Growing up we all worry about whether we are pretty or not, liked or not. We want to be loved and popular. We want to be perfect.

Growing up in the streets of Soweto, I barely had any friends. I was awkward and way too shy to try to make friends, which meant I spent too much time comparing myself to everybody else.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been chubby. I remember distinctly how I was the only fat girl in my class in primary school; my red tunic always clinging for dear life, not even the wind could shake it. It was okay until I started high school.

I told myself that in high school things would be different, that I was going to make friends. I stood under the blue sky, sweaty and smiling, looking at the crowd in pink shirts – this was finally my time. High school seemed to be a joy. I let down my guard and decided I would just be myself.

“You’re crazy,” one would say during our conversation in the morning.

“Are you okay in the head?” another would ask before aftercare.

I told myself that they were just stupid jokes and that I didn’t care. I liked reading books and they didn’t, but that was okay; they didn’t understand my jokes but that was okay. Why was my mother so skinny but I wasn’t? Why were the other girls so skinny and I wasn’t? Why did the boys talk to everyone but me? It didn’t matter.

One day as I walked through the mall I was attacked by a fat girl wearing a red t-shirt and faded blue jeans. Her natural hair was hidden under a red cap and her face was so shiny, her stomach stuck out in the weirdest way, not to mention all the rolls on her sides and back and the bum… there was none. Her back was dominated by the rolls, it was like she only had a torso and little legs only. I gasped loudly. I hadn’t noticed that I kept on turning around to get a good look at my reflection in the window.

I straightened up and I looked at this girl who stared at me, with tired eyes unblinking. The shock of realising that I actually looked like that weakened my knees but I was able to pull myself together. Avoiding looking at the window was a Herculean task considering that all the shops had glass façades.

That night I didn’t know what to do with myself. The sadness, embarrassment and pure disgust at myself came in waves. I was drowning right there in my room staring out the big window that had nothing to show but the white crafty wall.

That day the real me crawled back into the shadows and I distanced myself from everyone. It hurt less being alone than being with people who made me feel like there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Refusing to stay in a body that shamed me and made me feel ugly I started training at home, I continued to read my books by myself and I learned to make myself happy.

These days I only shake my head when I hear people discussing someone negatively or making fun. I no longer judge people from afar be they successful, poor or if they are just trying to make it in life. No matter how anyone reacts to me instead of lashing out negatively or teasing I simply let it go because I know better than anyone that everyone has their own story.