For the longest time, society has viewed and treated women as objects to a point where people, especially men, feel comfortable tearing us down about any and everything.
Society is constantly putting our bodies in the spotlight, dictating what we wear and what we eat. We’ve been indoctrinated so much that we believe all the made-up standards of beauty they box us into. If we’re not inside this box, we become uncomfortable and that’s where things start going wrong for us. The standards of the beauty box that they train us to ‘fit in’ have led to many of us having body image issues.
This affects our relationships with food in a big way. Whether you’re fat or skinny, you know how uncomfortable it is to eat around people, especially in our own families. If you’re fat, people will ‘advise’ you on what you should or shouldn’t eat and how little you should eat, all as a way to help you lose weight, even if that’s not something you’re trying to do. More than that, they will call you “s’dudla”, which means “fatty” and is not as endearing as society makes it out to be.
On the other hand, if you’re skinny, they will ‘advise’ you on what you should or shouldn’t eat, how much you should eat to gain weight, even if you’re not trying to gain weight. They will refer to you as “Ibhityo”, meaning “skinny person”. It’s also not endearing.
In Black communities, body shaming is even part of a greeting; they will say “Uphilile ntombi? awusetyebe or awusebhitye” which directly translates to “how are you? You are so fat or skinny.”
The cycle continues wherever you go and sometimes people don’t say it to your face – it’s always implied. It affects your self-esteem so much.
Growing up, it never bothered me because I just thought that’s how Black people spoke. I was always the thinnest and shortest in school and in my group of friends growing up. As such, I was nicknamed “Nongqiza” which can be loosely translated into “a person who is older but doesn’t look their age” due to being skinny and short.
To make matters worse, being skinny is still associated with sickness while being fat is associated with being ‘healthy’. Unless you’re “too fat”, that is. I can’t tell you how many times I heard comments like, “akabhitye, I wonder akatyiwa yiAids na,” which means, “they are so skinny, I wonder if it’s not because they have Aids.”
Until this day, I still hear comments like this and the older I get, the more uncomfortable I get about people discussing my weight and other people’s weight.
According to my family, I take after my father. Growing up, I have always been a picky eater, I hated vegetables and only like things like umqa (stiff porridge made with spinach or cabbage), porridge, samp, and krummel pap. My family tried for years to make me eat more veggies, and they never succeeded. I never cared about how I looked or about my weight until high school. That’s when the insecurities started to kick in.
I remember sitting with a friend of mine who was beautiful with a thicker body than mine. So, this one boy made a snarky comment telling my friend to break down to me exactly what she ate so I could eat it and look the way she does. Looking back, this was both an insult to me and my friend, to assume the skinny one doesn’t eat, while the slightly thicker one eats more is a very old stereotype that should have no place in society.
As a result, I started to eat more, thinking I would gain weight, which of course never happened. The older I grew the skinnier I got. I stopped enjoying food and I am certain there are many who have experienced the same. Where you eat because you have to not because you want to or feel hungry.
But the more open I became about my struggles with food, the more I learnt that I wasn’t alone. That my friends had their own struggles too. A conversation with a friend who was dealing with similar issues encouraged me to look at myself when I was naked and tell my body how much I loved it.
This was an important shift in mind-set. It’s not easy to love your body when society tells you to hate it and forces you to do everything to change it. But once you start acknowledging the problem, talk about it, you begin the healing process, you’ll learn not only that you’re not alone but alos that you don’t have to change your body to love it.
It will be a lot easier if people stopped body shaming. Think about it, you don’t know what the next person is dealing with and your narrow-minded comments can trigger them and set them back. It’s about time men respect women and leave our bodies alone.
But until then, we are going to have to do the work for our own sanity. It all starts in your head; the struggle is internal, deal with the insecurities, the peer pressure, the comparing and do the work mentally.
It is a daily struggle but Rome wasn’t built in a day, so be patient with your process.
Read one writer’s opinion about body image here
Tell us: How do you deal with body images struggles?