BRIDGITTE Tetteh ballooned to dress size 22 by the time she was just 14 years of age. After attending a fitting for school uniform, the measurer informed the teenager that hers would have to be ordered in, due to her size.
“I was this really large child, facing all of the things which come with that,” Tetteh recalls. “I wanted to buy clothes from the normal rack. Back then, you didn’t have exclusive, plus-sized stores – and I was at that age where I was becoming more aware of boys. I wanted to be attractive to them.”
This spurred the then-teen into action. She stopped snacking in between meals, reduced her portion sizes and adopted an exercise regime, which resulted in a slimmer frame.
“I’ll never be skinny but I can be healthy,” says the BBC Radio Berkshire presenter.
The more that Tetteh progressed along this personal journey, the more she began to talk to other people about their own experiences, prompting her to examine the connections between race and body image.
“I’ve seen the black community following the national trend towards obesity and also, that being coupled with a lot of popular culture pressures as well.”
It was through her own struggle with weight that the concept for her radio documentary Curvalicious was born.
“The idea really came about from my own experience and my whole point of doing the programme was to generate wider discussion.”
Curvalicious, in part, seeks to examine the various perceptions of the term ‘curvy’.
Some regard it as a euphemism for a person that is overweight, some take it to mean extremely voluptuous, and others simply ascribe the term to the size 14 woman.
Tetteh says: “By talking to a group of guys at my gym I found that, to them, curvy meant a small waist, big hips and a nice bust – the popular, Jessica Rabbit-type image.
“Whereas the women that I spoke to seemed to think that it was more about being body confident in whatever shape you are. It was interesting to hear the different opinions.”
THEN AND NOW: From 19th century ‘freak show’ act Sara ‘Saartjie’ Baartman to pop sensation Beyonce, black women’s bodies have long been the source of discussion
Tetteh’s documentary is also an exploration of the black, female experience within the UK, pertaining specifically to the quest for the ‘ideal’ figure.
Featuring additional contributions from author Bonnie Greer and lecturer Dionne Taylor, Curvalicious examines the social and historical governance of the black, female body. From pop culture pressure to emulate the curvaceous figures of stars like Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, to the legacy of Sara ‘Saartjie’ Baartman – the famed South African woman, who was exhibited as a ‘freak show’ attraction in 19th century Europe, due to her large bottom – Curvalicious examines it all.
“The way in which black women are depicted in the media affects the way that we think we should view ourselves. The popular image is the hour-glass figure, but that’s not necessarily true to how you’re supposed to be.
“Where is it coming from that a black woman should be curvy? Why does that seem to be the acceptable form for a black woman?”
The programme will also examine the cultural implications of obesity and eating habits – issues that Tetteh is well-versed with.
“I’m from a Ghanaian background and we can sometimes get carried away with what is a treat, what is something you have every now and then and what is a healthy diet,” she explains.
“In my culture, we have a lot of healthy foods like plantain, bean stew – it’s great. But somehow, we’ve managed to get the portion size and cooking wrong. We explore all of these things in the programme.”
Curvalicious is a Loftus production for BBC Radio 4 and will be broadcast at 11am on September 30. Catch Bridgitte Tetteh on BBC Radio Berkshire’s African & Caribbean Show every Sunday at 8pm