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May 29, 2016 | by  | in Opinion |
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My afakasi body |  Life in between

Everyday is a negotiation for me. I have to consciously decide the way I will feel about my body, in fact this happens multiple times a day. You could say it’s one of the few constants in my life: my undying obsession with my body. This might be surprising to people that know me. I can give off a very good ‘careless’ attitude, a body positive love thyself type vibe. I’ll dress like I dgaf, act like I dgaf, and to varying degrees this is 100% true. But we occupy various versions of ourselves, don’t we? So while I am absolutely a femme fighter fucking up the patriarchy and all that, I’m also a female with body issues that I have tried so hard for many years to hide. Out of shame, embarrassment, and drawing attention to the body that for me is the cause of so many problems. Having issues about my appearance would undo the carefree, blase, fun-loving persona I had cultivated purely to mask those insecurities.

I’ve spent a long time analysing the relationship I have with my body. Who am I to have issues? I have working limbs, eyes that see, ears that hear, I’m slightly gumby, okay fully gumby, but I can still complete physical tasks to a good degree. Functionality wise, I tick all the boxes. But this isn’t about functionality. It’s about surface. In a deep way.

The discomfort I have with my body began real early, I’m talking six or seven years old, when we moved from Tokoroa to Hamilton. We were enrolled in a big Catholic school, predominantly white middle class. Way different to my school in Tok where brown kids were the majority. At my new school, I became acutely aware of my brownness and made the connection that it was my brownness that prevented me from being like all the cool and beautiful girls. I became ashamed of my own brown body. At some point the shame became unconscious. The shame had settled as I tried as hard as I could to escape the brown.

At high school, Mum wondered why I didn’t join Pasifika. I said the girls didn’t like me cos I was fia palagi (white-seeming) and afakasi (half-caste). It was true. But the relief that they didn’t want me was great. It validated that I was different from them. I had an excuse to not be your Samoan girl.

I started not going into the sun at Summer. I wore hoodies and long black jeans. I would examine my skin everyday and mistook my pallor and lack of vitamin D for being white. At some point the disgust I felt for my skin colour manifested as disgust for my entire body. I would look at my mother’s big brown body, at all the Samoan women I knew with big bodies, and thought bigness was synonymous with brownness—my fear of having to face up to my body was too real. So I began trying to lose weight. For over a decade, some points worse than others, I internalised a fight against my corporeal existence.

But who could I talk to about it? Because brown girls don’t get eating disorders. It’s a white girl thing, right? I imagined talking to Mum or Nana or anyone and I knew they simply wouldn’t get it. I was always getting called skinny, a waif even, by my cousins with naturally bigger bodies. And I’m not a waif. I’m a pretty average sized woman. But to them, my afakasi body was thin and desirable. To my white counterparts though, I was not skinny enough. I could always be skinnier. The ideal white body, floating gracefully like a ghost. That is what I wanted. But I am both white and brown. My genetics say you’re fully both and fully neither.

This conflation of identity discomfort with my body’s existence I now see as a part of my afakasi identity. It’s the 21st century though yeah? I am not strictly bound to biology. I could change my appearance if I wanted to. And this is the daily negotiation. This negotiation determines the way I position myself politically. I would love to say that everyday I was born with radicalism in my bones, that defiance is easy once you make the choice. It’s not. It’s always a conscious decision. Some days I wake up and wanna slay, other days the lure of complacency is waiting on my bedside table with a baited hook. It’s hard to negotiate when you’ve got haters from every side. You’re not brown enough, or white enough, or radical enough, or too radical. They’re all right. I’m a walking contradiction. And I’ll sustain it. I exist in the gap. In the morning I wake up and choose the narrative I want to live and represent. Mostly I’ll avoid the hook. But I’m human. I am strong and I am weak. Somedays, I’ll bite.

 

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