The history of waist beads goes back to the beginning of time; many researchers believe the origins of waist beads lie in ancient Egypt, and that waist beads were worn by women as a status symbol. The more ornate, colorful, and intricate in design the waist beads, the higher the social status of the wearer. Many researchers note that waist beads were the “girdles” of the ancient world and a symbol of female power, sexuality, femininity, womanhood, and spirituality among other meanings. Over time, the waist bead trend found its way to many parts of the African continent including West Africa. For example, Yoruba women in Nigeria popularized waist beads wearing as a beautiful art form and to attract men of their choosing. Many Yoruba women would interlace their waist beads with perfumes, and special charms to help them catch their special guy’s eye.
In Ghana, another West African nation, waist beads were worn as an adornment like the women in Egypt, where the waist beads represent(ed) status and wealth if you were a member of the aristocracy and femininity. In Ghana, however, women are not the only ones who wear waist beads. Babies wear them during their naming ceremonies, teens wear them during puberty “coming of age” ceremonies, and men have been known to commission waist beads, with matching ankle, wrist, necklace, and cuff beads for their brides-to-be. The commissioned beads would be considered part of the bridal dowry and the start of her personal wealth.
Many west African women will tell you that they wear the beads to help “shape” their waists, hence the comparisons with girdles. The belief was that if multiple waist beads were worn over time, the waist would be kept small and the hips more accentuated. We all know, rightly or wrongly, that a small waist and shapely hips are synonymous with fertility. Women of all shapes and sizes wore and wear waist beads. To be clear, and despite many photos to the contrary, waist beads are not just a “skinny” girl fashion trend. An interesting factoid of waist beads’ past is that they were considered “private” and not always meant for show, they were personal and reflected personal expression and individual interpretation, which runs almost completely contrary to the modern-day usage.
Fast forward to the present and the seeming resurgence of waist beads in modern day fashion, it seems waist beads are everywhere. They are still highly feminine and made of vibrantly colored glass or clay beads, gemstones, pieces of horn, shells, gold and silver, or a mix of these items and others strewn together by hand in most cases and fit to embrace the wearer’s midsection. There are many popular theories as to why waist beads have become “a la mode” again, and among them is the fact that waist beads provide a sense of empowerment to women about an area of the body, namely the midsection, that is often a source of embarrassment, discomfort, and insecurity.
Waist beads provide a colorful and beautiful option to adorn the midriff, and this helps women appreciate their bodies, and accept themselves no matter if they have a six-pack, a muffin top, or are somewhere in between. Waist beads are the modern-day women’s armor against the unrealistic standards society sets for women’s beauty and aesthetics. Once you put waist beads on, you immediately feel sexy, proud of the way you look, and proud of your body, flaws and all. A residual effect of wearing waist beads is that your confidence and self-confidence levels immediately improve, and I am here for all of that. If you are like me and are now curious about waist beads and the best places to get your own waist beads, then your first stop should be to check out Sewra.
Sewra Kidane is the creative force behind Waistbeads by Sewra, a thriving online business that sells waist beads she makes and has worn herself since 1999. Sewra is of Eritrean and African-American descent, and according to her website, got into making waist beads to “pass the time and clear her mind” while mending a broken heart. Her website also states that “Waist Beads by Sewra are fine crafted waist beads made with meticulous craftsmanship. A multihued palate, which yields a bold, rich and sophisticated color combination, gives Waist Beads by Sewra a unique look and feel, setting them apart from other bead styles.”
To check out the latest collection of waist beads created by Ms. Kidane, visit: www.boutique.waistbeads.com