3 women reimagine beauty standards in Nigeria

I stood in front of the mirror a short while ago and complained that my tummy was getting bigger. While saying that, I remembered that two strands from my set of waist beads also snapped off and I screamed that I was getting fat. In my head, I have a goal weight I intend to maintain and the slightest change to that means I am veering off from the beauty standard people have of me. I had to remind myself that between getting my period, ovulating, stress eating sometimes and alternately having some level of peace in my personal life, my body is bound to react.

It can be a lot to take in especially as we are all on the journey of accepting realistic bodies. Bodies that come with the extra skin here and there, body fat in healthy places, stretch marks, hip dips etc.

Beauty standards Marie Claire

Bodies are bodies and they will always “body”.

Beauty standards are as different as they are similar in various societies all over the world. Society tends to redefine the meaning of beauty constantly, judging by what is trendy and what’s not. The world has gone from “tall & slim” to “small waist with perky boobs” then  to “slim thick” and back to “perfect shape with some volume”. We also want toned legs, arms, glowing, soft, firm but not tight skin.

While maintaining a healthy lifestyle, many of us still find ourselves falling for the allure of body morphing products like waist trainers, push up bras, slimming teas etc. We forget that as women, we have so many hormones to battle internally and these affect our physical bodies as well. There are times you need to choose your battles wisely and tying your self worth to your body should not be one of them.

Again, your body will body. It will change with different seasons and times. It will change with whatever you are putting into it and it will change with genetics. For some people, if exercise and diet won’t give them the body they desire, going under the knife is an option. The question is, what are your genuine reasons for wanting this new body? With the ever evolving beauty standards, will the new ones affect you just like the old ones did?

Beauty standards affect everyone, no matter the size.

“As a plus size person, it’s a struggle to find your bearing against the beauty standards in Nigeria. Family members will comment that you’re now “large”, bus conductors will loudly joke that you’ll pay for 2 seats because of your butt, people will be “concerned about your health”, and fashion brands do not carry clothes beyond size 14. If they do, it comes with extra charges for bigger sizes”, says an exasperated Jennifer.

Beauty standards Marie Claire

As a content creator & a customer experience specialist, Jennifer is no stranger to facing an audience either on social media or physically. She speaks on the disparity in compliments when it comes to sizes. “Attempts you make to dress nicely are met with compliments like “I love your confidence”, and you’re wondering why the same compliment isn’t being dished to slimmer people for just simply dressing up. Why is not looking drab suddenly equated to confidence because you’re plus size? Are plus size people supposed to hide away and not be seen?”

What is the fixation with people’s bodies?

The society, made up of people like you & I, has simply placed too much importance on something that is hardly within anyone’s control. This, in turn, affects the lives of women especially. We are confined within spaces that hinder us from attaining certain goals in other aspects of our lives, just because we look a certain way and are expected to navigate life accordingly.

Plus size women are not alone in this

In Nigeria, there are tribes that believe the slimmer you are, the less healthy you must be. In some cases, it is said that the more “flesh” you have reflects the type of affluence you live in.

Tosin, an influencer expert & consultant, reflects, “The beauty standard in Nigeria isn’t slim/skinny. It’s a thick, voluptuous figure. People called me “opelenge” or “lepa” growing up and some of them weren’t in a positive tone. Questions like “do you even eat” came up quite a lot and things like that could skew your view of beauty as you try to navigate your life as a woman.”

“opelenge” or “lepa” are Yoruba terms used on a skinny person.

Just like Jennifer complained about sizes, Tosin says, “It doesn’t help that there aren’t many sizes 0-2 dresses on the market, if we are keeping it a buck. I had to slim fit a lot of my clothes. I tried gaining weight but it just didn’t happen, so I think it’s my genes.”

She relocated to Canada and the culture shock has still not gotten her properly settled. “It became a bit weird when I moved abroad and the beauty standard was slim/skinny but I still can’t buy into it because that’s not what I grew up with.”

Over the years, Tosin has learnt to accept her body and focus on dressing in ways that make her feel comfortable and pretty. “I no longer buy big clothes to hide my skinny hands and neck. It also helps that I have a husband that treats me like the best thing after sliced bread so I’m not too obsessed about being the thick babe I saw as the beauty standard for a long time”

Perfection is a myth.

When Chioma had to hustle off her beauty, it was not because she was simply vain. She realized what paved the way for her easily and capitalized on that. What she later realized was that it had affected her entire outlook on life and when she got breakouts on her face, she struggled for a bit.

Being self conscious of what we see as imperfections can hack deeply into our self esteem. People have bad skin which, just like bad hair days, which can equally be repaired. Making that a basis where one’s entire existence being affected is quite damaging.

No doubt, there is a case for the confidence that comes with looking and feeling good. For people who choose to go the cosmetic surgery route, there is a need to do due diligence. You need to do a lot of self-reflection and research. There are so many cases of botched surgeries especially in Nigeria, most of these are irreversible. It will also take years of constant touch ups to get the desired result. Perfection is a myth either in organic or surgical bodies.

Beauty Standards Should Not Define Your Self-Worth

SME Specialist, Dammy thinks “Nigerian women care too deeply about beauty standards; being fair, bbl, frontal etc. and try too hard to fit in. In the end nobody cares about these things and they end up developing a negative sense of self esteem.”

As a plus sized busty woman who loves fashion, Dammy says unrealistic beauty standards don’t affect her outlook on life. “Honestly, even though I sometimes think of being a baddie because of the latest beauty standards, body shaming is not new to me and it doesn’t affect me anymore because I know who exact I am. Now, I face my own standard. What makes me feel good is what I do.”

Tosin thinks every one should be their own beauty standard. “Societal beauty standards come and go. For how long will we try to be the standard per time? The pressure is exhausting.”

Jennifer opines that beauty standards fully affect one’s outlook on life except you’re one of those rare people who aren’t fazed by anything. “On the surface, it affects how you dress, but more deeply, how you see yourself.”

A big factor that contributes to the constant comparisons is not accepting your body for what it is. Trying to morph it into what you think is the right look is counter productive. When you accept your body, you begin to dress more for the body you already have while working healthily towards your body goals. This breeds more confidence in your overall look.

Tying your self-worth to societal set standards innately does more harm to your confidence as a woman. You need to see yourself as the standard and nobody should make you see yourself less than that. Our journey starts from within, if you feel good, you project a better outlook of yourself physically.


  • Wumi 'Tuase

    Fashion & Beauty Editor. Wumi holds a PR major with over a decade experience in the media; from print to broadcast and now digital media. Fashion is her passion and she sees Beauty in everything. Some of her favorite things are: a two piece set, white wine, beach days, thrift shopping & cheesy romcoms.

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