My childhood nickname was Chubby Aby. I was a dowdy, shy girl who loved Enid Blyton books and food and was interested in little else. One day, a team of dancers came to my primary school to set up a Ballet Club. We were assembled to watch a performance and hear from the team after which we could decide if we wanted to sign up. All I remember is the thrill of excitement that I felt watching the performance, and uncle Brendan, the director- the way he moved; fluid and elegant… I was spellbound. After the performance, I edged my way forward to sign up and collected my form, amid the stares and glares. Now, I can imagine what they were thinking “What’s this fatty’s business with Ballet”, but back then, I was completely oblivious to it. I figured it was probably because I never showed any interest in anything other than books or literary events. When we started to train though, it became a different story. I started to see how different I was from everybody else, the people who naturally got the big routines without tryouts, just because of how they looked. I started to realize that being big was a problem and I needed to be lithe and graceful and pretty. So, the hard work began. I practiced as much as I could, tried to be dainty and girl-like, and wore small clothes that showed my belly button… After a lot of persistence, I snagged a little role for the End of School Year performance. Oh, the joy! I was over the moon. I made sure my mum paid in time, I had to get everything right. I felt this was my chance to show that even with my baby rolls and big bones, I could be every bit as mesmerizing as Atari, the lead dancer in the club. All of us ballerinas got to wear these oh so pretty tutus and flats that tied up to the knees. I was overwhelmed with excitement… My big moment was coming! Fast forward to performance time, we girls went into the changing room to get ready for the show. I wore the pretty tutu that I had already tested anyway and all that was left to complete the outfit was my pantyhose… but, it didn’t fit. Looking up in despair at uncle Brendan and some other aunty whose name I can’t remember now, we all huddled together in an attempt to stuff me into the hose. I tried sucking in my tummy, tearing the hose at the thighs to expand it, etc…Nothing worked. Our performance was announced at the stage and we had to start filing out. Realizing that I had a pirouette to do sometime in the middle of the performance, uncle Brendan made a quick decision, stripped me of the hose, and found me a really long pair of stockings. There was no time to mourn. I rushed out to join the other girls with a smile on my face and gave the performance of my life. When I remember that day now, I remember how the parents laughed upon seeing me rush out. They’d quickly figured out that I was an odd fit. In retrospect, the socks probably didn’t help. Suffice to say, the next term, I left the Ballet Club. I never did ballet again.
“The problem with labels is that they lead to stereotypes and stereotypes lead to generalizations and generalizations lead to assumptions and assumptions lead back to stereotypes. It’s a vicious cycle, and after you go around and around a bunch of times you end up believing that all vegans only eat cabbage and all gay people love musicals.”
21-year old Photographer, Favor Ogundimu brought this story to mind with her latest photo series: “What Becomes Who” as she seeks to identify labels that are used in society, how they define perception and their power in instantly shaping narratives. A graduation gown tells a story of academic triumph, and Chubby Aby in a tutu tells a story of one who doesn’t belong. These things do make you wonder: what are my labels? The ones given to me, the ones I give myself, and why do they shape my reality? I think it’s even funnier that in 2020, after all the years of imbalance and insecurity in the world, people still care about why you look the way you do as opposed to who you really are. I think it also means that we may not have evolved as individuals, even though times have changed.
It’s no surprise that I’m not fat now. If I was asked, I’d say it was my lifestyle, I don’t eat much and I try to exercise often. If I was to psychoanalyze the situation though, I’d say, the embarrassment I felt at the ballet performance when I was a child must have changed something in me. Something that made me hate being fat, something that made me see fat as something to be laughed at. I wanted to dissociate from the label which is a funny thing now ‘cos as a 20-something-year-old, I wish for all that lushness. I think it’s beautiful for a woman to be voluptuous and full. Thicc is the new hip, and most girls would give an arm and a leg to get all the volume that I hated as a young girl. And so goes the defunct cycle of society’s obtuse expectations. You feel you have something to prove because everybody tries to make you feel like for all the labels you carry, good or bad, you have to merit it. The good labels like “parent”, “professional”, “landlord” send you scurrying off in all directions trying to do everything to reinforce the hallowed status you so dearly hold. Inadvertently, the bad labels to help to cement regressive behavior. “Criminals” are more likely than any other person to commit another crime because society already expects it of them and so it goes. The f**king endless conundrum.
I can almost hear you thinking “ So? If this is what works why not just do it?” Well for one, there’s your mental health. Also, you become like everybody when you get caught up in that wild goose chase. Why would you ever want to be like anybody, when you can be you? Most of us hardly ever realize who we are. By this, I’m not referring to your father’s name, the pretty girl on your arm, or the car you drive… Most of us don’t know what we like, what we want, or who we love and so we end up in shitty, unproductive situations because we just followed the throng and never dared to take the high road… Think of yourself like a clove. Or like a flower. There are edges and layers and levels to you. And at the core is you. The real you.
This is also why the current situation of the world is that hiatus you need for self re-evaluation. If you won’t read all those quotes in you see on people’s social Timeline, then take the message here- Hang out with yourself and get to know yourself again, shed the labels, and embrace all of yourself. Re-emerge and fill the world with light.
The only gift you can ever give is yourself- pure, unadulterated, unfiltered.