Navigating Getting Older as a Woman Aged Since Childhood
Aging ‘like fine wine’ is a descriptor reserved for people who fit the societal standards of conventional attractiveness. What happens when one does not conform to these rigid ideas?
●26th May 2023
Unfortunately, beauty politics require strict compliance from women. As a result of the way our looks interact with whom we are and how we are treated in society, one cornerstone of femininity is youth. Women go through surgical procedures, make use of (mostly) expensive creams and pour billions of monies into the beauty industry just so we do not look our age. We are even chided against speaking our real ages in public and encouraged to use younger ages once we reach a certain stage of our lives. A woman who looks ‘too old’ is deemed worthless because she cannot bear children again or she is dried up and unattractive to the male gaze. Women who do not fit conventional standards are punished by these rigid rules since the ‘game’ is rigged against us from the beginning. For the most part, we have to do even more just to look half as good as our peers.
As a result of the standards of youth and desirability, women are pressured to be petite in order to be deemed beautiful. Some studies have drawn links between the conditions for women to be petite and infantilization of adult women. Fat women and women who are early-bloomers are constantly told by society that they present as older than their ages. For this reason, it means that people can disregard our childhood innocence and talk to or treat us like adults that we are not. From early-on, I was told that I would have to be married off at a young age as a result of the way my body looked. Since I was fat, I was already set for marriage before I even clocked twelve. When we went to shop at busy markets, older male traders would disturb my mother to give me away to them, since I already looked like I could carry pregnancy. I was also regularly ‘assured’ that if I chose to stay fat, I would always look old. I would always be treated as older because my body gives the look of a grandmother.
When I returned to Lagos after University, I was disturbed by the prevalence at which I was being called ‘mama’ whenever I interacted with pretty much anyone. I always felt pressure to look a certain way, make sure my hair and my nails were done just so I did not get called that. Even then, I would still be called mama. I could step out in my shortest ashewo dress and be heading into a nightclub and still be called that name. It always brought constant shame—and still does—to me, the idea that I never got to truly enjoy my youth as a result of my body size. A neighbor had also once told my mother’s driver that they thought I was forty when I was actually twenty-two. Now in my mid-twenties, I still struggle with the idea of aging and growing old. There is a prevalent battle within me as a result of how cheated by life I feel. I certainly did not have the experiences my peers did during socialization or building life experiences. Men in my age group have never been interested in me because they have been conditioned to view me as older. Older men have preyed on me since I was very young because they were convinced that my fat body was enough for harassment, even though they could tell I was a child. I never had the high school dating experiences, crushes or fun times that everyone else was able to have. I was socially ostracized by my age-mates because of my body. For the most part, even girls my age would be unhappy to be seen around me because I would stand out and ruin the aesthetics of the group. I hardly ever wear traditional African wear because I also hate the way it ages my body. Meanwhile, so many other people get to have fun with aso-ebi styles.
The internal struggle of coming to terms with aging means learning not to view growing older as a negative experience, despite being conditioned to believe that I look ten years older than my age-mates. My body is something I have come to embrace and take extra care of. I notice, with lots of amusement, that so many people who shame fat women often do not take half as much care of themselves as we do. And yet, we are heralded as being unattractive because of societal standards. One thing for sure, I am aging with grace and looking better each passing day. I refuse to let society make me resent my age or my body. I have come so far and learnt too many lessons to be inhibited by such trivialities.
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