As we casually scroll through social media, ladies of African descent from around the world can be seen with exposed waistlines adorned in beautiful beads strung together with a variety of colours and patterns. Fortunately for us, as black people, embracing African culture and heritage is currently a way of life as we seek to connect to our roots through literature, music, fashion, and body positivity. The wearing of waist beads just happens to be a small part of the movement, and to call them ‘a trend’ would be to ignore thousands of years of history.
Flair stumbled upon local waist bead business, Anansi’s Closet, which was birthed eight years ago by 27-year-old Monique Allen. “At the time, the line was called ‘Waistbeads by Earthstone’. Creating them helps me to reconnect and celebrate my African roots. That’s why I actually renamed the line Anansi’s Closet because just like the stories they are a bold display of African culture, heritage and history that aims to stimulate pride in its wearers,” she said proudly.
According to Allen, the tradition of wearing belly beads is an age-old one that has been a part of some African cultures, worn for varying reasons such as: coming of age gifts, protection from negative energy, and even as a tool to measure weight gain. It is similar to waist training but without having to squeeze the breath from your body and maybe shatter a rib. In parts of West Africa, they indicate a woman’s age, tribe and even marital status. Each string of bead holds with it the values, beauty and an amusing story of the African people.
While the purpose of waist beads are defined by the wearer, let’s delve deeper into two of its everyday uses:
BEAUTY AND BODY POSITIVITY
With the prevailing and very subjective Eurocentric standard of beauty being forced upon us by international mass media, we were taught to believe that beauty is a tiny waist and a flat stomach, when in reality, this is not so for the vast majority of women. These belly beads hang to fit and enhance the natural curvature of a woman’s body regardless of shape or size. “Personally, they help me to be more aware of my body. From my posture by helping me remember to breathe from my belly. To also being a tool to watch my weight. As I know when it is tight or roll up I am gaining weight and when they fall I know I am losing,” Allen said.
Being aware of the power wielded around your sexuality and getting in touch with your femininity are qualities every woman should possess and swathing your hips in these beaded strings helps the process for some. Allen suggests that it is equally okay to also wear them as a sexual treat for your man, as men tend to get excited by very intricate details on a woman’s naked body. “You can keep an extra special pair just for him so when he sees it, he knows what time it is,” she said with a smirk.
Also, some Ghanaian women were taught that wearing waist beads from an early age helps them achieve more rounded hips, a slim waist and fuller breasts. Hence, they used to be considered as underwear exclusively worn undergarments in Africa.
Truly, It doesn’t hurt to expand your wardrobe a bit while affixing your own intentions to your very own pair of belly beads. To embellish your waistlines, follow @anansi.closet on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Still actively using Facebook? Check out ‘Anansi’s Closet Ja’.
Story by: Jessica Harrison
Photos by: Shorn Hector