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The history of waist beads dates back to antiquity. Many believe that the history begins in ancient Egypt where they were called “girdles” and were worn by women as a status symbol. In West Africa, the tradition was made popular by the Yoruban tribe of Nigeria. They are worn as a celebration of womanhood, sexuality, femininity, fertility, healing, spirituality, body shaping, protection and wealth.

Yoruban woman are known to have once laced beads with charms and fragrances that would be considered irresistible to the opposite sex. This practice is now less popular, however wearing beads for the seduction of men is still one of the primary reasons some women wear them. Waist beads can be considered as “African Lingerie.”

Most of Waists by Wednesday’s beads are imported from Ghana, which also has a rich tradition of wearing waist beads. It is common for women in Ghana to wear waist beads as ornaments, as well as for symbolic adornment, which serves as a sign of wealth, femininity or aristocracy, as well as spiritual well-being. During Ghanaian naming ceremonies, babies are typically adorned with waist beads, while young adults also wear beads around their waists and on their hips during puberty rites as a portrayal of femininity. These beads are believed to possess the power to attract as well as evoke deep emotional responses.

As part of Ghanaian tradition, a successful suitor would commission a set of beads including bracelets, anklets, necklaces, cuffs and waist beads for his bride. This was part of her dowry and the foundation of her personal wealth. Women in Ghana would wear multiple strands of beads around their waist, with some cultures providing that the only person allowed to remove them was her husband on their wedding night.

Many Ghanaian women will tell you that they use their waist beads to shape their waist. It is believed that the practice of wearing multiple waist beads over time will help to keep the waist small and accentuate the hips. Since traditional waist beads are strung on cotton cord (and without a clasp/hook) they can be a good tool to measure weight gain and loss. They will not stretch; they will either break or continue to roll up the waist when weight has been gained. Similarly, they will roll down or eventually become so loose they will fall off when weight has been lost.

Don’t be fooled by photos of only slender women wearing waist beads. Women of all shapes and sizes can confidently adorn themselves with waist beads as well. Because traditionally beads are worn along your panty or bikini line and not your actual waist (which is typically across the belly button), it allows for all women to comfortably wear waist beads no matter their size. Wearing them is really a personal reflection and appreciation for your God-given beauty.