More Than the Sum of All That

compass

My aunt is wearing a striped tube dress with spaghetti straps. When she sits, love handles circle her tummy like three rubber tires. “Timi, where have you been?” she asks, but does not expect an answer. I am there and it is enough. She sucks me in a tight embrace, her warmth spreading over me, her smile wide. 

The years apart are too many to fit into an evening. We make small talk highlighting the events that count. Did I hear what happened to her son? Only God could have saved him. And what about me and my hopes for tomorrow? I do not burden her with sad news; there is no need to slow down the tempo of the music we are making. Soon we are silent, each of us locked in our world, making sense of words.

When my sister says, “Aunty you look as young as ever,” she returns to the present.

“No o. I am old.”

My sister counters, “You’re looking young. No one would believe if you tell them your age.”

“Please don’t deceive me, don’t give me false hope,” she says like a woman who has been lied to and preyed upon. She pats her Halle Berry wig and looks at me with a small smile.

She is seeking corroboration from me. I cannot just give it, mouthing empty words. I do not know how old she is. I have no compass with which to navigate true north, therefore I cannot tell if she is indeed looking young. Having not seen her for years, in which I harboured memories of her younger fashionable self, she is in fact looking old to me.

My sister and my aunt continue the cycle of compliments and weak rebuttals. I fight within myself. Where is true north?

“Things separate from their stories have no meaning. They are only shapes. Of a certain size and color. A certain weight. When their meaning has become lost to us they no longer have even a name. The story on the other hand can never be lost from its place in the world for it is that place,” Cormac McCarthy wrote. 

My aunt’s husband is long gone; one son is far away, the other closer by, and her only daughter died too early. She has forged a whole life for herself apart from them. Her carefully made up face—thin black-pencilled brows, two large dots of muted raspberry rouge, and red lips that complement her hazel skin—is like a photo from another era. She has weathered storms and raised many children that are not hers, including me. I sense her hunger to be seen and admired as I too have on occasion hungered to be seen and admired.

I stop fighting because I have conquered myself.

“Aunty,” I say, “You look young and beautiful.”

It is not false hope; it is true. I remember learning that a (magnetic) compass almost never shows true north. True north is different from magnetic north, which changes depending on local magnetic variation. About a million years ago, the position of magnetic north even wandered closer to the geographic South Pole.

I had planned to ask my sister how old my aunt is. But when we leave, I let the question die in my throat. What does it matter? I am in charge of my compass. Moreover, she is more than the sum of all that.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/compass-magnetic-orientation-801763/

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Shifting Gears [6]

Marilyn Monroe

A Leggy Affair

As a teenager, I imbibed ideas about acceptable body shapes from the people around me. So, I believed that a girl’s legs were beautiful only if they were straight like bamboo stems from the knees to the ankles, with no protruding muscles aka yams interrupting the flow.

Well, I inherited my father’s footballer legs, so during my years at university and for years afterwards, I hid my legs underneath trousers and maxis to escape mockery. My insecurity over what I deemed a flaw was like a thing around my neck, choking self-approval out of me.

Like a child force-fed by her determined grandmother, I spent my twenties swallowing popular beauty ideals of the society where I lived. They became the yardstick for measuring myself. I felt inadequate whenever I spotted a pair of bamboo legs. I considered the owner a lucky winner of the anatomy lottery because to me, having straight legs made one outstanding, special even.

In retrospect, that was laughable because straight legs do not shield their owners from life’s troubles. It is not as though those with straight legs can flash their exclusive Bamboo Club gold membership card and Life would say, “Aww, perfect pins, move along then, no troubles for you today. Next!”

Bamboo legs conferred no special advantages that I could see.

Still, at my old gym, when someone complimented my well-defined calves, I had to stop myself from peering at my legs, with lips turned downwards and eyebrows arched, as if to ask, “Me?”

I don’t know how I finally adjusted my beliefs regarding what is acceptable or not acceptable as far as my body is concerned. I suppose that as I approached my thirties, I began to ponder the whys of life even more stubbornly. Moreover, I realized that my legs would never change their shape; in fact, they would become even more muscled due to my new-found love for exercise.

My epiphany hit me like a clap of thunder. I woke up one day and suddenly every leg-concealing piece of clothing seemed revolting. Out went the trousers and maxis, and in came the short girly dresses and skirts that I’d always looked at longingly but felt I shouldn’t wear.

Recently, the instructor at my new gym praised my toned leg muscles; he wished he could devote more time to Leg Day as he assumed I did. I stifled a cheeky chuckle and in my head I sang, baby I was born this way.

Does clarity come with age? Or is this delicious comfort I have found in my own skin, this assuredness, my way of sticking my middle finger at my overdependence on external validation? Perhaps, I now understand that my quest for courage to set my personal ideals begins with embracing the things I am powerless to change.

These days, when I walk into the gym I spend a few minutes at the mirror-panelled walls, looking at my legs and smiling. I’ve come to love my legs especially the yams, which lend character to them. Not unlike the multiple perspectives that the angled mirrors provide, I can see either flaws or two healthy limbs to walk and dance with. Gratefully, I choose the latter.

I have one life to live and only this body with which to live it. The warmth of the sun and fresh air brushing my legs is wonderful; the prospect of a Marilyn Monroe dress-flying-in-the-wind moment is even more wonderful.

© ’Nedu Ahanonu, 2015
’Nedu blogs @ Nedoux.com

 

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What Do I Look Like?

selfie

The mirror in an uncrowded elevator is an invitation to look at myself, as are the floor-to-ceiling display windows in the mall. Rarely do I say no. Ever notice that when presented with a group photograph, your eyes search for you first?  Is this vanity or normal self-absorption? I have sixty-one selfies on my phone. Perhaps I should not call them selfies. The Oxford Dictionary defines a selfie as a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media. Not one of my digital self-portraits is uploaded on my social networks.

My favourite ‘selfies’ are those where I employed the tricks my eighteen-year-old friend taught me to make a selfie not resemble a selfie. All that posing and angling, so I look as though my photo is the view from another’s lens, why?

Apart from a desire to pretend that I did not tilt my head, tuck in my chin, suck in my cheeks, and find the best lighting, before stretching my hand to click, I want to try to replicate an unguarded moment—what others see when I am unaware that they are looking at me, an honest picture of me. But a selfie is manipulation, a digitally enhanced, filtered, and cropped representation of how I want to see myself and how I want others to see me.

I find selfies useful as picture diaries to share privately with friends, but too subjective to tell me what I really look like. Sam Anderson captures this paradox in his New York Times‘ article. He begins by asking: What do you look like?

You are the world’s leading authority on the subject. You have studied your face for many years, with life-or-death intensity, in almost every mirror and tinted car window and unrippled pond you have ever passed. You are the Sir Isaac Newton of your own face: the one true discoverer of its laws of motion, its particular gravity.

You are also, simultaneously, the very least qualified person in the world to know what you look like. You have no idea. You have never actually seen your face — not truly, from the outside, the way other people see it. This is because of a nonnegotiable quirk of the human anatomy: You have to use your own face to look at your face. You are both observer and observed.

Is this why we ask others, “How do I look?”

As a child, my mother was the first yardstick I used to measure my looks by. When people called me little Gina, alluding to our resemblance, I realized I was beautiful. External validation aids self-perception. I have wished on occasion that I could step out of my body and see myself. The next best thing is my reflection in the eyes of those I trust, a realistic picture that transcends the selfies on my phone.

 

Related: Beauty, A First-Class Ticket
                A Fading Glory

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

A Fading Glory

fading glory

Standards of beauty change from time to time and country to country, but when I was a young man, much younger than I am today, I was considered good-looking for my time and place.

I remember the heads of female employees turning as I walked the length of the office to my destination. On more than one occasion, women driving by whistled and catcalled as I walked on busy city streets. All these things I found very amusing and gratifying on some level.

Because I have been objectified—I have been on the receiving end of unwanted attention, been hit on by both men and women and made to feel very uncomfortable—I understand and sympathize with women when this happens to them. I’m not complaining, just explaining.

Growing up, I never considered myself good-looking; instead, I was self-conscious about my looks. As I grew older and had more success with girls and women, I began to gain confidence. This boost led to success in other areas in my life—man’s greatest adrenaline rush is a beautiful woman. Many doors opened for me because of my good looks. I have always attributed it all to good luck. It is a matter of good luck, I suppose, to be blessed with the beauty gene.

But beauty can be a double-edged sword. Plain women are jealous of beautiful women and don’t trust their men around them. In the same way, men often feel insecure in the presence of a good-looking man.

Recently, a younger man worked at the same dealership with me. Every time I saw him, I felt uncomfortable and didn’t really know why. He was extremely handsome and moved with grace, literally dancing around the dealership. I got jealous every time he attended to an attractive customer or even one of our young female associates. I knew it was foolish to feel this way, as if I was in competition with him, even though I am much older and in a fulfilling relationship. When he quit and moved to Miami, I was very happy to see him go.

There is a downside to beauty. To be consumed by it, to waste away like Narcissus from Greek Mythology, is a mistake. Beauty fades and as I age, I sometimes feel like the invisible man. However, the words of Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez are poignant, “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” To reincarnate beauty, it must be tempered by grace, compassion, and love for others.

 

© Benn Bell 2015

Benn blogs at Ghost Dog
He wrote this piece as a rejoinder to my post, Beauty A First Class Ticket.

 

Photo credit: Pezibear/ http://pixabay.com/en/journal-leaves-brown-road-kahl-636462/

 

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Beauty, A First-Class Ticket

beauty

I knew I was intelligent before I knew I was beautiful, for I won academic prizes throughout my primary school years from the time I was five up ‘til ten. This external validation, reinforced by the circle of people who shaped me, became my inner truth.

My mother was the first yardstick I used to measure beauty by. When people called me little Gina, alluding to our resemblance, I realized I was beautiful. But what did that mean?

At my girls-only boarding school, we giggled and bit our nails when boys from the nearby school attended our social events. Being beautiful meant that I was asked to dance and not forgotten on the bench. It meant my classmates said I looked like Yinka, a girl two years older, whom everyone called Black Beauty. Much later, it meant that I tweezed my eyebrows and applied mascara like the models in Vogue.

My mother told me hard work and a good education would secure success. She did not tell me beauty could be a first-class ticket. You see, once when I tried to register a business campaign, my efforts stalled under the weight of bureaucracy. Then a friend scolded me, “How can? A beautiful woman like you? Don’t you know what to do?” Appalled, I went back and talked my way through.

But her seed grew. I studied how people, men, responded to me; after all, they saw me before they heard me. I remember being singled out from a long line of tired and impatient passengers at an airport. As I crossed the gate having passed Security, the officer said, “You’re very pretty.”
I would be naïve to assume that any preferential treatment I receive is because of beauty alone. It would be naïve of you to assume that I don’t receive unwanted attention or worse still, endure suspicion or dismissal on account of my looks.

Recently, I watched a YouTube video about the changing face of beauty, with a friend. “I wish I were born in a different century,” she said touching her generous hips and rubbing her round belly. I just happen to live in an era where my features coincide with what some consider attractive. I’ve come to know that beauty is leverage and the temptation to abuse it, real.

To me, my looks are secondary. But here’s what I know. A beautiful woman on a man’s arm makes him feel taller. In a world of selfies, people soon forget how you look because they are consumed with how you make them look.

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. ~ Anais Nin

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

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On Getting Older

I am getting older and I do not mind. I have embraced my age. I do not want to be a tottering teenager again, watching my father scrutinize my list of provisions and wondering what his response “okay, I’ve seen it,” means.

I am pragmatic. A few years ago, I folded my wedding gown and put it in my bottom box. It seems like a small thing now, but it was not at the time. My dream of slimming down enough to wear my wedding dress after life and children, died that day—I embraced the truth about getting older and weight. I have a sister who can probably still fit into her wedding dress; she distorts my theory. Are we not sisters, from the same mother, no less? Why did she have to have all the slim genes? I digress; this is about getting older! All my highs and lows have made me the woman I am and am becoming. Yes, I embrace my age. It is the greying that I have not fully understood.

When a few years ago I asked my hairdresser for a shampoo to tackle the dandruff that caused the persistent itching in the middle of my hair, she told me that dandruff was not the culprit. “You have so much grey hair there; that’s what causes the itching.” Information overload (amebo); who asked her?

Nevertheless, when I got home, I parted my crown of glory in the middle. And there, standing tall like irokos, streaks of lightning amid my black sky. I pulled a handful, twirling them around my fingers. When and how did they get there? Thankfully, they did not march forward from their hideaway; however, their strategy to gain new territory caught me unawares. Stealthy warriors, overnight, they appeared at the hairline around my temples. Aha, my hairdresser styled my hair with side parting and we won that war. The last time I was in the salon, we struggled to decide which “side” to part the hair. “We will soon have to resort to centre-parting,” she said after grave contemplation.

When the first few grey strands appeared on my eyebrows, my tweezers came to the rescue. And so it was that I was plucking a strand or two from my eyebrows the Saturday before Easter, when I saw it. Grey hair had sprung up in places I did not know they would or could grow—in crevices that my mother did not tell me about! But this? Haba! How far? A grey eyelash? You’ve got to be kidding!

I moved my mirror to catch the natural light from the sun. There it was—not ashamed of standing out in the row of black and as long as its fellow lashes. Is this what it means to get older? Accepting with equanimity the things you can’t control? I went to the shops to find a solution.  I smiled when I saw jet-black mascara. Who knew that black had different shades? I am older, and I will change the things I can, one grey eyelash at a time!

shades of black

©Timi Yeseibo 2013

images ©Timi Yeseibo 2013; photography: Sam Bird & Timi Yeseibo

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The Body Magic

BM getty images1

I mounted the scale and fought depression when I read the display. I had not eaten all day, how could I have gained a kilo instead of losing one? I looked at my body in the full-length mirror. I love me, I thought as I sucked in my stomach and lifted my chest. I love me not. I sighed as I exhaled and let everything hang loose. I have struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember; perhaps it is because I am judging my body by the unrealistic pictures in the magazines.

At university, I used to wear a pair of shorts underneath my clothes, to create the illusion of wider hips and a backside worth looking at. My roommates would often threaten to hide them as payback for something I had or had not done. The threat ensured compliance because I could not afford to be seen without my backside. How things have changed. I have not only been freed from the incessant torture of washing those shorts every night in preparation for the next day, but also from the square foam pads I slipped underneath my bra straps before I wore any top including my t-shirts.

Aha, now that I am close to the big four-zero, it is as if my metabolism has ground to a halt. Even a cup of water adds a half kilo to my weight! How did I get here?

Last Christmas, I decided to make up for all the Naija Christmases I missed while living abroad. I stuffed myself as if jollof rice was going out of style. I watched my weight rising on the scale but was confident that by the end of January, I would be back to my old self after a strict exercise and diet regime.

But nothing could shift the bulge I had acquired on my stomach, backside, and hips—I ran on the treadmill, I lifted weights, I speed walked, I started eating twice a day. The fat just raised one eyebrow, barely opened an eyelid, and then went back to sleep! I began a series of non-religious fasts. After the first few times, my body betrayed me. I ran into the kitchen and ate everything in sight, all this before 11 a.m. on an appointed fast day.

It was at this critical point that I heard about the Body Magic—lose two to three dress sizes in ten minutes. Hmmm, and Michelle Obama is my mother’s younger sister! But I was desperate; my clothes were shrinking, so I requested one from my friend. Let’s call her B.

She arrived at my house with her bag of magic. I could not wait to shrink like Alice in Wonderland. After measuring, she determined my size and selected a garment from her bag. It looked too small. B laughed and assured me that it would fit with some help.

I turned the garment upside down and put in my legs then the struggle commenced. We pulled and dragged and pulled and dragged. As the garment inched higher up on my body, my flesh trembled and wobbled as though experiencing a minor earthquake. Then it flapped like a small flag in a gentle breeze. B instructed me to do a curious dance—stand on one tiptoe and then the other in quick succession to redistribute the fat allowing the garment to slide further upwards. I warily complied.

By now, I was sweating as if I was a Christmas goat being led to the slaughter even though two 1.5 HP air conditioners were on full blast. My sweat glands went into overdrive because I was sure that despite the deodorant I used, I reeked of perspiration. Embarrassed, I mumbled a self-conscious apology to B. Sweat, what sweat? B claimed she smelt nothing. I suppose this was a small price to pay in her line of business.

It was over ten minutes and we had not been able to squeeze past my hips and backside. Accomplishing that feat would be akin to reaching the peak of Mt. Everest. I needed a break. From the corner of my eye, I saw B flop into an armchair and massage her wrists. Who said making money was easy.

We resumed a short while later. Pull, drag up, tuck in, dance, and pull again. B continued to help and encourage me.

“Come on, almost there! There you go, good! Now move your body to redistribute the fat. Yes, yes, yes, one, two, three, go…pullllllll!”

At last, we crossed the final frontier. The stubborn mass of fat that had defied every diet and exercise routine known to me bowed to the power of Body Magic.
The most difficult part was over. I pulled the top with ease and slipped my arms through the straps. To hook the clips, B had me lie down. She yanked the left side then the right while instructing me to suck in my stomach, “Suck in some more, alright, that’s better.”

Hook, hook, hook, deftly she clasped the hooks. Putting on the Body Magic involved more skills than I had first thought, a coach and trainee relationship was evolving.

When she finished, I stood and felt as tight as a wound up doll. However, my posture was immediately improved because I was forced to stand straight. I had an hourglass figure with a lifted derriere. I quickly donned on my tight Ankara skirt. It glided past my hips. The most noticeable improvement was my stomach. However, I had not dropped two to three dress sizes.

What was I expecting? Magic? Yes! Wasn’t that why they called it the Body Magic? B read the disappointment on my face and started explaining, but all I could think about was an elephant trying to squeeze into a corset meant for a hippo. I lay down like a zombie and sucked in my stomach while B unhooked me. The rest was easy. As I pulled off the Body Magic, my fatty portions popped free with pops of relief.

These days I am back to the good old-fashioned way—a consistent exercise programme, a healthy diet with lots of water, and no yo-yo dieting. I climbed the scales today—I love me, I love me not. Scenes from the Body Magic ordeal crawled across my mind and I laughed. What won’t I attempt to acquire the perfect figure? On second thoughts, I love me— bulging stomach, fatty hips, rounded buttocks, and all! I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Photo credit: ©Cornstock Images/Getty Images

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