Jamaican artistes address concepts of the female physique
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
As an independent country Jamaica started on a beautiful note - literally. After the official severing of colonial ties with Britain in 1962, the following year Carol Joan Crawford won the Miss World title at the pageant in London, England.
However, in the year of Independence Jimmy Cliff, OM, had declared his lady beautiful in Miss Jamaica, rejecting the opinions of the world outside Jamaica - and actually going against imposed standards for a woman's figure as he sang:
"Although you may not have such a fabulous shape
To suit the rest of the world
But you suit me
That's all I want to know
I need not know nothing more
You're my Miss Jamaica
I'm crowing you myself"
While Cliff did not specify what the shape was, it is safe to say that the "rest of the world" largely goes for the slim type. However, there is no mistaking the shape The Heptones go for in the 1966 Fatty Fatty, as they croon:
"I need a fat girl
(Fat girl tonight)
I need a fat, very very fat girl
(Fat girl tonight)
I'm in the mood girl ...
I'm feeling rude"
In the book Reggae Routes (Kevin O'Brien Chang and Wayne Chen), Leroy Sibbles relates the writing of Fatty Fatty, the critical moment being the presence of a fat woman. He said:
"I was in the yard, playing the guitar. So me a fool round and this fat lady name Miss B walk in. She was short and fat, short and round, she walk like a little duck, Miss B come in and like a joke I sing, "I need a fat girl". Of course, "fat girl" is like a compliment to a woman here in Jamaica. From I sing that, the whole tune come together". Fatty Fatty was promptly banned from radio airplay at that time and has gone on to be a hugely popular and acceptable song.
On the website www.totenz.net, Jamaica is listed as seventh in the world for celebrating fat women. A December 2003 article in a local newspaper reported the findings of a study by the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Tropical Medical Research Institute (TMRI) at the University of the West Indies (UWI), that 60 per cent of Jamaican women were overweight or obese. The Health Minister John Junor said "one cultural norm, which is accepted an which makes obesity and overweight among the most difficult to control risk factors associated with chronic lifestyle diseases in the Caribbean is that overweight is seen and a sign of prosperity and overweight women were often preferred". In 2010, a Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) study deemed 65 per cent of Jamaican women to be obese by accepted medical standards.
That has not stopped the celebration of female heft, the 'Fluffy' craze of the last decade the latest marker in Jamaican music. Chief among the female artistes celebrating 'fluffinesss' is deejay Pamputtae, who takes on Spice (representing for the slim ladies) in Slim vs Fluffy. They take turns at daring each other "ah yu bet yu caan do dis". Pamputtae tells Spice "gu weh maaga gal yu no got whe mi got/fluffy gal; a run di place yu tink yu hot but yu not". And, as Spice teases her about the size of her stomach, Pamputtae replies "tings need shelter".
Two 1980s songs, Little Harry's Anorexal Body and Red Dragon's Ku Kum Kum celebrate large ladies by looking askance at the slim ones in different ways. In Anorexal Body, a woman takes the weight gain medication of the day (at another point it was chicken pills, The STAR carrying the headline 'Fowl food for slim chicks'). He mocks those who
Diana look slim an' she waan get fat
She naa go cook no pot she naa go drink no soursop
She no waan no beetroot, turnip nor carrot
She have one day fat but anorexal do dat
Two day fat but anorexal do dat ..."
Little Harry urges "gal pickney hol up yu head if yu body natural/kick out yu foot yu no tek no anorexal/wine yu line cause yu international/anyweh yu pass yu pretty like a rental".
The name 'anorexal pill' comes from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, in which persons go to extremes to restrict their food intake and often end up being cadaverously thin.
In Ku Kum Kum, deejay Red Dragon relates an encounter with a thin woman at a dance in St Thomas. He relates the size of the woman to (what else?) the sexual encounter:
"When you mess wid maaga gal
Maaga gal dem wi gi yu blue bone
All maaga gal I man haffi leave dem alone ...
Ku Kum Kum, that's the sound of a bone
Ku Kum Kum, leave maaga gal alone
When a young gal no have on no fat
Ku kum kum ku kum
A so har bone knock"
At the St Thomas party Red Dragon meets a woman named Pat, whose figure he cannot make out "true she inna dis big purple frock/due to how de frock big it make har look fat". They start to dance and soon Red Dragon hears "ku kum kum". He thinks it is a scratched record and shouts to the selector "Financial wheel up dat". Still he hears the sound, checks if the lady has a wooden leg, and she eventually confesses "a mi bone dem a knock/true me maaga mi no have on no fat/when mi dance an mi body run hot/a so all a mi bone dem knock".
Still, there is the other side of the women's weight debate in Ting a Ling Shabba Ranks declares that at the abdomen "don' waan no gal wid no bawl out belly/belly haffi flat like a Willie Penny". This is, however, after he tosses a barb at the slender lasses, encouraging women to:
"Model pon yu mate cause yu mate no ready
Mate look skinny like macaroni
From yu mate skinny jus' call har tready (thready)"
Then in the 2000s, Leftside and Esco demanded that women with large stomach's Tuck Een Yu Belly. It was made clear that "pregnant women, women over 35 and women who already have children and those who can look down and see their toes, this song does not apply to you".
For all others with bug bellies, though, they asked:
"My girl tuck een yu belly
A whey u a go wid dat man ...
Some gal, belly bag ova like shirt
One bag a flab dem need some ab work
Big butt an big gut gal dat no work ...
Yu belly no fi look like you a give birth
You foot fava broomstick don' wear skirt ...
Mi gal mogel mogel yu no shape like de earth
Walk out Sky Juice a no yu Daddy"
At the end of the verse they congratulate a lady as "a you win de flat belly Grammy".
There was a quick defence of the larger ladies by KipRich, who encouraged "my girl leggo yu belly"
The women's belly had long been in dancehall's lyrical sights, as in one of Admiral Bailey's many banned 1980s records, he declared a physical trait of a desirable woman: "Har belly skin no fi marky marky."
In his massive, enduring hit She's Royal, Tarrus Riley goes to the face for a defining feature of true beauty which has been embraced by women to whom it applies and those to whom it does not, as he sings:
"What a natural beauty
No need no make-up to be a cutie
She's a queen".