There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t have to think about my body — how much I’ve moved it (or not), what I’ve put into it, what it looks like in whatever outfit I’ve chosen to wear. But thinking about my body isn’t something particularly new. It isn’t something that came with adolescent insecurity or angst. It’s something that I’ve thought about for as long as I can remember, from the moment I realized that I was ‘bigger’ than most of my friends and certainly than most of the people I interacted with at school and at work – that I was in fact ‘different’. Today, weighing in at nearly 220 lbs and measuring in at just about 6ft 1 inch, I recognize that my body occupies more physical space than many other bodies – and that that is, in fact, OK.
I am not going to write about how I had an awful time in high school (because the truth is that I didn’t). I was never bullied, I was never teased about my weight or my body — there was none of that. My body has always been big… bigger than most – but that has never stopped me from ‘respecting my fresh’, from being ‘eclectic’ and ‘stylish’ and ‘trendy.’
You see I come from a family of women who I guess I could say are all fabulous! My grandmother, at 83 years old, still wears high heels and rocks out her pink lipstick and mascara; my mom’s sense of style might as well come right off the cover of InStyle or Vogue; and my cousins are fashionista style gurus.
And then there’s me — the ‘big one’ with my thighs of thunder and round belly and thick waist. But despite being ‘different’ from other women in my family, I learned very early on that I couldn’t let anyone make me feel bad about the body I was blessed with and that I needed to be healthy (i.e. eat well and exercise). And so I’ve always walked around with an air of confidence rockin’ out ALL of my stretch marked 200 pound big girl body.
But it has not always been easy.
Aside from all of the coping mechanisms that a fabulous fat girl like me learns to master to stay sane in a world that constantly reminded me that my bigness was not beautiful, there were (many) moments when I too just wanted to break down and cry. And that feeling is perhaps what motivated me to write this piece both for myself and for all the other fat girls out there that get the“are you going to eat that?” jibes as you delve into your plate of food; or the customer service representative in the store that asks if you’ve checked the ‘plus size’ line on the website because they don’t carry your size in store (*rolls eyes*); or the people that insist on reminding you that you’ve put on weight or that you are bigger than they remember as though you live in a warped mirror-less universe and have no sense of how you look.
I realized that this ‘fat shaming’ isn’t just something that happens in the amorphous “media” that we tend to blame for everything, but often in our own homes, amongst our families and in our communities. Fat shaming transcends cultures and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter if you are African, Caribbean, Asian or American. We’ve all had them — the aunties that remind us that we (big women) will never find husbands unless we loose some weight (eiiiiiiii!!). And it is by no means just our aunties alone. Being fat it seems invites anyone and everyone into our own personal space. Whether you like it or not, when you’re fat everyone seems to have a pass to — as we say in Antigua — ‘talk as yuh like.’
I remember flying back ‘home’ to Antigua for Carnival one summer. I had spent a year and a half in the gym – literally busting my ass sweating, taking dreaded power pilates classes, spending money I didn’t have on workout programs and personal trainers — and it worked! I lost close to 50 lbs and was feeling too hot to trot. I remember walking through the airport in my black leggings (yes, I now wore leggings) and I remember bumping into an old colleague who approached me and exclaimed: “lawd gyal, yuh big eeeh! Tings must be good in England — look how yuh round like an English pound.” I stopped dead in my tracks — was this guy being for real? Here I was the smallest I had ever been (perhaps in my lifetime) and he was telling me how fat I looked! I just smiled weakly and kept it moving. In that moment, I realized it didn’t matter what I looked like. I could be 200 or 250 lbs and folks would still have shit to say.
And there are so many more of those stories. We all have them. All of us fat girls. Stories of random folks and people who don’t know us but that feel it is their business to tell us about our bodies.
And I can hear some of you now: “but Amina you doth protest too much — you are OK, curvy is in” and “men love curvy women” and “black women are curvy” “African women have shape” and these comments, while not altogether true, are also the kinds of comments that I take serious issue with. The way fat women’s bodies are only viewed as attractive if they are a certain kind of ‘big body’ – bootyliscious, Beyonce’d… and straight. Fat women without asses like J.Lo’s are shamed. Fat women with small breasts are shamed. Fat women who don’t have ‘curves’ are shamed — and it goes on…
These are not simply just stories…they are painful and hurtful experiences. I know now that we cannot and must not simply continue to allow people to make us feel bad about ourselves and our bodies. I guess it was this idea that inspired me to write this piece, after being so moved by my sister friend Nana Darkoa’s piece ‘Ghana: Where my body is everybody’s business” for the South Africa post’s ‘Voices for Africa’ blog. And where Nana ends is the premise for where I begin. I watched the reactions to Nana’s piece and the comments that were posted in support, solidarity and love from other women (and men) around the world and I wondered how do we draw attention to the fact that ‘fat shaming’ regardless of where it comes from is NOT OK?
Fat shaming is not just an imaginary idea — it is a painful reality for many women like me…many women who are not strong enough to flip the bird to the many unwelcome comments, or the many women who cry in bathrooms and changing rooms, women who are forced to look with disgust at the bigness and beauty of their own bodies.
Yesterday I watched this interview of one of my favourite Bollywood actors Aishwarya Rai. Aishwarya talked about her career, her family, her work as a UN goodwill ambassador, but it was the issue of her post-pregnancy weight gain that seemed to garner the most attention. Women like Aishwarya inspire me — because they respond with as little attention as the subject requires. My body is my business. End of story.
Fat shaming is a part of culture that promulgates women’s insecurity and thrives on making women believe that they are not good enough as they are. It is hurtful and unnecessary.
Perhaps it is thanks to the women that raised me, or the experiences I have had in life — that I am the fat woman I am today — less afraid to respond, less afraid to shut hurtful shit down, less afraid…
As fat women, beyond the affirmations that we are courageous, beautiful and brave, we must also know that we deserve respect, we deserve love and we deserve decency….
For all my fellow fat women I want each of you to know:
You my loves, are enough. As you are. Enough.
As Kim Katrin Crosby once so beautifully said:
“To all the girls whose thighs touch, with stretchmarks laid like gold across their backside, with bellies too full for any inadequate hands, thank Goddess for your abundance.”
Ashe to that.
Amina Doherty is a Nigerian feminist activist and artist whose work focuses on feminist philanthropy and creative arts for advocacy. Prior to her role as founding member and Coordinator of FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, Amina worked at the women’s rights grant-making program at the Sigrid Rausing Trust in London, the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington D.C., and the London-based creative network, Arts & Business. Amina brings to her activism a passion for music, art, travel and poetry, which she chronicles via her blog, Following Her Footsteps. She’s is a self-taught painter, DJ-in-the-making, and freelance writer for several magazines across the Caribbean.