I read an article recently from a local newspaper: “Killed for being fat!” it said in bold. A woman who had been frequently mocked for her weight for most of her life, had been shot in the face by a man who was angered that she was happy and proud being fat.
I was shocked. I still am. This could have been any fat woman who was casually minding her own business, taking public transport and suddenly her life stopped because she was unacceptable in somebody’s eyes.
I then started listening to people around me, who told me that they were ridiculed, criticised and punished because of their weight. That people who would let them know that they would only be “good enough” had they lost a few kilograms or pounds. Most times though, it was by people who were close to them- friends and family.
I know that I had this problem growing up. Typically, you see shows or movies where this young kid or teenager is being bullied for their weight at school. They are publicly humiliated and shamed in front of everyone. As they run away, their bully’s laughter echoes in the background, probably set to some angsty teen pop song that was all the rage at the time.
My story doesn’t follow this typical narrative. I wasn’t bullied at school. Nope, not bullied there (except by the older kids on the minibus taxi before and after school). I was bullied by extended family members when I was younger for my weight. Well, for a few other things too. But whenever we went to my grandmother’s house (where everyone congregated) I was filled with anxiety and dread.
I knew exactly how the scenario would play out… I would walk into the house (the entrance was the kitchen), my uncle would exclaim loudly, ‘you’re as fit as a pig!’ My aunts would respond in roaring laughter. I would stand there, feeling awkward and ashamed. My mother would push back with, ‘she’s as fit as a fiddle.’ I wish it stopped there.
The aunts and my uncle hung out in the kitchen, so I would make the slow walk toward the lounge where my cousins were. The younger versions of their parents who just ridiculed and laughed at me. I would get in and say ‘hi’ to everyone seated there. They might say hi or not, depended on their mood really. I sat in agony, wondering when they would pick on me for my accent, my face, my weight. My anxiety would keep building. Then, it would start!
I said I was bullied for other things, but when I was much younger, the primary target was my weight. I remember being called fat and ugly, followed by shrieks of laughter. I would run to the back of the house and cry- usually alone. I wasn’t even 10 years old yet. This still affects me to the point where family events are difficult for me. So difficult, I didn’t attend the big Christmas party held two years prior. I spent a portion of Christmas alone.
Obviously, these family visits were not short ones, and we needed to eat. Again, I felt dread. This meant having to go back to the kitchen (the first space where I was bullied in the house) and collect my food to eat. Would I be made fun of again or would I not? If I wasn’t, I was relieved but would have to try find a way to sit and eat around my cousins. If I was, then I would walk away ashamed but too hungry to say no to the food, and still have to find a way to sit and eat around my cousins.
Those days taught me that extra weight was something to be ashamed of. That I (as a child) should not be happy with how I looked. So, it is no wonder that as I grew older, I developed an unhealthy relationship with food. I would overeat (and sometimes still do) to manage my feelings of anxiety, stress, shame etc. I felt empty and sad inside and tried to fill that feeling with food.
As an adult, I now know that when people bully or ridicule you, they have some kind of deep-seated insecurity within themselves they don’t want to show and will project their feelings onto someone else, to divert attention from themselves. Adults do this to kids as well, even going so far as to hurt a loved one’s child because of the relationship they have with that loved one.
I’m still on my journey towards self-love, but I have come a far way. I have spoken to those family members and created boundaries, even as far as cutting one or two from my life for being toxic. Children shouldn’t be judged for their looks. This sounds like an obvious one, but many people still do this, even to kids that are not their own. These feelings sit with a child ling after the comments are said and often result in the worst consequences.
I know many people who have had these experiences and still struggle with body image as a result. Physically you never feel like you are good enough and until you can break that mental cycle, you never feel like you do.
But you are enough! Just because someone or some people said you aren’t, does not make them qualified enough to give that opinion. Just because you are fat, skinny, whatever, this doesn’t make you unworthy. People who have been hurt, hurt other people. Sometimes there is a sense of power form it. But you can take that power back and reclaim your body and say, ‘I know that I am [insert descriptor] but I am not only beautiful but an amazing person too.’
It takes time, but the journey to happiness is starting to accept and like yourself. There is far too much of life to live- don’t spend it trying to get the perfect body that appears only in photoshopped magazine images.