How Notting Hill Carnival helped me *finally* embrace myself and reject toxic beauty standards

Stretch marks peeking through jewelled panties, love handles spilling over tight spandex, and stomachs that proudly jiggle and bounce with each step are all tell-tale signs that you’ve made it to Notting Hill Carnival. Women of all shapes and sizes revelling in the power their bodies hold in a space where judgement is thrown out the window is where I get my yearly reminder: snap out of it girl and accept your body as it is.

Each year watching a kaleidoscope of women’s bodies at Carnival, I am awed, inspired, and renewed by their confidence to bare it all so freely. Notting Hill Carnival for most is probably the only time of year where they have full agency over bodies; it’s theirs to glam up in feathers and jewelled wings; everything from a modest monokini to a daring G-string is welcomed in this judgment-free space. 

Seeing women brazenly flaunting their bodies in front of men and strangers alike without worry or concern has made a lasting impression on me. I think it’s because I know deep down I wouldn’t dare, but each year the more I see women that have the same ‘flaws’ as me – sweaty and smiling with friends as the parade weaves across Ladbroke Grove – I realise maybe I should dare. It reminds me of the culture of my island home.

I was born and raised for a short period in the countryside of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. “Go to Jamaica after a breakup or when you’re feeling down about yourself” is something I’ve told my friends for years. 

There’s no way you won’t leave with a renewed sense of self because the men and women on the island possess the unique ability to make you feel special by simply showering you with compliments. These are the comforts of being born on an island; insecurities are yours to learn through Western magazines and TV shows; they aren’t innate and built into the fabric of island life. Instead, I collected them like infinity stones when I moved to Canada, picked up even more after a couple of years in the US, and topped up on new ones when I finally moved to England.

I grew up around plus-sized women in Jamaica, but that wasn’t the word used to describe them, ‘mampi’ or ‘fluffy’ were used. I grew up seeing these women being loved on by men half their size; I’d watch curiously as a kid as they moved confidently through the market, not a sliver of self-doubt in sight. I think this is because, in the Caribbean, people spend their time focusing on what’s actually there, things they can see, whereas, in England and North America, we are socialised from a young age to focus on things that aren’t there. If you didn’t have insecurities by the time you were 12 – and even that’s a bit late in the game by today’s standards – were you even living life?