I submitted this piece in 2017 to be published in the Body x Culture Issue of Potent Magazine. Due to Hurricane Irma and other disasters that happened in the region last summer, the theme of the issue shifted to focus of highlighting the stories of those who endured the worst and live in the aftermath. After sitting on the piece for a while, I decided that I should share it on the Blog rather than allow it to catch dust. It couldn’t be more timely as this year Antigua and Barbuda celebrates over 60 years of carnival and my piece explores how Carnival has fostered a culture of body positivity in a world where self love and body dysmorphia a common place.
Carnival is a time of year when celebration and revelry are at the epicenter of the local atmosphere. You wake up and hear Soca and Calypso blasting on almost every radio, preparations for the festivities take precedence on every news outlet, even pastors drop a few words here and there about the giant jam session that’s about to take center stage. For 60 years, Antigua and Barbuda has celebrated its culture and its heritage through the colours and vibrance of the summer festival known as Carnival.
I haven’t been around since the very first Carnival celebrations in Antigua, I haven’t even been around for half of them, but the energy of the environment is truly unlike anything or any other time of year. In 2017, Antigua and Barbuda celebrated it’s 60th anniversary of Carnival and for the first time in my life I had an insider view of Mas. Imagine, Carnival had been happening for 60 long years, I’ve been around for 20 of those years, and this was my first real carnival experience. It was truly an eye opener.
On Carnival Monday and Tuesday I woke up feeling an unusual sense of anticipation. My stomach was filled with butterflies and I was anxious to get on with the days ahead. It was a huge deal. I was taking photos of the costumes of one of Antigua’s Largest and Premiere Mas Bands ‘Myst Carnival’. I had no idea what to expect and I had nothing to measure the experience against. When I got to the Mas Band meet up I was ‘shook’. There were so many colourful costumes, so many feathers and so many people who were just happy to let go and de-stress. At the end of the day I realized that this is what Carnival meant for them. Carnival was an escape, a chance to be free of the burdens of their 9-5, free of life’s problems. You could escape into the fantastic alter ego that your costume put before you; there are no judgments and everyone was the same. Celebrating life, happiness, and freedom. Which is essentially the entire purpose of Carnival, that sense of freedom.
The flamboyance of our carnival would be impossible without our bodies and how freely we express our selves through them. Each costume on its own though amazing is flat and lifeless without the person wearing it. The Costumes, the characters in Mas are brought to life by our bodies our movements to the music, the way the fabrics hug our curves, the way the feathers highlight our skin. Everything is a celebration of ourselves and our uniqueness. We are our culture. We shape our identities each and everyday. The costumes of today are not the costumes of Carnival 60 years ago. The Music of today is not the music of 60 years ago either. It is our continued growth and understanding of ourselves as beings and growing into our identity that has shaped and reshaped what we have come to see around us as the norm. Our freedom in Carnival to express ourselves has fostered such a large front of body positivity in this region that is largely uncommon elsewhere because we allow ourselves to have this freedom of self in our Carnival and in our culture.
I think that this importance placed on celebrating our bodies is crucial because it pays homage to the fact that our ancestors’ bodies were taken away from them. They were degraded and told to perceive themselves as inferior or less than. Carnival was an escape for them a true celebration of freedom in every sense of the word. Through Mas they took back their bodies, reclaimed a positive self image, and through Carnival they celebrated the creation of a culture that would continue to shape and define our region generations after they have passed. Many people might automatically equate Carnival to nakedness and say that it’s lost some of its hold after 60 years. However, I think the essence of Carnival in Antigua and Barbuda is still going strong because if after only going once I can take away this positive message, I think that others too can see the culture and the significance that Carnival holds in our identity.