Columns, Opinion

Wonders Through Wanders: African waist beads—fashion and beyond

The African waist bead is an attractive fashion accessory worn by women worldwide, many of whom do not know the various purposes it serves.

While it’s okay to want to wear them just because it’s a fad, I know there are others out there that would love to learn a bit more about this beautiful accessory.

TYPES OF BEADS

There are many different types of waist beads; some have myths associated with them, or have some kind of spiritual, moral or physical significance; some glow in the dark, or are made of clear glass or colorful plastic; they even have different names, such as Ileke Idi, Djalay Djalay, Giri-Giri, Yomba, etc. depending on their make, size, or cultural significance.

There is much to discuss when it comes to waist beads, however I will be focusing on the various reasons behind their use in Africa. These reasons vary in different cultures and they cannot all be listed here, but here are a few of the popular ones.

WEIGHT CHECK

An amazing, unknown fact is that women wear waist beads to help check the level of weight they have gained or lost. Once the waist beads begin to feel too tight around the woman’s waist and stomach, she knows to watch her weight and cut down on fatty foods.

Also, many children wear waist beads in Africa, because mothers believe that it helps to form a desirable body figure, especially in terms of a slimmer waist and fuller hip. This is true to an extent as most women that wear waist beads tend to have well defined body shapes.

SEXUAL ATTRACTIVENESS/SENSUALITY

Waist beads are believed to entice men sexually. So in some cultures a married woman is encouraged to wear waist beads to increase her sexual appeal to her husband and encourage frequent sexual intercourse, which results in reproduction. That’s why, in some cases, fertility in marriage is attributed to waist beads.

Because of this appeal, women and young girls who openly flaunt their beads may be seen as morally corrupt and lacking values. In some cultures, they believe that these beads are supposed to be hidden, with only glimpses caught once in a while.

CONFIDENCE

Many women wear waist beads because of the confidence that comes with doing so. They tend to bounce and walk more confidently with their waist beads on. The beads give them an allure and a sense of mystery; they make them feel beautiful and proud. The tinkling of the beads makes them feel more feminine and special, and this reflects in their gait and posture.

RITE OF PASSAGE

In some cultures, waist beads symbolize a young girl’s transition into womanhood. These beads show that she is ready for marriage, can be addressed as a woman, and will be accorded a new level of respect. To these girls, it is a new level of independence and liberty to date. The thrills that come with being an adult excites them so much that they flaunt these beads with every opportunity given.

I JUST LIKE THEM

Yes, this is an actual reason. Many women wear waist beads just because they like them, it looks good in pictures, or because their favorite pop star is wearing them. 

Today, waist beads are no longer hidden, and people wear them on top of clothes, bikinis and whatever else. This accessory has found its way into the various cultures of the world and has stood the test of time. Nowadays waist beads are even available on many online stores like Etsy, Amazon etc.

If any of you wear waist beads, why? Is it because of any of the reasons listed above? Or do you just find them fancy? 

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