My mother is Trinidadian and Notting Hill Carnival is the one time of the year where I really embrace my heritage and cover it in feathers and sequins.
I dance as a masquerader with the Arawak Mas band. The first time I danced in costume – which is little more than a feathered headdress – I was nervous. I had friends saying they’d call and find out where we are. I said not only would it be impossible to find us because meeting up with people at Carnival is not a thing, but I’m in a tiny bikini, so where would I keep a phone? Wait. Don’t answer that.
Getting ready for Carnival is a whole world of chaos, with people glue-gunning sequins and sewing each other into things in a cloud of glitter and hairspray. All different shapes and sizes, all in the same outfits, all giving zero damns and everyone looked amazing. One of my friends once did it in costume while eight months pregnant.
And it’s not just the ladies: we have men of all ages wearing just shorts and feathers.
We all help each other get ready and spend the day sharing food and drinks around. We also make friends with the floats around us. I remember asking one of the other masqueraders what they did with all their old costumes and she replied, ‘Mine doesn’t make it through the day because of my behaviour.’ Sure enough, by the end of the day she had danced her feathers off and was just shaking out, having the best time ever.
In London, we have about 12 days a year when we can legitimately wear shorts but in the Caribbean every day is bikini weather, so having a beach body isn’t a seasonal aspiration: people just accept what they have and don’t worry about it.
As someone who was once hospitalised with an eating disorder I spent a lot of my early adult life stressing out about body image. I’ve probably spent more time than the average person crying on bathroom floors, hating all my clothes. I’ve heard that some bands have pre-Carnival bootcamps and go on crash diets. I would cry in Carnival’s face if I had to go through that. Our crew think that food is such big part of Carnival and Caribbean culture. We smash the myth that dancers don’t eat. Being on the road all day you need strength and stamina so we are all well fed. Also, it would be a crime to go to Carnival and not have jerk chicken.
Carnival is a time for the Caribbean community to come together and celebrate its rich culture but I also see it as a celebration of bodies. Carnival carries with it the carefree Caribbean attitude, and you’ll see every body type fetin together. A whole year of preparation goes into getting costumes, floats, music and dancers ready for Carnival and it’s the most colourful thing you’ll ever see in London. It’s such a sensory overload: nobody has time to concentrate on what your body is saying.
Bring your insecurities to Carnival and we’ll decorate them and dance them off. Don’t worry if you haven’t perfected your bogle, as long as you are joining in and entering into the spirit, no one will judge you.
Find out more about Notting Hill Carnival.