All my life, I have been what most ‘nice people’ would call “CHUBBY or THICK” and what most ‘straight forward or blunt people’ would call “FAT”. ‘Nice people'(although in quote) because they understand to an extent how sensitive and sharp that word FAT is and try to cushion the strike of referring to a person as FAT by using words like CHUBBY or THICK and ‘straighforward people’ because they neglect the sensitivity of that word and call a person as they are. I used to find it pleasing when those ‘nice people’ would come along and call me CHUBBY and would always retreat into a place of melancholy whenever the ‘straightforward people’ would call me FAT even though those ‘nice people’ technically meant that I was fat. I would not say that I have been unfortunate to meet a greater percentage of the ‘blunt people’ than of the ‘nice people’ because NO, I have not. How? Please, read ahead.
I began to become conscious of my weight when I turned thirteen and people started telling me of how fat I was and how ugly and shapeless I would become if I did not watch my weight and stay slim. I remember being in my class room one sunny afternoon back then in Junior Secondary School 3(JSS 3) and a classmate made a joke by saying “Melancholia, you look like an Amoeba” while I did not know that AMOEBA meant a shapeless unicellular organism in Biology until I was taught in Senior Secondary School 1(SSS 1), I knew that it was a derogatory comparison and had a lot to do with my body size and I replied absently “Na u sabi”. Being overweight was not just the only source of sadness for me as I had to put up with the stress that came with hiding my body due to the irregular stripes on the surface of my skin as a result of puberty and weight gain, popularly known as STRETCH MARKS. I vividly recall instances when some of my relatives at home would come into a room where I was dressing up after taking a bath and would point out my stretch marks, laugh and wear repulsed faces at how ugly they looked and I would carry on an air of indifference until they left, then I would sit on the bed, cry and hate myself.
When I got to sixteen and started to get love advances from the opposite sex, some would tell me that I was a “fine girl” but I had to shed some pounds to become even finer and those that I firmly rebuffed got back at me. “Ah, orobo like you, we just dey pity you toast you” they would say, like they were doing me a favour by condescending to want to date a FAT girl. I struggled with depression as a result of how terrible the BODY SHAMING was. I was forced to deal with was and it crumbled my self esteem, turning me into a timid girl with inferiority complex. A lot of people would find this disbelieving because according to most, people only go into depression when they are bore down with traumatic ordeals like rape, the death of a loved one etc and depression in Nigeria is an affliction so far fetched and unlikely that most people can not fathom how a teenager of sixteen would struggle with depression because of something as inconsequential as “ordinary BODY SHAMING”.
I starved myself for months and did lots of different workouts to try to lose weight but nothing happened and if very luckily, I lost about five pounds, I would gain them back in just a day. My dad would jovially tell me “You look so much like your Aunty Philo”. Aunty Philo is a fat woman. One day, my mum was dishing out food for me and I told her to give me just little because I was watching my weight and she shouted “common eat food! Watching which weight? I like you this way” and funnily enough, I found a measure of a comfort from her words. I would take several detoxification remedies that would supposedly give me a flat tummy to try and look like my slim friends who looked beautiful and young. Those detoxification drinks did not work, maybe if I stayed faithful to them and took them every night as recommended, I would have gotten a flat tummy. I resolved to wearing big shirts and trousers and gave out most of the gowns and skirts I had because tight fitting shirts would reveal my flabs and love handles and gowns or skirts would make me look like what my friends would call me back then, “IYA ARUGBO” (it is the Yoruba meaning of OLD WOMAN). I never concerned myself with fashion or beauty because those kinds of things, as I thought back then, were reserved for the slender girls who would look prettier when they tried them. Whenever someone said anything about my weight, I would get excessively defensive and lash out verbally even if their intentions were not to offend.
Thinking back now, I have come into the knowledge that not one of those people who advised that I lose weight or watch what I eat did so because they cared about me and wanted me to avoid the dangers that being overweight could have on my health. No, they told me to lose weight because our society’s definition of beauty is SLENDER. They would say “Melancholia, start jogging so you can see someone that will be interested in you when you are ready for marriage since no man likes fat girls”. YES, I realize now that I was not misfortunate to come across the blunt people because they have taught me that calling a person FAT is not primarily an insult and even though some called me FAT to insult me, others just called me FAT because, well, that is what I was. I have learnt also that what I decide to do with my body should not be decided by the society. I workout now and watch what I eat because I want to feel fit and live a healthier lifestyle and not because I want to conform to a particular standard of beauty. I do not need to starve myself or strike out soda or fizzy drinks from my lunch because I want society to say I look good and accept me. I do not look in the mirror and look at my stretch marks with disgust because I have accepted them and known that they are a natural and uncontrollable part of me. To a significant degree, I have metamorphosed from being the self-loathful, depressed, and sad teenager that I was to being a healthy, self-assured and insouciant young woman. Insouciant because I care less now of what society thinks about my body size.
This article is not a cry for pity or a backlash to anyone who called me FAT, still calls me FAT or tries to BODY SHAME me. It is for young people who are currently undergoing what I experienced, young people who do not feel confident in themselves because of how they look, who are insecure because of the psychological abuse that society metes out to them. Beauty should not be limited to a particular body shape or size, you should not look at the mirror and hate what you see, do not retreat into a world of solitude and depression because people point at you and say “FAT CAT or FAT PIG or FATTY”. Workout because it is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle and exercising has lots of physical and mental benefits, diet because YOU choose to lose some extra pounds and not because THEY say you MUST lose those extra pounds. Wear whatever looks good on you, refuse to be a recipient of anyone’s BODY SHAMING, do not let your body become a minefield that can be trampled upon by the “politics of culture”, resolve to disallow society’s negativity infiltrate and crumble your positivity. Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Others put you down only with your consent” and I live by that quote. Society is still a long way from accepting stretch marks and if you do not feel comfortable or brave enough to expose your stretch marks then cover them up but DO NOT look at them and build up the horrible urge to take a knife and cut them out because funny as it may sound, I used to feel that way.
Stay healthy and always, ALWAYS love yourself.