Two weeks ago, I weighed myself and found I had lost 2kg (4.4lbs) in the past 2 months. Bringing my body mass to a grand total of 50.1 kg (110lbs) and at 1.67m (~5’5ft) that brings my BMI to borderline underweight.
If I was American, someone would have probably jumped out and given me a high five,
They would have said to me. I would be the envy of all the popular girls, who would want to know what I do to stay so skinny. If I was in Europe, they might even have asked if I were a model and if I said no they would ask why not.
“You have the body for it.”
But that isn’t my reality. I was just so heartbroken. How could my body betray me like this? It knew full well how long and hard I worked just to get my BMI in the normal weight bracket.
That is the west; it might as well be another planet. Their standard of beauty and health is completely opposite to the one I grew up with. In my world, a woman is not desirable if she is slender but when she is curvaceous. She must have plump cheeks, thick thighs, defined hips and a round ass. The “African woman’s” body is the opposite of what I have.
So you can see why I was so mad I lost weight.
In the beginning, I will agree, I had a poor appetite but after I started playing sport seriously, all that changed. If my brother and I dish out food, you wouldn’t be able to tell which plate belonged to whom. And we all know how boys eat. But still, I don’t put on weight.
I have been made fun of, force fed and put on so many supplements and mutis I can’t even count. The worst was probably in high school. I was the smallest thing to walk on the school grounds at the time. I was eleven years old, I was barely taller than my backpack or heavier than all my textbooks, I was tiny. I was short, skinny with large feet and in a place with so many African women it was sickening. Right at the end of high school, puberty hit and I got that long-awaited growth spurt but in my head, I was still the skinny girl that first entered secondary school.
I found myself in an awkward position. As a young adult, I now had the body that everyone wanted. I mean, I hadn’t even heard of the term Thigh gap until one day in varsity VodkaHasLessCalories was drunk and basically attacked me for having one. Every time a group of girlfriends gathers (didn’t matter if they are black, white or anything in-between) if they start talking about their bodies and how they hate how fat (and ugly) they felt, I had to shut up and just listen to the conversation. It doesn’t matter if their bodies are fantastic, with the shape I want. I am skinny, what do I know. In that instant, I might as well be a man thrown into a conversation with a group of women discussing periods.
So where does all this come from?
My high school English teacher (himself quite slim) clarified why Africans do not like being skinny. On the continent, skinniness is associated with three major negatives; poverty, illness, and infertility. If you are slender, the community around you will assume you do not have the means to feed yourself or your family. Your body somehow reflects your financial standing, hence, the bigger you are the richer you are and the slimmer you are the poorer you must be.
The second issue may be that you are ill. You have a disease that is keeping you from putting on weight and since you are so small it must be something very serious, even lethal like malaria, TB or AIDS. The last one is a particularly female problem. Your slenderness equates to your infertility. If that small body of yours looks like it is barely supporting you, how could it possibly carry another life? In a culture** where a big family is a symbol of wealth and prosperity, slim bodies with narrow hips are thought of as infertile. Even if you are physically healthy, everyone around you thinks there is something wrong with you.
I think there is a fourth negative that can be added to the list, a lack of respect. I have noticed that Africans associate people who are taller with larger bodies with being older and wiser, and thus people who are shorter and slimmer are seen as younger and immature. In the African culture**, the most respect is given to the eldest and less is given the younger you are. And so the majority of my life, people thought I was younger than I was because I was smaller than the average girl my age.
** I understand that this is a generalisation as Africa has over 3000 ethnic groups with several nuances.
Initially, I thought it was kind of cool that people thought I was younger than I was but it quickly became very annoying and frustrating. By the time I had graduated from high school people still thought I was in the 8th grade, thereby negating my accomplishment. Somehow I am not worthy of certain things because I looked like a child. What do I know about a financial policy that I read up on for several months that would have gotten our family a 20% discount on varsity fees? Why would I think I could face challenges head on? I’m small, right. I must already be afraid. What possible authority could I have in making an event better or more efficient? I am half your size so somehow that means you know twice as much since you are bigger than me.
I have hated being skinny for as long as I have been slender and that has been my whole life. In May I had the opportunity to make a new diet plan with a food evangelist and when she asked what I wanted the plan to do; my knee-jerk reaction was to put on weight. She was completed perplexed and didn’t understand why I would want that.
But right after I said it, my gut feeling was that I shouldn’t try to gain weight. I should just learn to love this body, that maybe I should fully accept what I have before I make any alterations. After all, who’s to say I’ll be happy after becoming thick, what with the constant pressure of having the ‘perfect’ body. I need to appreciate that I have slender legs, slim arms and a flat stomach and even though I am skinny, I still got some curves.
So let me know what about your body you are trying to love that you hated growing up?
Edited by TheWalkingWeave
- * * Pictures from Google Search