Body Shaming-The action or practise of humiliating someone by mocking or making critical comments about their body shape or size. (The Oxford Dictionary)
Fat Shaming- Involves criticising and harassing overweight people about their weight or eating habits to make them feel ashamed of themselves. The belief is that this may motivate people to eat less, exercise more and lose weight. (healthline.com)
Body Policing– The informal practice of policing one’s physical appearance because it does not conform to social norms, or is not deemed appropriate for a particular setting. Personal preference and attraction do not necessarily qualify as body policing. (The Urban Dictionary)
Let us face it, we have all fallen victim to or been guilty of body shaming. In a society that deems greeting someone by commenting on their weight as something normal, we cannot hide from the realities that body shaming is a social epidemic, one that will not cease spreading if we do not learn that our opinions about someone’s body ARE NONE OF OUR BUSINESS!
We all have that auntie who greets us with, “Mwana wangu, ko hinda kufuta so. Chimboregera kudya uone kunaka kwako”, loosely translated as, ‘My child, why have you gained so much weight? Stop eating for a bit and you will see how beautiful you are.’ There are also people who will randomly comment on our weight after seeing our picture on social media, “Fat is ugly. You must lose weight so you can be healthy and normal.” Many a times we have heard of men telling us their preferences, for example, wanting women with a more natural look compared to full face beats. We certainly cannot forget comments about what women should wear as acceptable to society’s ideals and standards. These are all forms of body shaming and policing we as Zimbabweans have become accustomed to. In honest fact, it seems we have not come to the realisation that indeed this is a problem with dire consequences to the mental state of an individual.
For us to better understand the effects of body shaming on children and women, we asked Nobuhle Nyoni to share her experiences of body shaming growing up and as a plus size Zimbabwean woman. This is her story……
“My family members say I have always been plus size but that’s not how I remember it. I could be delusional but I am sure at some point I didn’t have this mkhaba (tummy) I carry around today. So what happened?
High school happened. I had no way of channeling my emotions or feelings so I turned to food. My uncle would send me chocolate in boxes so I always had them in good supply. Lays, Simba chips you name it, I had them all. High school was hard for me because I was bullied. As a non-confrontational person, the kids picked up on it and made my life unbearable. When I felt sad or frustrated, I would eat the emotions out. When I failed a test it felt like I was letting down the people who had taken me in and so I ate.
I gained weight faster than I wanted to, my uniforms stopped fitting and I had to get new ones. School mates started giving me nicknames based on my weight and that just depressed me more.
What people don’t understand is that we see the weight, we feel the weight gain, we don’t want it but their words defeat us. They are not motivation as some seem to believe. I wish everybody understood that.
Calling someone all sorts of fat names won’t make them want to lose weight. All you are doing is telling them how ugly you think they are. They start to feel worthless and slump into depression. Imagine if we had a world filled with people who knew how to just listen and be present. I know it feels like you are not doing enough but it’s more than enough.
The bullying got to a point where the teachers also joined in. The very people who were meant to be a safety net were bullies too. They were very mean about it and that encouraged the rest of the children. When an adult sets an example, it feels like it is ok for the children to follow. You would think home was better but I would go back home during the holidays and there was family saying things like, ‘the beans are really doing it for you huh.’
I would leave the house to breathe but the men at every corner had something to say even if I was in a baggy dress. Then the kids in the street would chime in. If I took a combi, there would always be someone saying, ‘a fat person is seated in this row, we won’t fit.’ I didn’t have a place to just be, I never felt safe and that’s why headphones and earphones became very important to me. I was emotionally exhausted.
The other day I logged onto Twitter and read this, ‘Good morning, fat is ugly. Eat clean. Be safe.’ I found myself triggered! A company approved such a disgusting tweet, how? I will tell you how, the education isn’t there. It is not in schools, it is not in the teachers training programs and it is not in our parents. It just does not exist.
In a perfect world I would want a class for adults and children that teaches people about our bodies, why they are different, why we need to respect one another regardless of what we look like. I want people to know that being fat does not make you unhealthy. I want people to stop fighting depression because they can’t change their bodies due to medical conditions but the world keeps screaming they need to. I want body positivity to be normalized so much so that we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
Nobuhle N Nyoni a.k.a uBu
Twitter : @becomingubu
Instagram : @becomingubu
Pinterest : @becomingubu
Website : becomingubu.com
After hearing Nobuhle’s story, do we also want our children to grow up not knowing their true value? From a young age, our children should be taught that their size does not determine their worth. We need to educate each and everyone in our society about the ills of body shaming and the lifelong effects it may have on us, from the older generations to the young ones still learning about social etiquette. We all deserve to be happy with our bodies without the validation of society.
Did you know that body-shaming and policing have the following effects on an individual:
This social epidemic should have no place in our society as no one has the right to voice their opinions about another person’s appearance, unless of course if we are their doctors and have been approached for our professional and medical advice. For us to end the spread of body shaming and policing, we require this very elementary technique: minding our own business. Furthermore, we need to be educated about it so that we can understand that we have absolutely no rights when it comes to another person’s body.
By: Delyse Gimani