared the negative changes that came with her weight gain: “I was really slim at some point in my life, and all of a sudden I got so fat and increased to 92 kg. A lot of people body-shamed me, including my family; some said I was pregnant, others said that I couldn’t carry myself well, and even my parents insulted me. People asked my mum whether her daughter had given birth, which made her embarrassed to go out with me. It was a very hard time for me. I had a very big stomach, and I was eating a lot then due to my drugs. Later, some people said I had an abortion.”
She was not only shamed; she was also restrained from eating and prevented from buying junk food. Her family would lock the kitchen to prevent her from eating.
Another woman who wishes to remain anonymous (we’ll call her Shade) also talked about how she was diagnosed with ovarian cysts early last year and one of them ruptured. She said, “After one of the cysts ruptured, I had to undergo a medical procedure that changed my body. My stomach got bigger and was pretty obvious in all the clothes I wore; for someone who was slim and previously had a completely flat stomach, it was upsetting. I went from wearing bodycon dresses that defined my shape to wearing free dresses. It was one thing for people to keep pointing out the swell, but it also felt embarrassing for me to even look in the mirror.”
Then she started to gain weight and hate her body. “I shied away from looking in the mirror or shopping for clothes that defined my shape.”
While the changes so far made these women feel ashamed or other negative feelings and even resulted in people shaming them, some body changes affect other women positively. That was the case with Debs (not her real name).
Debs talked about how she reached 30 and her body confidence increased: “I feel extremely confident about my body; it’s definitely more rounded, and the glow… omg! I still hate midi dresses though, and I’m still overly conscious of my fupa. Need I add that I have lost the battle with a flat tummy?” She added with a smile on her face. Her confidence was palpable.
HOW THESE CHANGES AFFECTED THEIR SEXUAL LIVES
The changes our bodies undergo affect different aspects of our lives, including our sexual lives. Some women have more or less sex, while others choose abstinence.
For Debs, she had more sex. “Since the first time I had sex, I felt inadequate. I used to be very uncomfortable with certain sex positions, and I always wondered whether I was enough sexually. But in my late twenties, I stopped feeling that way. It also helped that my partner would encourage me to relax and seek out only my pleasures. Gradually, I overcame the discomfort and started looking forward to different sex positions. Then I turned 30, and my sexual drive hit the roof. Now, I enjoy sex more, and my man has to do more to keep me satisfied.”
Seyi, on the other hand, wasn’t really affected sexually though it led to her ending her relationships with her boyfriends. “My ex-boyfriend shamed my body so much. Then, after we made out, he’d start making derogatory comments about my body, and so I broke up with him. The next boyfriend I had didn’t outrightly shame my body; he’d just say I shouldn’t put on certain clothes because my stomach was too big.” Seyi explained to us.
Like so many other women, Shade chose abstinence. She shied away from sex because she was self-conscious of what her body looked like naked. She said, “I’ve always had a low libido, so it worked out just fine. Even when my libido became moderately high, I made an abstinence pledge to myself for six months. And during that time, I genuinely lost interest in men.”
But in Emedaobi’s case, abstinence kind of chose her. She told us how she hasn’t had sex for over 10 years, and she’s less than 50 years old. “My husband has some sexual problems, and he blamed them on my condition, which wasn’t the reason. But because of the shame I felt, I couldn’t say much. And so for over 10 years, I haven’t had sex, even though I have sexual urges. This made me have sex in my dreams, which caused me to feel bad. At some point, I reached out to a friend about this, and she suggested I masturbate. But when I tried it, it only made me feel worse, so I stopped. I also stopped because of my beliefs as a Christian.”
HOW DID THEY ACCEPT THESE CHANGES?
As women, our bodies change constantly for different reasons, including our hormones. Even within a month, some women’s boobs, thighs, butts, hips, etc., get bigger at different points of their menstrual cycle, such that it affects their sexual lives. Our changing bodies are constant, so we have to learn to accept our bodies through these changes. This acceptance doesn’t come in one day; it’s often a work in progress. Sometimes we go two steps backward and three steps forward, but we keep learning to accept our changing bodies. If you’ve gone some steps backward in this acceptance journey, know that it’s okay.
Debs said she knew her body hate had to go, and she did something about it. “I started seeing a physiotherapist, who helped me out with physical exercises. I also started playing volleyball and lawn tennis, and I found peace. I didn’t opt for the gym though, because I wanted to take things slowly and easily on myself. And a year later, I’m in a much better place physically and mentally. I have embraced the swell of my stomach and I rock it irrespective of judgement.”
Acceptance has different colours for different women, and that’s okay.
Seyi’s medication was changed to one that didn’t make her put on as much weight. “My medication was changed due to the weight gain, so I lost some weight, though I don’t think this drug is as effective as my previous drug. I also fell sick for a while; I kept throwing up, and by the time I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative gastritis, I had lost more weight. I lost about 20 kg, yet people still shame me, and my father says I need to lose more weight.
Another thing is that I’ve always been confident about my body, but the people around me made me feel bad about it. I started exercising because I want a flatter tummy. My sister, who’s much more feminist than I am, was always there for me too, which helped a lot.” Seyi told us.
For Zed, she found acceptance through God. “Liberation began when Abba started calling me beautiful and sending strangers to randomly call me his beauty. My partners being obsessed with my body also made me more comfortable with my looks.”
Whatever way you find your acceptance is valid.
Emedaobi had surgery for her condition and no longer feels shame. When asked about her sexual life, she said this: “I stopped watching movie scenes that would make me feel sexual urges. I also asked God to take the sexual urges away.”