'Yes, I lost weight, don't be weird about it'

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Qaanitah Hunter speaks candidly about her weight loss, what inspired it and the unexpected (and seemingly inevitable) reactions it has attracted. Image supplied.
Qaanitah Hunter speaks candidly about her weight loss, what inspired it and the unexpected (and seemingly inevitable) reactions it has attracted. Image supplied.
  • A talented photographer captured us – three female journalists covering the highest political office in the land – in a picture that embodied power.
  • Somehow, as part of the furious trolling and bot attacks, I was a victim to bots and other critics began circulating a zoomed-in picture of me to body-shame me.
  • It was not my first rodeo at body shaming but somehow, it affected me in a way it never did before.
  •  I knew it was time that I do something about it.

As someone who grappled with obesity for most of my adult life, I did not have the stereotypical self-hatred often portrayed about obese women.

I was confident in my skin even when my BMI pointed to a heart attack. It's my brain that I was most proud of.

I was a twenty-something accomplished journalist and author. I knew my worth. But the moment that body-shaming incident happened, it affected me.

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For the first time, I approached my health like I approached my other successes in my life; systematic and thorough.

I consulted doctors, joined an obesity support group, and did the work. It is still an uphill climb, and I am nowhere near the summit. But in the aftermath of significant weight loss, I am currently going through something I first read about from U.S. TV titan Shonda Rhimes.

She went through her weight journey, where she famously lost 150 pounds, garnering the admiration and praise of many who were indifferent to her despite her successes.

She owned Thursday night television in the US with her multiple successful shows, and yet still, she was only good enough now that she looked the part. Rhimes bravely spoke about a phenomenon many women, including me, feel once you lose a significant amount of weight: the wrong kind of attention for it afterward.

"I did not do it because I thought I would become beautiful like in the movies," Rhimes explained at the time. "I did it because I could not walk up a short flight upstairs without stopping to take a break and wiping sweat from my brow. I did it because my body was physically rebelling against the brain that had been ignoring it for so long."

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I felt this so deeply. And while I expected a reaction to my sustained weight loss- especially since a lot of it happened during lockdown- I was not ready for its garnered attention.

While most people mean well and want to know the 'secret' to weight loss, many, many people completely change how they react to me.

Suddenly you are worthy of being in a room. Friends who were used to dumping their problems on you now regard you as a threat.

Even men have a marked difference in how they relate to you.

Rhimes had it too. "After I lost weight, I discovered that people found me valuable. Worthy of conversation. A person one could look at. A person one could compliment. A person one could admire," she continues.

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While magazines and toxic weight loss blogs tempt you to celebrate the 'new, hot you,' that reaction confirms the fickleness of society we live in.

It has happened to many people - politicians even.

The way Julius Malema is related too after his dramatic weight loss is also indicative of this. Before, Malema was an overweight clown. Now, his politics are attacked and not his appearance. He is now worthy of serious discourse. Even Collin Maine of the ANC Youth League. He infamously received the moniker of Oros because of his physique. Now, he is judged for his feeble politics, and not his appearance.

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No one is spared from this. Even Adele, a multi-award-winning superstar, was deemed to be more valuable and worthy now with her massive weight loss.

Someone posted on Twitter: When I lost over 100 lbs, everyone suddenly loved me. Everyone thought I was gorgeous/ Everyone thought I was powerful. I

can assure you being congratulated for weight loss feels like your greatest fear confirmed.

You have to be thin to be valuable to the world. It sucks. Don't get me wrong. I am proud of my journey, but being thinner has not made me a different person. I am as powerful, beautiful, and confident I was when I weighed 150KGs. Please don't be weird about it.

* Qaanitah Hunter is News24's politics editor, an accomplished journalist and author of 'Balance of Power: Ramaphosa and the Future of South Africa' and 'Diary of a Guji Girl'.

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