/ 17 November 2017

You should eat your words

Clarity: Mashadi Kekana reflects on her image
Clarity: Mashadi Kekana reflects on her image


“You’ve gained SO much weight, girl! You’re fat now and it’s not a good look, hey.”

“With all this weight, we can no longer see your beauty. What a shame.”

“Ha ah Mashadi, what have you been eating? Please don’t gain any more because it doesn’t suit you.”

These are a few of the unsolicited comments that I’ve had to listen to ever since I put on weight.

At the forefront of this abuse — yes, serious emotional abuse — are family members (such as that aunt who has had sinus issues from years of using Ntsu Black snuff), neighbours, “friends”, acquaintances (like the woman who goes to the stokvel with your mother and has proclaimed herself your honorary aunt) and — my personal favourites — those people who last saw you as a child but still think it’s okay to comment on your weight as if you weren’t allowed to grow up and look different.

Just to clarify, I have definitely gained weight over the past few years, but best believe me when I say that I do not need a walking, talking, “minding everyone else’s business but their own” mirror. The mirror on my wall works perfectly well, thanks.

I also know the reasons for the change in my weight and they are far from what most people think.

There are things that are deeply troubling about people who comment on other people’s weight without invitation. First, these statements do not come from a place of concern about someone else’s health.

Asking “I have noticed that you’ve gained weight, have you been feeling okay?” is very different from vocalising your concern over someone’s “diminishing” attractiveness. Even then, asking about the connection between health and weight is personal and the type of relationship you have is crucial. The person needs to trust you, otherwise this kind of question becomes invasive the moment it leaves your mouth.

Something else that bothers me is the people who comment on other people’s weight — these commentators are usually women analysing other women — don’t seem to realise the effect they have, especially on young women.

I always walk away from these encounters with a little less confidence and added anxiety about how I just don’t fit into the world the way it wants me to, even though I’m aware that no one should have the power to make me feel this way.

The connection between what I know intellectually and how I feel emotionally is a work in progress.

As a young black woman who has fought for years to stay alive and keep functioning in the face of clinical depression and anxiety, every comment about my weight gain feels like a step backward.

This is especially because my mental health, or lack thereof, and the medication that’s helped to bring me back to functional levels is the reason I’ve gained weight.

I’ve lived with an illness that, at some point, prevented me from being able to think full thoughts and to get out of bed in the morning. I had to read a short sentence and go over it another four times to understand it.

That is no way to live and I had to choose to keep living that way and end up not living at all, or to get help and take medication that changed my chemistry and helped me, but in turn expanded my body.

Not much of a choice really.

I remember having to test out a few drug combinations and dosages until my psychiatrist got the right mix. I was, of course, worried about the side-effects, especially weight gain. But at some point, I had to understand that being smaller and “slaying” held no value compared with my health and wellbeing.

I’m not asking for pity because I’ve had enough of that for myself in the past.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s so frustrating when people view my body (and many other people’s bodies) as objects that they have a right to comment on. These people don’t know who I am, where I’ve been and what I’m struggling with.

Next time you run into someone and feel the need to comment on their weight, remember that people who have put on kilos are usually hyperaware of this. The last thing they need is to feel more pressure than what they’re already putting on themselves.

Don’t be the person who makes someone else shrink inwards, feel small or even relapse all because you couldn’t take a moment before opening your mouth. We’re fighting serious battles here fam.

Mashadi Kekana is a journalism intern at the Mail & Guardian