The Girl Who Can

Friday, 10 November 2017

"As I keep saying, if any woman decides to come into this world with her two legs, then she should select legs that have meat on them: with good calves. Because you are sure such legs would support solid hips. And a woman must have solid hips to be able to have children."

This captivating read by Ghanaian writer, Ama Ata Aidoo highlights the issues of social criticism, femininity and body shaming.

Personally I was drawn to how effortlessly motivating and uplifting this short story is, from the view of a young girlAdjoawith so-called spindly, tooth-pick like legs according to Nana, who is her grandmother. She lived together with her mother and grandmother in a big village in central Ghana.

Throughout the book, it became tiresome to me how Nana would go on about her granddaughter's legs. She would say so many demeaning things about young Adjoa like:

'Ah, ah, you know Kaya, I thank my God that your very first child is female. But Kaya, I am not sure about her legs.'

'Ah maybe with legs like hers, she might as well go to school'

'...and you know, such things are not for talking about everyday. But if any female child decides to come into this world with legs, then they might as well be legs...'

'But Adjoa has legs, except that they are too thin'

This often caused back-and-forth arguments between Adjoa's mother, Kaya and Nana. Adjoa had heard this criticism about her legs so many times from her grandmother that it became an unsolicited anthem. She didn't want them to worry about her spindly seven-year old legs, she didn't want Nana to worry about her seven-year-old womb and her "inability" to bear children just because of the appearance of her legs.

These two women bickering on and on and on about the body structure of a little girlin the very presence of this little girlfailed to understand that Adjoa had the capacity to think, to understand and to worry. Yes, even at the tender age of seven. This is highlighted when the child states:

'...which always surprised me. Because, about almost everything else apart from my legs, Nana is such a good grown-up...How could Nana be a good grown-up when she carried on about my legs? All I want to say is that I really liked Nana except for that.'

However, the most motivating part of this entire read is the fact that little Adjoa never internalized such shame shown by Nana for her physical appearance.

Instead, Adjoa joined the athletics team in the community school. She was such a great runner, winning first place in every race that she was selected to join the school Junior's team. She was the youngest of all the team members.

Adjoa had won best-all rounder junior athlete...and of course, Nana's comments towards her completely flipped...a complete 360 degrees.

Nana carried Adjoa on her knees one evening after her granddaughter had returned home with a huge trophy which her grandmother had carried on her back; showing the shiny gold cup off to the people of Hasodzi village.

Nana cried softly, muttering: 'Saa...thin legs can also be useful....thin legs can also be useful....that even though some legs don't have meat on them, to carry hips...they can run. Thin legs can run...then who knows?'

Adjoa concludes: I don't know too much about such things. But that's how I was feeling and thinking all along. That surely, one should be able to do other things with legs as well as have them because they can support hips that make babies. Because someone would have told me never, never but NEVER to repeat such words...

It's much better this way. To have acted it show them...

There's nothing more powerful than this important message Aidoo had passed across to her readers through the shockingly intellectual mind of a little seven-year-old girl.

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Body-shaming and criticism are two issues that are still eating deep into our community both physically and virtually on social media. They are both sensitive topics that should be handled with utmost care, even when we think the other person wouldn't understand or react. It really does and can leave a mark.

Do you continuously shame or criticise (not constructively) another based on being over-weight, underweight, for having acne, for having skin problems like eczema, vitiligo, etc; for looking 'sick and tired' because she didn't use makeup, for choosing to wear her/his hair in its natural state, for having darker skin, for being too 'hairy for a woman', for being too short or too tall, for having a gap-tooth or buck teeth, for having a large forehead, for not possessing the so-called ideal hourglass figure, for having 'smaller' breasts, for having "no butt", for having stretch marks? I'm pretty sure we all own a mirror and do not need your constant demeaning unsolicited announcements and reminders.

Like Adjoa, we can also rise and not allow other people's insecurities, fears and bullying get the very best of us.

Keep glowing,

Front cover print:

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