A few months ago, I saw a boy tweet that “there were nothing but flat stomachs on Kiss & MTV Base, you girls can’t blame us lol go do sit ups” and I thought fair enough. It’s not often you see anyone let alone mandem admit where their ugly beauty standards sprouted from. I appreciated the tweet and laughed at its ultimate scumbaggery, then I remembered that actually, Kiss & MTV weren’t the only influences on how I did and do perceive my body as a black girl (eh heh to all you dodgy uncles I’m not a woman yet).
As much as I loved to imitate Brandy’s dance routines back in the day, I watched bare DVDs with my family of Lingala concerts and music videos as a yute. My favourite bits have always been when the girls come out and dance to the up-tempo tunes of this Congolese music genre which goes by many names. It once dominated African sound systems continentally, as well as attracted captivation and controversy regarding the portrayal and treatment (heartbreakingly including rape) of the female dancers. For this child of the African Diaspora though, kinda struggling to breathe in this Babylon, Lingala music isolated me from Western ideals of female beauty; it took that pressure to conform to them off my head, hence I hold it high with as much grace as the whine of a Congolese waist.
It’s only recently, when I discovered one of the best clips I’ve ever seen in my life that I fully realised how comes my jiggly wiggly bits don’t bother me, and why this magazine beach body craze is complete air to me. Bukelele just features three dancers, including one with really nice thick thighs, who look completely comfortable and happy to just respond to the banging music with their bodies. I’m so used to seeing girls dancing alone and together that I am most comfortable doing the same too. Caribbean kids may not understand this as their dance culture is more about both genders coming together, as explained by Director X about his music video for Work by Rihanna. There is a sexual energy in both styles though, which makes me wonder if I have learnt an appreciation for the female body through observing it dance so much. I also didn’t get force-fed no straight-hair, made-up Barbie looking idols too tuff. The dancers I so wanted to be one day had short hair and eyebrow piercings and sweated and were cocky and colourful. Lingala dances ooze with feminine energy and I drown in it and feel like a mermaid every time I watch videos of it on Youtube or DVD.
Let me not sugarcoat the ting though, since European beauty standards have definitely affected Congolese culture. This is typical in any postcolonial third world country, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the dancers for Lingala musicians tend(ed) to be light-skinned, whether naturally or chemically. They are beautiful to me regardless, for superficial reasons such as the brazy designer garms they don, as well as in amazement at their innate ability to dance so well whatever their physique. The dancers can be chunky girls with flabby bellies, lickle twigs who look like they might fall over or curvaceous dollies – whichever way they are, they’re still gonna get that break from the group routine where everyone’s an expressive individual anyway, to have that special stage-time on their ones to fully do their ting while the drummer goes in just for them and the crowd roars. Rich concertgoers will even come and put money on their clammy foreheads or tuck notes into their weird and/or wonderful outfits simply because they dance so well. MTV Base flat stomach my backfoot.
Abondance’s body’s been here about 17 years, but she’s probably been around longer than that. There’s bare melanin in her blood – from Congo, Uganda and Pakistan. She’s a Lunduner and a punk and a black girl who writes to breathe. She is a staff writer for Sula Collective.