Letter To Awula: Body Ideal


It is this popular line playwright’s use that I want to start my letter with.

It was one fine weekday morning (I don’t remember the exact day), I went to have a chit-chat with a friend in the area to help lighten my grief for not going to the University. And you should know that this was the usual routine for me.

Let me tell you how my morning starts: my dad comes to wake me up after he has taken his bath at 5:00 am. As his ritual, he will spread his entirely wet and cold towel over my face. I will rave and mutter displeasure; he laughs while I do that and leaves to go and get dressed for morning devotion. When he is about leaving, he comes again to find the still sleepy me tucked in bed and speak with surprise in his voice, “Obaa morning devotion?” which translates “are you not coming for morning devotion?” I always respond “go, I will come”.

Minutes after, my mum also walks into the room dressed in market women’s clothing and shouts “Obaa devotion!” This time we (my older sister and cousin) wake up startled. I run to the bedroom, grabbed a scarf and toothpaste. I walk out and half-filled my mouth with water from the kitchen; and then licked the toothpaste at the back of my hand, gargle and spit out the toothpaste turned mouthwash mixture, tie my scarf and walk with my sisters towards the church premise.

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On the way, we are quiet because we still have sleep in our eyes. We always arrive in time for the word and prayers. After saying the grace and annual theme ,which signifies a close of devotion, my dad sets the tone by turning to the person on the left (I don’t know why he always turns to the left probably he is a “lefty”) and hugs him/her or shakes hands and says words of encouragement. In the moment of emulating, my sister, my cousin and I walk briskly out the auditorium. We do this to avoid long chats with members and to save our lips from faking smiles.

We talked about how interesting, fun and amazing SS (secondary school) was. In our days, it was Senior Secondary School (SSS); I always talk about SS days to lighten the grief and frustration I carry for not being in the University like my mates. I will take a walk to the road to buy Koko (which is always by a gutter). Now that I think about it, I am having this silly thought about how the stench from the gutter adds to the taste of the Koko.

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It was on my way back that I encountered the reason for this letter. At the other side of the road, I saw a familiar face who doubles as a church member and family friend. I started walking to his direction even though I saw a vehicle moving towards me; as it the custom of drivers, they always stop for us to cross anyways; so I didn’t stop till I was on the other side.

The young man asked rhetorically “Oyaa he Koko” which translates “You went to buy porridge?” In my response, I smiled. Then he grabbed my left hand and wrapped his fingers around my wrist till the tips of his finger touched (his way of telling me I was growing thin).

He quirked: “you don’t eat!” proceeding to draw a verbal meal plan for me. I just stood there smiling and nonplussed. When he was finally done with his meal plan, I just walked away still smiling.

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I got home and slouched myself to my favourite corner in the hall: it was a corner that is almost closed by a curtain and couch on both sides. I just sat on the carpeted floor with eyes fixed on nothing in particular. During those times, I usually go blank; my mind becomes rusty and all I see are small circles forming into big circles till they disappear just like the ripple effect on a river. I just starred. I didn’t feel sadness, I didn’t feel joy, and I just plunged into non-existence.

This was what I go through almost every day with this young man cos I often meet him. So the non-existence feeling was almost a daily ritual at age 17. On days I don’t meet him, I mumble a thanksgiving prayer. All these varied emotions are because some person, somewhere who knows nothing about existence, makes me feel them. He literally made me belief I do not matter, I existed not.


But Awula, every country, group of people have the “ideal body song”. In Ghana, my area, the song was, be thick. Body ideal songs were sung in my area, to everyone. My friend was “perfect” because she hit the mark and I was always compared to her which was uncomfortable I just stayed at home.


Today I know how toxic the “body ideal song” can be and it is worse now because the media and arts have joined the orchestra. I have no idea how those before me felt. I think back and I know I got through those times because my dad told me every day, consistently: “my daughter you are beautiful”. These words caused me to be euphoric; they lit my heart and face and gradually I got through.

Awula, you may not have someone telling you your truth: “you are beautiful”. I wish I had superpowers to stop this singing, yet I do not. However you should know this letter is for you, you who are in the state I was at 17 or even worse; know, you are never alone. I am there with you through your pain and struggles. I love you, I hope you get better and when you get better, promise me you will help me find who started the “body ideal song.” Wait! I might— have an idea who started it.

Could it be patriarchy?


Aseye Afi Djangmah

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