Yes, Curves Are Gorgeous (And Other Beauty Truths We Need to Hear)

Darling Bethany Douglass

I recently returned home to the U.S. after spending two weeks in Ghana, West Africa. As the Director of Project Development for the Touch A Life Foundation, I have traveled to Ghana a dozen times, but each time I’m there, I’m captivated by the innate beauty of Ghanaian women.

They are gorgeous on the inside and out, to be sure, but what I observe and relish in each time is a different kind of a beauty, one that results from a culture that is less influenced by the media than my own.

Let me explain.

Ghana is a small country, just about the size of Oregon, located in West Africa. The national language is English, though most people still speak regional and tribal dialects. There are plenty of observable multi-cultural influences, both from within Ghana itself (a loyalty to traditional dance routines, a penchant for batik-print clothing) and from other countries (a universal fascination with Rihanna & Jay Z, iPhones being used on every street corner).

What’s interesting, though, is that in spite of the plentiful outside influences, Ghanaian women, at the core, appear to value a more holistic view of beauty and femininity than American women do. There is no doubt that economic, social, and political realities factor into this mindset and behavior, but through my travels, I’ve come to realize that a typical Ghanaian woman – one who works to support her family, spends much of her time raising her children, and accomplishes numerous projects around the house – tends to value a more forgiving and grateful attitude toward her body and her image.

In Ghana, a woman who has gained a few pounds either looks more prepared to bear children, which is viewed as important and beautiful, or appears to have earned enough money for herself to live and eat well.

On one trip to our childcare facility, a Ghanaian staff member turned to me and said brightly, with a wide grin on his face, “You have put on some weight!” I laughed, not knowing how else to respond, while feeling torn up and hurt inside. It was true, I had gained weight after having a knee surgery that had rendered me sedentary, which was a huge change from my previously active lifestyle. I realized instantly, though, that he thought he was giving me a compliment. In Ghana, a woman who has gained a few pounds either looks more prepared to bear children, which is viewed as important and beautiful, or appears to have earned enough money for herself to live and eat well.

Darling Bethany Douglass

Conversely, on my most recent trip, some of the teenage girls reprimanded me for looking too small, exclaiming that they like when women look bigger because they look healthier. I hadn’t lost an unhealthy amount of weight; I shed 15 pounds by cooking more and doing weight-training exercises that kept me strong and toned (allowing me to reach a more natural weight for my height, according to U.S. medical standards) though a difference from my previous trip was noticeable.

What a vastly huge cultural difference, I thought to myself. While women in the U.S. certainly comment about each other’s appearances and especially their own, they talk about themselves in an opposite way than Ghanaian women do, one that reflects my inherent belief when hearing that I’d observably gained weight: getting heavier = bad; being thin = ultimate goal.

… they also aspired to attain a different body type, one that is a result of achieving healthy goals, not of giving in to self-loathing.

In Ghana, being too thin is not cherished or sought after; it’s a visual representation of someone who is unwell, poor or not properly taken care of. I realized that it is quite a first world problem to care about numbers on a scale, to value our society’s definition of beauty over good health, to fritter away precious minutes cringing over the parts of our bodies that we hate. These women not only didn’t have the time or the “luxury” to nit-pick over their bodies, but they also aspired to attain a different body type, one that is a result of achieving healthy goals, not of giving in to self-loathing.

Lessons about body image are ones that I have carried with me over the years. They’re lessons that I’ve tried to implement when I return to the U.S. after a trip to Ghana, bracing myself to inevitably face reverse culture shock, confronting the ridiculous message that in order to be beautiful I need to look a certain (read: skinny) way.

In Ghana I am reminded that good health is the utmost privilege, the most important and valuable aspect of anyone’s life. I am reminded that curves are gorgeous, that a smile is truly a window to the soul, and that everlasting beauty comes from within. I am aware that these are also lessons I could learn in the U.S.; they are embraced and exhibited by incredible women all around the country on a daily basis. But for me, I needed to be removed from the cultural influences that seep into my consciousness without my awareness in order to fully understand them. I needed to literally and figuratively step outside of my comfort zone in order to understand how greatly I had been impacted by messages from the media, and for how long.

I needed the women of Ghana to teach me what it means to love my body, to thank it for its strength and grace, and to share this message with others, inspiring us all to redefine what it means to be beautiful. It may be worth it – necessary, even – for you to step out of your own comfort zone, allowing yourself to assess how society’s presentation of beauty is affecting your view of yourself and your body.

Have you stepped out of your comfort zone to find a new definition of beauty? What was it?

Image via Bethany Douglass

Rachel is the Development Director for the Touch A Life Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of exploited and trafficked children in West Africa and Southeast Asia. She currently lives in Dallas, TX, with her husband, their baby girl Ruby, and their cuddly English mastiff.

  • kimberli brackett July 17, 2015

    loved everything about this article…your honesty, transparency and heart! thank you for sharing your experience and journey with all of us. blessed!

    • Rachel Brown July 20, 2015

      Thank you so, so much for reading & commenting, friend – so grateful for you & your heart for Ghana!

  • Kate July 10, 2015

    While I’m glad that people are celebrating diverse body types (or at least, diverse from a Western ideal), this still reinforces the idea that women should be foremost concerned with, and valued by, what they look like.

    • Rachel Brown July 17, 2015

      Hi, Kate! Thanks so much for reading & commenting. The point of the piece was not to communicate that women be valued solely by their appearance; instead, we want to move away from that idea. I think these two lines sum up the point most effectively: “In Ghana I am reminded that good health is the utmost privilege, the most important and valuable aspect of anyone’s life. I am reminded that curves are gorgeous, that a smile is truly a window to the soul, and that everlasting beauty comes from within.” We are trying to prioritize inner beauty, health, strength, and self-worth above images showcased by the media, and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. I so appreciate your feedback, and I’d love to continue chatting with you via email if you’d like!

  • Carissa July 4, 2015

    I think this is a wonderfully written piece, and I do agree with you – curves ARE beautiful.
    However, as a naturally “skinny” girl, who eats large quantities of healthy food and doesn’t gain weight easily, I am beginning to find it offensive that the only conversation about women being beautiful is regarding those who are “curvaceous” and “full-figured.”
    Some girls are born with genes that determine they will be thin, basically no matter what – are they not beautiful because of this?
    I’ve seen quite an over-correction on this area of discussion in general and I wish we could all come to a healthy mindset on this topic.

    • Rachel Brown July 6, 2015

      Carissa, I think this is a great point, and I know the Darling community always attempts to communicate that genetics play a huge role, that women’s bodies shouldn’t be discriminated against in any way, regardless of the size. I think the point we’re trying to make here is that the media only presents one type of body image that is deemed beautiful, a type that is unattainable for many people, maybe even most people. No one is trying to say that full-figured women are the only ones who are beautiful; rather, we are trying to widen the scope of what the world determines as gorgeous. The media portrays an image that you’re only beautiful IF you’re thin; we want to broaden this to encompass bodies of all shapes and sizes. I hope that makes sense, and I’d love to continue the dialogue with you further via email if you’d like!

  • Emma July 4, 2015

    Thank you for sharing this ‘alternative’ view on beauty. I’m a 25 Scandinavian and I have always had issues with my body, most likely influenced by the set standard of (photoshopped) beauty portrayed in the media. I want to become better at looking inside myself and not focus on what I think other might be thinking about a tiny detail no one will notice.

    And thank ‘Melodie’ for sharing 🙂

    • Rachel Brown July 6, 2015

      Thank you so much for reading & commenting, Emma! I love what you wrote about the tiny details that others don’t notice, you’re so spot on with that – I need to remember that, too!

  • Melodie July 3, 2015

    And another thought as it relates to appearance…I feel like, as I’ve started to appreciate my body more from the INside, my neediness to receive compliments has decreased. It seems like fashion, in our culture, has become about “showing off” your body. But why, exactly, is it something I have to “show off”? Just because I “have it” does not necessarily mean I should flaunt it. I have no “problem areas,” really.

    Doesn’t mean you have to hide in tents. But it can be a lot of fun to learn how to dress to achieve certain “silhouettes,” as an older fashion book I’ve been reading talks about. Projecting an illusion of having an “ideal” body type through things like accessories, belting, fit, and suchlike, is something ANYONE can do. So, I kind of just think…my body IS fabulous, just the way it is, and I don’t have to “show anything off” to prove anything to anyone.

    There’s a lot to be said for having a bit of “feminine mystique,” something American culture seems to have largely thrown out. Personally, I think the emphasis on having to be “sexy” all the time and “show it off” is definitely contributing to a lot of shame women feel over their bodies. You ARE sexy–just look at what your body can do! And it’s special and precious enough not to have to share with everyone. 🙂

    • Rachel Brown July 6, 2015

      I love these thoughtful comments & your openness & vulnerability! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Melodie July 3, 2015

    This really resonated with me today. I’ve been learning to view my body as beautiful, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as the Bible puts it. This isn’t talked about much, but I’ve been learning how to appreciate my body from the INSIDE. Instead of thinking about how I might look to somebody else, I thank God that He created me with a body that’s able to experience pleasure. As somebody who’s struggled with OCD-related sexual compulsions for a long time (really only self-stimulation, not anything with another person, real or imagined), it’s been really important to my healing to recognize that my body is good and beautiful. It’s not something I ever need to feel ashamed of, for any reason.

    So, where I used to think “wow, my thighs are SO BIG! 😛 I need to lose weight,” now I am starting to think “they’re really beautiful, and they feel fabulous when I touch them and just relax and enjoy it.” It’s sort of like a mindfulness/CBT technique, I guess, that combats anxiety-related obsessive thoughts with Truth.

    And yeah, Melodie is not my real name. 😉 But I felt that this might help somebody, so I decided to share it. And I’m glad Darling is a forum where things like this can be talked about openly.