This summer festival is a liberating space for women of all shapes and sizes

Yahoo Lifestyle

“Oh, she’s scandalous,” a friend said aloud, referring to me, after one would-be carnivalista asked me what to expect on our trip to Barbados Crop Over Festival — the Caribbean island’s annual six-week festival, which consists of parties booming with calypso and soca music and street fairs flowing with flavorful food and arts to celebrate a 200-year tradition honoring the end of the sugar cane season.

“It’s … fun.” The words gradually rolled off my tongue as I stood there baffled about why she would say such a thing. Was it the costume she’d seen me don in the past? Was it the way my wined [danced] like a snake in Instagram Story videos filmed during carnival in Jamaica months ago? Was it the dancing with both women and men?? Was it because a lot of skin was openly shown in public? Or was it the mere fact that she just didn’t understand Caribbean culture?

It was hard to believe she didn’t get it. It was even tougher to accept her comments as humorous rather than backhanded. I felt as if she had put me in the “scandalous” box, where one is also labeled as shameful, dishonorable, and sinful. But Caribbean women — and people from all backgrounds who participate in carnival festivals — are often subjected to this cruel judgment.

“The perception the U.S. has of Caribbean carnivals shows their ignorance and disdain of African-derived culture and festivals,” says Kai Barratt, a lecturer and carnival scholar at the University of Technology, Jamaica. “The media coverage of Rihanna at Crop Over is a testament to this. It also highlights their imperialistic and colonial position, as they view Caribbean society and its inhabitants as backward and hypersexualized.”

“I would say ‘hypersexualized’ as opposed to ‘over’ simply because the latter suggests a consistent degradation of the carnival-costumed woman to her powerless demise, when in some instances (well, often in the contemporary context), the carnival woman celebrates this period of hypersexuality,” explains Jo-anne Tull, an academic coordinator and carnival studies lecturer, who has been participating in Trinidad Carnival and Crop Over in Barbados for over 20 years. “Many of us bask in this time, particularly with the rise and the importance of [social media like] Instagram in showing off this. We, the women, sometimes are the media creators of this hypersexualized time.”

However, it’s important to highlight how a carnival festival encourages women to own their sexuality in a culture where dance has always been sensual and party outfits have always been revealing, rather than framing the festival attire as an example of sexual invitation and objectification of women and their bodies.

Recall the tragic event that took place at Trinidad Carnival in 2016 when 30-year-old professional steel-pan player Asami Nagakiya was murdered. Port-of-Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee made comments that suggested the young woman’s carnival costume was to blame for her death. “Women have a responsibility to ensure they are not abused during the carnival season. It’s a matter of, if she was still in her costume — I think that’s what I heard — let your imagination roll,” he told reporters.

Kee apologized for his remarks and eventually resigned after bikini-clad women took to the streets to protest the victim-blaming that stemmed from a carnival festival where the costume is key.

Carnival is not a time to be sexually harassed or slut-shamed. It’s actually one of the most powerful times of year for women to be free from male domination or societal rules, according to Tull. “Carnival day, and the days leading up to it, she is boss.”

Carnival is a liberating time for women (and men) of all shapes and sizes to challenge and contest patriarchal ideas of femininity. It is without a doubt a release from everyday restrictions and a way for women to  proudly celebrate and showcase their feather-adorned and bedazzled bodies.

Scroll through to find out what women at the Barbados Crop Over Festival 2018 have to say about overcoming body-image issues and loving themselves just the way they are.

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

• These Carnival Costumes Have the Best Message: ‘You Are Beautiful, You Are Sexy, You Are Gorgeous’

• Rihanna smolders in sexy, beaded bikini and feathers at Crop Over Festival in Barbados

• Street Style at Barbados Crop Over Festival

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<p>In this space, women of all ages, shapes, and sizes celebrate what makes them unique. (Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle) </p>
Barbados Crop Over Festival 2018

In this space, women of all ages, shapes, and sizes celebrate what makes them unique. (Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle)

<p><strong>What do you embrace about your body?</strong> <strong>What’s your favorite part?</strong> My legs<br><strong>What are you scared to show off?</strong> My middle section.<br><strong>How did you overcome that fear for Crop Over?</strong> What I will do is accentuate the positive and play down the negative. <br><strong>Do you feel like your best self when you’re on the road?</strong> Yes! It’s about expression. It’s about total freedom. It’s about releasing any negative energies and just embracing the culture, embracing the activities. <br>(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle) </p>
Marilyn Rice-Bowen, 64, Barbados

What do you embrace about your body? What’s your favorite part? My legs
What are you scared to show off? My middle section.
How did you overcome that fear for Crop Over? What I will do is accentuate the positive and play down the negative.
Do you feel like your best self when you’re on the road? Yes! It’s about expression. It’s about total freedom. It’s about releasing any negative energies and just embracing the culture, embracing the activities.
(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle)

<p><strong>What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival? What does Crop Over mean to you?</strong> I think we as women do it to enjoy ourselves, express ourselves. We don’t do it to be victimized by other people.<br><strong>What do you embrace most about your body?</strong> My butt.<br><strong>What body part were you afraid to show off?</strong> Well, I have a stomach.<br><strong>How did you overcome that fear?</strong> I just forgot about it.<br>(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle) </p>
Dana Rock (at right), 32, Barbados

What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival? What does Crop Over mean to you? I think we as women do it to enjoy ourselves, express ourselves. We don’t do it to be victimized by other people.
What do you embrace most about your body? My butt.
What body part were you afraid to show off? Well, I have a stomach.
How did you overcome that fear? I just forgot about it.
(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle)

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<p><strong>Was there anything you were scared to show off about yourself?</strong> Absolutely nothing because I feel confident. I feel beautiful. I feel sexy. I’m happy. <br><strong> What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival?</strong> Some women who don’t participate think could never go on the road like that. I thought something like that before going to Trinidad Carnival in February, and then I understood that it’s a part of the Caribbean culture. Maybe the movements can seem sexual but not the intention, and it’s solely a dance … people dance. Even if you show your body, it’s an expression of joy because all this carnival means something for Caribbean people in a cultural and historical way. It’s just a celebration of joy, freedom, happiness, body, and self-esteem. <br><strong>What do you embrace the most about your body?</strong> I like my smile. I like my eyes. I like my breasts, my bum, and I’m not the only one.<br>(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle) </p>
Glenda Tatangelo, 30, London

Was there anything you were scared to show off about yourself? Absolutely nothing because I feel confident. I feel beautiful. I feel sexy. I’m happy.
What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival? Some women who don’t participate think could never go on the road like that. I thought something like that before going to Trinidad Carnival in February, and then I understood that it’s a part of the Caribbean culture. Maybe the movements can seem sexual but not the intention, and it’s solely a dance … people dance. Even if you show your body, it’s an expression of joy because all this carnival means something for Caribbean people in a cultural and historical way. It’s just a celebration of joy, freedom, happiness, body, and self-esteem.
What do you embrace the most about your body? I like my smile. I like my eyes. I like my breasts, my bum, and I’m not the only one.
(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle)

<p><strong>How have you overcome body-image or self-esteem issues?</strong> To be honest, even as a skinny girl, we still struggle with those issues and — I’m being really honest with you — a lot of the times I always opt for something that camouflages the tummy area, especially with a carnival costume. So even if it’s a little string or a little bead or something like that, for carnival in particular I try to find something that I know will camouflage my stomach area so that I don’t have to think about it. Knowing that I love my body no matter how it looks, that’s always been a thing for me. So I’m going to step out on carnival day, confident no matter what anybody thinks. Even though we worry about it sometimes, I think the key is just to be confident in yourself.<br><strong>What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival?</strong> It’s kind of the way of the world right now. The beauty of carnival for me is that it brings together people of all ages. I think it can be sexual in some ways, but I think it depends on the person. For me it has never been that; it is about enjoying the day with my friends, the sun, the vibes, the rum. It’s never been about the body stuff. It’s never been about the supersexy costume.<br>(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle) </p>
Kandi King, 31, Jamaica

How have you overcome body-image or self-esteem issues? To be honest, even as a skinny girl, we still struggle with those issues and — I’m being really honest with you — a lot of the times I always opt for something that camouflages the tummy area, especially with a carnival costume. So even if it’s a little string or a little bead or something like that, for carnival in particular I try to find something that I know will camouflage my stomach area so that I don’t have to think about it. Knowing that I love my body no matter how it looks, that’s always been a thing for me. So I’m going to step out on carnival day, confident no matter what anybody thinks. Even though we worry about it sometimes, I think the key is just to be confident in yourself.
What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival? It’s kind of the way of the world right now. The beauty of carnival for me is that it brings together people of all ages. I think it can be sexual in some ways, but I think it depends on the person. For me it has never been that; it is about enjoying the day with my friends, the sun, the vibes, the rum. It’s never been about the body stuff. It’s never been about the supersexy costume.
(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle)

<p><strong>Was there anything you were scared to show off about yourself? </strong>It would probably have to be my stomach because I wish it were flatter.<br><strong>So what gave you the confidence to come on the road then? </strong>I did it last year, so I can do it again.<br><strong>How have you overcome body-image and self-esteem issues? And how does carnival play into that? </strong>By just loving myself, and yeah, because everybody’s naked the same way.<br><strong>What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival? </strong>I don’t think it’s sexual. It’s fun. You gotta love it to do it.<br>(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle) </p>
Shayla Williams, 18, Barbados

Was there anything you were scared to show off about yourself? It would probably have to be my stomach because I wish it were flatter.
So what gave you the confidence to come on the road then? I did it last year, so I can do it again.
How have you overcome body-image and self-esteem issues? And how does carnival play into that? By just loving myself, and yeah, because everybody’s naked the same way.
What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival? I don’t think it’s sexual. It’s fun. You gotta love it to do it.
(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle)

<p><strong>Was there anything you were scared to show off?</strong> Sometimes I’m a little self-conscious about being so small, but carnival is about freedom and representation of all body types, so, no.<br><strong>What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival?</strong> It’s really about who you are on the inside. Whatever you’re comfortable with. You don’t have the “wine” and Wuk-Up [dance] all the time. You can just go and walk and enjoy it.<br><strong>How have you overcome body-image and self-esteem issues? How does carnival play into that?</strong> It plays 100 percent into it because just being so dressed up and gorgeous, just beautiful, how could you not feel yourself at that point?<br>(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle) </p>
Mariel King, 34, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Was there anything you were scared to show off? Sometimes I’m a little self-conscious about being so small, but carnival is about freedom and representation of all body types, so, no.
What can you say about the hypersexualization of carnival? It’s really about who you are on the inside. Whatever you’re comfortable with. You don’t have the “wine” and Wuk-Up [dance] all the time. You can just go and walk and enjoy it.
How have you overcome body-image and self-esteem issues? How does carnival play into that? It plays 100 percent into it because just being so dressed up and gorgeous, just beautiful, how could you not feel yourself at that point?
(Photo: Noel Walker for Yahoo Lifestyle)

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