The world preaches that true beauty comes from the inside, that is until a fat person chooses to wear a bikini in public, then all hell breaks loose. Social media has made the bullying of fat people more widespread. In the past it would always be the judgemental aunt who comments with disapproval on your weight-gain, but through the advent of social media, complete strangers feel entitled to tell people they don’t know, who’s health records they don’t hold, that they should go to the gym and eat less or else risk diabetes, hypertension and strokes from high cholesterol. The quickest way to watch social media commentators all morph into medical experts is when a fat girl posts a picture while scantily clad.
I remember a particularly scarring incident where local rapper Cassper Nyovest went on a social media campaign to be the first South African music entertainer to solely fill up the Ticketpro Dome. He went on a campaign across all medias to garner support for his dream and lots of South Africans believed in and promoted his campaign. A young lady named Thick Leyonce who is a body positive media influencer also supported Cassper’s dream. She is a beautiful, plus sized young lady who campaigns for the love and acceptance of her thick body as it is. On reading of her support in the media one cruel commenter replied that Cassper “should stop with the campaign because with Thick Leyonce’s presence alone the Dome would be filled.” This was at a time where thousands of tickets still needed to be sold. This mean comment received lots of laughs at the expense of a young lady who wanted to support a fellow artist.
Unfortunately this kind of cruelty is commonplace. Chubby young people are constantly called out their name. A Nozuko will grow up being called “sdudla” by people hell-bent on erasing her identity in favour of mocking her about her weight. This kind of behaviour is fairly new in Africa. As a continent we used to celebrate all types of bodies, in fact in Nigeria, forty days before a woman’s wedding she is fed high calorie foods with the intention of weight gain because chubby brides are considered beautiful brides.
In my Xhosa tradition a famous wedding song “Nomalungelo” hails the beauty of a rather rotund bride. In isiXhosa the word for “fat” is the same as the word for “wealthy”. My mom’s generation would comment on people’s gain of weight as a compliment, so someone would say “I haven’t seen you in a long time, you are so fat you must be really happy where you are”. Being fat did not have these negative connotations that we have adopted from the West. Fat people were considered strong and were thought to come from families who are hardworking enough that they have excess food to feed their own.
With the adoption of Western norms, being fat has connotations of laziness and lack of personal hygiene. Fat people are seen as having an innate personal flaw. They are seen as unhealthy, even by thin people who conduct high risk behaviours such as drinking excessively and having unprotected sex. It is important that as a country we realize that the Zulu truism that people resemble fingers; that we do not have the same height or shape however we all contribute to the functioning of a society.
The body positive movement is important. Fat people should take up space in social media, pun intended. We should have all sorts of bodies visually represented. The beauty ideal should be stretched to fit everyone because as it stands it is too narrow and it can result in intolerance. Once children are exposed, on social media, to all types of people they will realize that there is no narrow, one size fits all ideal of beauty that has all of us feeling that pretty equals thin.
I am happy that while social media can be part of the problem it also can be used as a tool for the solution. There are plus-sized young woman who are taking over the world, who wear bikinis and win Grammys like Lizzo did. The unapologetic way in which singer Lizzo exists in her own body, gives me hope for a more inclusive future. There are several pages on social networks where fat people, like me, can see themselves reflected and celebrated. There are pages on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter where beautiful, thick people are photographed as they are and not as a before picture advertising some slimming tea.
Read about one writer’s journey to loving her body here
Tell us: Have you ever been shamed because of your size? How did you deal with it?