Body image, good or bad is definitely something that is culturally specific.
For example, those from countries with dark skin want to be light, those with light skin want to be dark. Or more personally, you often find that those with straight hair want curls, those with curls want it straight. Then of course there is the constant pressure to be thinner, curvier, up-to-date ... the list goes on ... but generally it's something different to what we are right now! Being comfortable and happy in your own skin is a place that a lot of people struggle to make it to.
Here in Tanzania, things are no different. The younger generations are beginning to follow western fashions and are in stark contrast to the more traditionally dressed ... or of course the many people who still wear their tribal clothes. The wealthier people wear suits (for women, suits would be something similar to what I am wearing in the photo below). Lighter skin and a wider waistband are also signs of wealth and very much sought after!
I have already shared that having moved to Dodoma, my wardrobe is full of skirts. Apart from my wedding dress I think I've only worn one other skirt since I last lived here all those years ago! In fact, almost my entire wardrobe is filled with clothes I would never wear anywhere but here.
After only two months here, my perception of body image is already changing. It is not important to me that what I wear might not look great back in the UK. I am fully aware that a lot of them are not even very flattering but they are culturally acceptable and I don't want to offend people that I may later want to build friendships with.
Having said that, there is one thing which will continue to make me chuckle and is something that could very easily offend. I mentioned above that basically, the fatter you are the wealthier you are perceived to be. So fat definitely equals good if you are living in Tanzania, a total flip to the culture I grew up in. Talking about size is also something that is a total flip from the western world too. It is a compliment to tell someone they are fat or fatter but you would never ever comment on how thin somebody is!
I have had the privilege of catching up with many old friends here since arriving back in Dodoma. A lot has happened in the last 12 years since I taught here, including getting married and having two children, so I have added a few extra pounds here and there. When I meet with Tanzanians who I haven't seen all that time, after the obligatory greetings (which go on forever!) on the majority of occasions the very next thing they say, is to compliment me on how 'big' I am!
You have to laugh really! I am aware that the 35 year old Jenny is a different size and shape from the 22 year old Jenny ... that's the reality of life isn't it. But to have it pointed it out so obviously on a regular basis will either make you laugh or cry!
So far, I choose to chuckle away to myself and then thank them very much for their compliments! It's all part and parcel of life here!!