Alphabet series

W is for Weight

I said wait

Come over here and pile some food on this plate

I ain’t going to gym bitch, I ain’t lifting no weights

Look at me I’m sickening, yeah yeah yeah I’m sickening

I may be fat bitch, but you’re ugly and I can lose weight

Weight by Latrice Royale

I’ve spent too many minutes in my life thinking about how heavy I am. As I get older, my thoughts have become more specific. I don’t look at myself and think I’m fat, I zero in and eye the bottom of my tummy rolling out instead of curving in. Walking past store fronts all I can stare at are my thighs. Every glance in the mirror is to assure myself that I have not spilled over the banks of my body.  I’ve thought  about my weight so much that it has wrapped itself around my self worth and now holds it in a tight grip.

I am only just beginning to extricate the two from each other. I’m consciously shepherding my thoughts, gently coaxing them away from “You look terrible Mnena” to “I look just fine”. With each positive thought, I gain some of myself back. To help this process along, in the last couple of months, to paraphrase Reni Eddo Lodge’s book Why I’m no longer talking to White People About Race, I’ve decided that I am no longer talking to women about weight.

My co-workers are constantly discussing what they have or haven’t eaten. They confess their failings to each other “I had this enormous burger at the weekend” and then absolve each other of their sins “We all have a moment”. Here, among women, it is okay to say you’ve strayed. It is okay to say you had a double chin in your friends’ wedding picture despite religiously counting the calories on Fitness Pal. But we rarely say, come on you wear a size 6, you’re as skinny as a rail, what does an extra fold matter? Instead we empathise. We understand the horror of the undeniable truth that how great we feel inside doesn’t necessarily translate into being a sleek, model-like person. And that deflates us.

So I don’t want to hear about how many pounds you’ve lost this week. I don’t want to talk about your all protein diet and the 6 kg you lost while on it. Diets don’t work, well at least long term they don’t. The average dieter usually puts the weight back years after losing it.  Others will gain even more than they did pre-diet. It’s not because you don’t have will power. It is as if your body is telling you This is Who I Am.

But like the  Nigerian parent disappointed at their child picking creative writing over medicine, we refuse to accept it. We have to match up to the societal ideal. And that is flat tummy, sleek thighs and no errant curves. But you can’t be anyone else but yourself. Even if you pattern yourself after someone else, their butt will never be yours. You will always fall short. But still we fight.

We fight because society tells us that our body size determines if you’ll be considered beautiful or not. Anyone above a certain size or shape cannot be worthy. But what if we broadened our idea of who is considered beautiful? Of who matters. Say we believe that everyone is beautiful? I think a number of us are content with our bodies. It’s when we think about other people’s gaze, what they will think, that’s when we become miserable.When we’re under the covers watching TV in our comfiest torn pyjamas, we don’t think gosh I look so fat lying down, I look like a melting ice cream cone spreading out on hot asphalt.  Can we be beautiful for ourselves? Please?

When I was 17, I was fat. I thought that this was the greatest crime in the world and I was committing it with impunity. I felt lonely, I felt unattractive, I felt unlovable. I wish I could tell that 17 year old that you are not your body. That you can wear jeans, you can wear skirts, you deserve to wear that colour. Tell her not to listen to the men in your life who say you take up too much space. Know that you are smart, you’re funny. And that there is more to you than this. The time you spend worrying about your body will lock you into a tiny cage when you are much bigger and grander than you think you are.

So most important of all, don’t spend so much bloody time thinking about how much you weigh.