Dear Marie Claire, the uneducated and body-shamers,

My name is Amy* and I’ve been a fat/thick/chunky/chubby chick my whole life. I’ve had boobs longer than I can remember. The belly, I blame West Indian food for (I mean, have you eaten fried plantain?). This means my self-esteem and body image has been a roller coaster ride as long as I’ve been alive.

There have been a few moments when I felt hot and sexy in my own body. For example, when I was in university and I rollerbladed my way into the lowest size I wore as an adult. I wore the shortest skirt and a crop top.

Fast forward to this past weekend — where thousands of people gathered to celebrate the history and culture of the Caribbean. From Toronto to Barbados, costumes, glitter, feather and sunshine were the ingredients for an amazing celebratory recipe. Crop Over and Toronto Carnival are integral parts of the West Indian culture and community (and others, see: Brazil). Mas (masquerade) players use colour and music to celebrate the season. For the first time, I became one of them.

Even though playing mas is probably one of the most (body/gender/racial) inclusive events ever – I was still anxious because of the idea of hitting the road and being surrounded by perfect bodies. I got a trainer and worked out in -41 degrees Celsius. I spent a lot of time and money on creating a better eating plan. The weight dropped, but not fast enough. Nothing would’ve been able to change the post-baby belly, so I ordered a high-waisted bottom and prayed to bootycamp Gods that I’d look decent and not make a mockery of myself on the road.

Photo: Courtesy of Amy Juicebox
Photo: Courtesy of Amy Juicebox*

When I put my costume on Saturday morning, I felt good. I felt pretty in a way I hadn’t in a very long time. My sheer pantyhose got a rip in them as soon as I put them on, so I went with black tights to match the outfit. It looked presentable and off we went. When I got on site though, something happened. I saw other members of my Saldenah tribe and decided to lose the safety net of the tights. I was going to do this the way it was meant to be done. The sun would hit these thighs and there’s nothing anyone could do (or say) about it. Including myself. This was coming from a girl that doesn’t even wear shorts in the summertime.

I felt great. I danced and chipped the entire day away with thousands of other people. I did this with love and support from friends and complete strangers. I was surrounded by people younger, older, firmer, saggier than I – but we were all there for one thing: to honor our history. To celebrate. To rejoice.

Rihanna is a lot of things to a lot of people. She’s a rebel. She’s a fashion muse. She is proud of her Bajan roots. She’s also a woman who has worked her ass off for the body (and life) that she has. The only people that can’t believe that she wore a jewel-studded bra in Barbados are those who think that women should only look, dress and dance a certain way. That aren’t able to open their eyes to other cultures and experiences. That look at the traditions of other countries as backwards and worthy of their scrutiny and judgement. If I had Rihanna’s body, you’d be lucky to find me in a bra at all. Glitter me up and lemme hit the road.

To those who were using microscopes to look for belly fat or cellulite – you need to understand that you are the reason why women are afraid to be themselves. While no one judges our bodies worse than we do, it’s often OTHER women that launch verbal grenades against us and that do the most damage. Even if the flaws that some claim to see on Rihanna are there, that’s the whole point. To free yourself and come as you are. Play mas as you must.

I am proud of the steps I took to reclaim a positive dialogue with the only body I’ll ever own. To know that I have something in common with a trail-blazing woman like Rihanna.

It would behoove a major magazine that has had her on their cover, body-shamers and petty women alike to have a positive dialogue of their own before they tweet about something they know nothing about.

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