I bet you thought your body was yours, seeing as it is the home of your essence, the thing that carries your soul, your spirit and your chi.

You would imagine that your body belongs to you, since you feel the pain every time you’re ill, or something is going wrong with any of its parts.

It is only natural that you think your body is yours to do with as you wish. Dear Nigerian woman, it is not.

Your body belongs to everybody else; to people who tell you what you should be doing with it.

First, it belongs to your parents. They are under the unction of God and tradition. It is their obligation to remind you that your body is a temple. It is this sacred thing to be revered. It is to be groomed solely for the appreciation of others.

Your parents’ friends stare at you in admiration — look how nicely you’re growing. Are those boobs? How old are you again? Thirteen! Applause to your parents who have done such a great job in providing the necessary elements in the gene pool to allow for such nice ripe breasts, supple skin, a slender waist and buxom hips.

Sometimes these ‘family friends’, or relatives, do more than appreciate your growing body with words. Reaching out to touch, they hush you and remind you it is ‘our little secret’, this pleasant admiration of your body. They share it with you like they have a right to it.

You try to tell your parents that this body, the one you’re keeping for God, has been violated in some way, but you’re silenced. Do not bring shame to the family. Do not speak of such things.

Did you sway your hips this way and that when serving Uncle Festus a cold beer that evening?

Your body is not yours to move as you please.

Again, you are reminded that this body is forming appropriately for the right man, the one deserving. This man, when he comes, will woo you gallantly in the right way. He won’t disrespect you by suggesting you allow him taste your nipples or slide his fingers up your thighs. No, he will come with his family and the right amount of money in bride price. He will ask for your hand in marriage, and then your body will become his. The title deed to your body will change hands.

Did you imagine that marriage means your body would now belong to you? Did you for a second think you had the right to decide what days you feel like being touched? Rough or gentle, these things are immaterial. How and whether you want it is inconsequential.

They say spousal rape is not a thing in Nigeria; that a man is incapable of raping a woman he paid for. Isn’t it a thing of privilege that you are now a married woman, in your own home? Spread those legs, lie still and take his seed. Be grateful. Women like you are in religious houses praying for this gift of wifehood which you so easily have.

Your body belongs to your husband, and this in itself requires a higher level of grace. Perm your hair. Silky hair reminds one of the marine goddess. No perm? Natural hair is for dirty girls.

A hair cut? Your man doesn’t want someone who reminds him of his brother. No, you are a woman, a vessel of childbirth, a priestess of fertility.

Was there a fleeting thought that in some way it was up to you to decide whether you wanted to carry a child inside you? Did something give you the impression that it was up to you to decide how many children you would have?

Did you want to wait a couple of years before trying to start a family? How many children did you fantasize you would have? Did you for a second think your opinion on this subject mattered?

One. A girl? Try again for a boy, because boys are what really count. They carry on the family name.

A girl is just … a girl.

Two. A boy. Good, you are not completely useless. Try again, because a boy needs a playmate. An insurance policy, in case something goes wrong.

Did you say something about a C-section compromising your health and that another pregnancy might be threatening to your life? What is your life without a child to please the one who actually owns your body?

Do I hear you murmuring that you don’t want to breastfeed your child? Where did you get the idea that you had a choice in the matter? And that suggestion that if you could afford it you would reconstruct those breasts — a nip here, a tuck there — where is it coming from? Your husband isn’t really complaining about your fully rounded body. Your children don’t seem bothered by the extra flesh that envelops them when you enfold them in a hug.

Wife. Mother.

That body is the evidence you need that you’re all that they need you to be.

Your body does not belong to you. It is not for you to put a tattoo on.

Your body does not belong to you. Traders in the market are allowed to pull, grope and pinch.

Your body does not belong to you. With the right size of diamonds and baubles, you are expected to go home with the highest bidder.

Your body does not belong to you; you only wish it did.

Atoke is a lawyer, writer, retired foodie and FitFam adherent. She worships at the altar of words, and believes life is too short not to be kind to other people

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