We’ve seen a consistent theme of identity and its relation to beauty standards throughout Adichie’s Americanah. There are a lot of discussions about natural vs relaxed hair, skin bleaching, and how people dress. Another aspect of that, perhaps a little less developed, is body size and body image. Before moving to America, Ifemelu is depicted as skinny – Obinze often teases her about not having a butt. Once she leaves Nigeria, she gains weight and becomes curvy. Her weight gain is perfectly fine and depicted as normal – her life continues improving, and she has healthy romantic relationships. It’s almost better that Adichie avoids focusing heavily on her weight gain; it’s mentioned, sure, but it isn’t a huge part of who Ifemelu is. This is a unique handling of a character’s weight. In many books and movies, a larger character shedding pounds is an active part of the story and a pivotal point for that character. Ifemelu’s ability to still be fully herself, just with some added weight, creates an important dialogue. Many young people go through a period of rather sudden weight loss or gain that can leave them feeling alone or insecure. Seeing a strong woman like Ifemelu owning her curves is helpful for anyone struggling with body or self-esteem issues.
Ifemelu does view women of different sizes in different ways. Her friend Ranyinudo, who she lives with for a while after returning to Nigeria, is described as having a “luxurious, womanly slowness to her gait” (480). Ifemelu notes rolls and the movement of her behind, and although she doesn’t explicitly say it, the reader can infer from this description that Raniynudo is not a skinny woman. However, this isn’t used to degrade her – in Ifemelu’s eyes, it makes her powerful. She similarly notes another woman on the street, using her size to show her power. On the other hand, Zemaye is said to be slender, with a small waist and high breasts. Although she is less physically powerful, she is shown as more of an authoritative figure simply through her frame and the way she carries herself. Ifemelu thinks at one point that the way Zemaye moves makes her want to lose weight. Ifemelu’s comparison to Zemaye exemplifies inherent insecurities that many people experience, but she avoids following that thought, showing the reader that she’s comfortable with herself. It’s also important to note that even though Ifemelu does notice size and it influences the way she views different characters, she does not shame anyone for how big or small they are. The way she observes size fits in well with the modern but developing culture of size-inclusivity and acceptance.