I'll never forget the triumphant smile of a poet who gazed into space as she rubbed her belly, inviting us to pause with her as she recalled sweet memories of how her pregnancies had emblazoned beautiful stretch marks across her stomach.
That moment captured the pride she felt as the woman whom she affectionately described as her warrior-self. This woman, brandishing stretch marks - red streaks on her caramel skin - chose to call them warrior marks.
During her performance, she stripped bare notions of public decency and took us below skin-deep as she delved into spaces and places many would care not to go with the lights on.
Taking her time, she propelled us along her lyrical journey as she lovingly told us how the warrior marks on her stomach were a daily, joyous reminder of childbirth.
To her mind, her rite of passage from young woman to motherhood elevated her to undeniable status affirmed, literally, by her warrior marks.
Clearly, what we see as beautiful is a question of interpretation. In framing our codes of beauty, consider for a moment how our culture shapes our beauty filter.
In some West African countries, lines of gentle skin folds which ripple every time you turn your neck are seen as the epitome of beauty. From Kinshasa, to Lagos, to Kingston, a smile which reveals a gap between the two front teeth is delightfully powerful and captivating, often reducing the most composed suitor to blabbering distraction. A potent symbol of beauty, I've heard many stories of how dentists have been coerced into creating a gap by filing away a 'perfectly good' tooth. Urban legend, perhaps?
Ample or fluffy
Now let's get to the ample body shape. Fluffy, I hear them say in Jamaica? African cultural nuance associates size 14-plus women (and men) with affluence, good health and desirable social status. When we talk of desire, a shapely, 'good-hold' woman is regarded as an enviable catch.
More than urban legend, it's a cultural heritage that many young people today recognise but challenge and disconnect as they become increasingly confused by beauty barometers set by the media that conflict with their upbringing and value systems.
So, as we saw last week, yet again, the beast of self-deprecation silently rears its dreadful head. It lures us into forgetting that the power source for holistic self-acceptance and nurturing of self-love actually lies within us.
The catch 22: as matriarch poet, Maya Angelou asserts in her classic poem, 'Phenomenal Woman', and South African trailblazer new, generation poet, Lebo Mashile, dreams in 'Tomorrow's Daughters', women will stand tall, strong and proud in resistance. Also, that we accept the invitation to holistically develop modern-day beauty codes which celebrate our kinky, voluptuous spots as we reframe our heritage lens and firmly place it in tomorrow. All this, of course, as we lovingly stroke the beast into submission.
Lebo Mashile Tomorrow’s Daughters
www.mayaangelou.com / http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/insp/maya.htm