I’m a Black American woman who grew up in the Bible Belt with little to no exposure to Caribbean culture. But when I moved to New York City in 2009, the friends I made from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, and other island nations welcomed me with open arms. I immediately embraced their culture, specifically carnival culture because it seemed like so much fun! And I started following blogs and social media pages to get a visual sense of carnival culture.
I saw beautiful women who looked like Victoria's Secret models and sexy and well-groomed men with six packs. All full of confidence and in revealing clothing. To someone who grew up in a religious household where modesty was so important, it was empowering to see people of all ages comfortable in their skin. But I can honestly say that I had my reservations about participating in carnival.
“Body Positivity” has been quite the buzzword lately and for carnival, I had to face what it meant to me. The body positive movement has been popularized by a group of people who believe all bodies should be represented, from fat bodies to disabled bodies, and everywhere in-between.
It’s meant to uplift the self-esteem of millions of people who feel their body will never be good enough and remove the stigma of how we view bodies. This is especially important for women who are socialized to inherently hate their bodies. And it is more common than you can imagine.
My journey with body positivity is two-fold: being comfortable with revealing clothes and being comfortable with my weight. I grew up to associate shame with my body. And it wasn’t helped when I gained weight over the years. But carnival is been a place where I’m forced to reconcile my own internal negative views of body shame. When I was choosing my costume, I wanted to cover up my body as much as possible because I was afraid of judgement.
I went to my first carnival in 2011 and you can imagine my surprise when I saw women and men of all shapes and sizes. There was no judgement whether you decided to be covered up or letting it all hang out. Anyone could have been a doctor, a lawyer, even a judge and they were having the time of their lives, not worrying about how they were perceived.
Sexy, still confident and none of the shame! I had the time of my life and it was as if the years of associating shame with my body melted away with each whine.*
*I did have to practice how to whine because judgements have been made on my dancing!
Carnival is about love, celebration, and revelry. But the culture has been slut shamed by Black Americans like myself. From the misguided comments from rappers/radio hosts to super religious people, it took me actually going to Trinidad or Miami, Cropover or Caribana to realize how ignorant, hurtful, and grossly untrue those opinions are. So don’t slut shame this culture until you’ve actually experienced it.
If you’re considering carnival and you’re feeling shy, let me tell you it will not matter when you’re on the road. Go and have a great time and wear as little, or as much, as you feel comfortable.