Liberian Body Image

- Shot for Refinery29

Like any other social issue, body image is not the same around the world — and it certainly isn't discussed in the same terms, either. When photographer Yagazie Emezi visited the beaches of Liberia and spoke with local women, it quickly became clear to her that body positivity wasn't the first thing on their minds.
Although Liberian women certainly think about their bodies, there are usually more pressing issues to talk about, Emezi tells Refinery29. She adds that the cultural emphasis is placed more on how women dress than their actual bodies (though the idea that there's an ideal body type definitely persists, too).
"You could look like a super model, but that won't matter if you are dressed shabbily by Liberian standards," Emezi says. "Family members might say their daughter is too skinny or fat. Individuals can look at themselves and want to change things. But it's just approached and talked about differently."
Emezi says that speaking with these women showed her just how differently people around the world talk about bodies. Ahead, meet the women she spoke with and see how they view body image and body talk.

Frances, 19

"Someone told me something very, very good about my body. It was concerning the way I dress. [How I dress is] very decent, so people admire me. It makes me feel good and relaxed. I feel really good about my body.

"I have said good and bad things about other peoples' bodies. I met a person, I didn't approach her, but I did admire her. I saw another woman and thought, 'Wow, so disgraceful.' She was wearing something that did not suit her. It wasn't nice for her. I didn't say anything to her face, but it didn't suit her."

Josephine, 19

"I feel fine about everything with my body. After I cut my hair, people criticized me and said that I looked like a man. But I felt happy when I cut my hair. I say good and bad things about women. Some women dress decent, but if you don't dress good, people will say something."

Amanda, 19

"Someone saw me once and said, 'You know, you're dry. You're not beautiful. Your body is not good-looking.' It discouraged me, made me feel bad for that day, but, within myself, I [still] felt like I was the best. I'm good-looking, and I praise myself in front of many people.

"I've criticized other women. I've told one of my friends that she doesn't look good at all. I know it made her feel bad, but I had to tell her. Honestly, it's because so many people have done it to me, so I have to do it to her."

Emily, 19

"First of all, I thank God for giving me this body. You have to love yourself the most. People say that my body is okay, that I have a slim body. I say plenty things about people but, you know, you must look at yourself first before you criticize someone else. Women might talk about other people's bodies because of jealousy."

Sarafina, 20

"People say that they like the way I walk, and I feel good about that. Most of the time, people say that they like the way I dress. No one has said anything bad about my body."

Sabawu, 19

"Someone once told me that my nose is a little bit big. At first, it really made me feel bad, but I like it like that. And I've been told that I have a good shape. I say mainly good things about women, because everyone is special in their own way. Don't criticize people by just looking at them."

Deddeh S.,19

I've been told that my body is not sexy. I told them that it was a lie because I have a body that I take care of. I want to do the best for myself so I am happy with that. Someone else said that my body is okay even though it's not like, sexy. When I heard that, I was pleased with myself but it's the same normal feeling I have about my body.

In life, you have to be okay with yourself. I don't say bad things about other women because wherever they are, they came to enjoy themselves, to act sexy, to have fun.

Grace, 22, and Lynette, 20

Grace: "Nobody has said anything bad to me, but somebody once told me that they love my toes and that they love my hair. It made me feel good, because I do love my hair."

Lynette: "Someone once told me that I am too dry [skinny], but I don't feel too bad about it, because I am satisfied with my body. I don't pay too much attention to what other people look like. Maybe I will if I see a woman that looks nice. I think it is just our nature as women to talk about other women." 

Royda, 30

"I am a 5'1" and a half, curvy, thicker woman, and when I add five pounds, it may look like 10. In African culture, as soon as you gain a little weight, people tend to say, 'Oh, you're getting fat,' which they think is a compliment. You're getting healthier. But it becomes a subconscious thing for me that I'm gaining weight.

"The best thing someone has said about my body, which is actually kind of weird... as I'm aging more, coming more into my '30-year-old body,' as my mother likes to call it, I hear a lot of people saying, 'You look like you're a mother,' or 'You're ready to have kids,' which is an odd thing to say, but also an honor. I think one of the greatest things in life is to be a mother and to have children. I don't know what a body that looks like a mother looks like, but I'll take that one." 

Tian, 21

"People always say good things about me: that they like my body, that I have to take care of my body, that I can't get fat. That makes me feel fine. I say mainly good things when I see women, because I don't know them. You don't have to say something when you don't know the person." 

Lara, 22

"Actually, nobody has said something bad about my body. They're always telling me that I'm sexy and I just need to maintain it and look good all the time. It makes me happy, because I love my body. I love the shape."
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