Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Body Image and Culture: My Watermelon Butt

Culture Rwanda Turkey
Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Meagan Kelly
Apr 27, 2010
If I were a fruit, I’d be a watermelon. Why? Blame my butt, according to a Turkish woman.

“Meagan, your popo like watermelons! Mine like apple,” said Nida, a professional dancer in Fire of Anatolia. We were standing backstage in our underwear, preparing to change costumes.

I had been dancing in Turkey with Fire of Anatolia for two months. I actually thought my butt was in great shape from hours of squeezing it in ballet class. At the very least, I saw myself as more of a pear than a watermelon.

It was time to put Nida in her place. I made her follow me to a mirror in our skin-colored booty shorts.

“See!” I proclaimed. “ Not watermelons! Maybe not apples…but not watermelons!” I wouldn’t normally do this in a bathroom, but my rear end’s reputation was on the line.

Then Nida peeled away my confidence. She pointed and laughed at my butt, which appeared to be twice the size of hers. I had never so closely compared cheeks with anyone, and now I knew why. It made me feel inadequate, inferior, and fat.

Back home, friends call me “the skinny one.” I take good care of my body, and I’m healthy, strong, and confident. However, standing at the mirror with Nida, I couldn’t deny it anymore: dancing in Turkey was damaging my body image.

I was warned about the importance of sticking to a “dancer’s diet” if I wanted to fit into the company’s costumes. I was supposed to watch what I ate, but more often I found myself watching what the other dancers ate. They were filling their plates at the buffet with mounds of pasta and baklava. Yet, these women strutted around with slender stomachs and nearly non-existent inner thighs. I figured they burned through all the calories in class. I relished in the idea that I too could indulge in a few desserts and still have a six-pack.

At first, the calories didn’t catch up with me, and my stomach toned up from Pilates. After a few weeks of dining at the buffet, however, I stepped onto the scale and the numbers taunted me. I had gained weight, and I knew I couldn’t chalk it all up to extra muscle. Some of the dancers had already pointed in horror at my miniature potbelly. I would have probably never noticed it, but dancers can detect every ounce.

I was aware of certain physical standards I had to adhere to as a dancer, but I didn’t realize just how important those standards are at the professional level. I don’t dance for the muscles; I dance because it gives me joy. I wanted to be moving to music, not counting every calorie.

When Nida gave me the nickname “watermelon popo,” I reached the peak of my insecurities. I felt like a forbidden fruit, and I realized my body image could mirror how a culture perceives my shape, for better or for worse.

Similarly, within minutes of arriving in Hong Kong, I felt like I was starring in a film titled Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. I’m just below six feet tall, but I felt like a Hong Kong skyscraper. I towered over the crowds of petite women in this megacity. I walked onto the subway for the first time to see that most of the passengers barely reached my armpits, making me feel freakishly tall. I had to duck in doorways, crouch through alleys, and sleep with both feet dangling over the edge of my bed.

Just when I started getting used to standing tall in the crowd, a visit to the market brought my confidence back down. I was merely browsing through a rack of floral-printed skirts, when the shop owner promptly snatched the item I was holding. She slammed it back on the rack.

“No big sizes!! No big sizes!!” she declared, frantically waving her arms around. It was as if she was banishing me from the shop for being too large. I’m only 148 pounds, a perfectly acceptable weight for my height. I told myself the owner didn’t really mean big, she meant tall, so I moved on to another stall to try on some t-shirts. Even the alleged XL shirts barely covered my belly button.

I thought back to the last time I went shopping abroad, which had a markedly different effect on my body image. In Rwanda, I felt as confident as ever, surrounded by other pear shapes just like me.

A month into my stay, I had fallen into a fashion funk of cargo-pants, sandals and t-shirts. I decided it was time to don my floral yellow sundress. Little did I know, my dress would drive the Rwandans wild.

The maid, the cook, and the guard stopped in their tracks. “You look so smart,” they told me. As I walked towards to the local newspaper where I worked, a car slammed on the brakes, kicking up a cloud of red dust.

“I love your dress. It is very beautiful and it makes you look beautiful.” I stood there in astonishment, showered in dirt and compliments. I had a bounce in my step for the rest of the day.

While in Turkey the other dancers saw any extra ounce of fat as negative, our Rwandan cook Mary kept telling me to eat more because I needed some meat on my bones. For dinner, she often filled the plate with a parade of carbohydrates: spaghetti, potatoes and rice. A few pounds soon crept up around my waist.

At first, I freaked out, and began to devise a way to lose the weight. Mary, however, made a point of affectionately grabbing my little muffin top. It made me take a good look in the mirror, and I recognized that I had blown things out of proportion. Mary was right. My body looked great.

Travel changes perceptions about everything: life, love, freedom, and culture. That’s the best part of travel in my opinion: as I open myself up to other points of view, my point of view transforms. The same can go for body image while traveling. Different cultures have different ideas of what constitutes feminine beauty. I’m trying to learn how to appreciate the cultural norm while still managing to appreciate myself.

I made the first step in Turkey. After Nida made her fruity comments about my backside, this is what I told her:
“You bet I have a watermelon butt: juicy and delicious.”

What did you think of this story?

More on


The Most Famous Archeological Site in the World Dominates This European Capital City

The 7 Best Historical, Artsy, and Quirky Museums in Berlin

How To Visit the Ruins and Jungles of Chiapas, Mexico's Southernmost State

11 Boston Museums for Travelers of All Ages

These 10 Nevada Spots Will Blow Your Kids' Minds

The House Where Frida Kahlo Was Born (and Died) Is Now an Extraordinary Museum

Parades, Man-Made Beaches, and Light Shows: The Best Events of the Summer in Paris

This Is France’s Most Famous and Mysterious Island That You Can Visit

8 Can't-Miss Museums in Munich, Germany To Visit in 2023

The 7 Best Festivals in Munich To Attend in 2023

We think you might also like

Remaking Kigali: A 21st Century Rwanda Built by Rwandans

The Complexities of Forgiveness: 4 Nights in Kigali, Rwanda

16 of the Best Hotels in Hong Kong

The Surprising Way That Hummus Is Prepared and Served in Türkiye

Love Valley in Turkiye Is an Otherworldly Landscape of Ancient Rock Formations

This Hotel's Honeymoon Suite Has the Most Romantic Pool in the World

Avoid This Mistake When You Visit Türkiye’s Surreal Pamukkale Thermal Pools

How To Find Sherbet, a Refreshing Beverage Sold by Mobile Vendors in Turkiye

Stay at This Epic Hotel for a Romantic Honeymoon on Turkiye's Turquoise Coast

9 Dazzling Hong Kong Festivals To See Throughout the Year

These Hong Kong Hotels Offer Luxury and Convenience in the Big City

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners. For more information read our privacy policy.