The circle never stops: the Facebook likes, and the compliments are never satisfying, writes Mpumelelo.
Growing up, I have always felt a sense of shame when it came to my body and weight.
I was the fat child at school and in the neighbourhood. My weight did not go unnoticed, everyone had something to say about it. I think this is where my insecurities started, and I did not have anyone to talk to about them. I felt shame because I thought weight issues were things that only girls dealt with.
How could I, a boy from the township articulate that my fat thighs, a generous size of buttocks and belly bothered me? How could I possibly explain that I fantasized about being skinny?
I was raised by two women who were voluminous, busty and curvy or just fat. It’s in our genes, they said. The comments about my body and weight were not just from outsiders: my mother always encouraged us from a young age to be watchful of our weight.
Being raised by two mothers I got exposed to slimming diets. The slimming diets were not a habitual thing but the few times I witnessed my parents attempting to lose weight, these methods stuck at the back of my mind.
I remember growing up I disliked shopping for clothes or school uniform, because I always went to the adult section. My mother noticed this and my discomfort regarding my weight, she always reassured me that this was just baby weight and I will lose it once I got to high school, but that never happened.
I carried this shame until adulthood. When I got to high school, the insecurities about my body and weight grew. I did what my parents did, I tried a few diets that I could get my hands on, from liquid diet, to no carbs, small portions and eating two meals a day.
I was not a sporty teenager, I preferred reading, the debate club and anything else that involved me not sweating. I was desperate to lose weight so much that I started jogging after school and even joined the rowing club.
In hindsight, I don’t think I was fat as a child or teenager. I was bigger than other kids at school, but my weight was ok for a teenager. The perceptions of my peers, family and other people estranged me from myself - my own body.
The shame affected my self-esteem and confidence.
After undergraduate studies, by chance, I reconnected with a high school mate after many years of not seeing each other. She was also a "fat child" in high school.
The first thing I noticed was her weight loss, she looked beautiful, slim and healthy. Her Facebook timeline was flooded with gym pictures and healthy foods.
Due to all the diets, rowing and gym I was doing, I had lost a lot of weight. Our conversation was centred around our weight loss journey: the joys and insecurities.
She asked me, “do you ever feel enough? Like you’ve reached your goal?” We both laughed because no matter how much weight I lost, I still felt fat, I always needed to lose more weight.
I was never comfortable or enough. She shared the same sentiments about her body and journey. I looked at her and said, “Maybe we suffer from the fat child syndrome - that no matter how much weight you lose, there is still that child in you who is haunted by all the bullying and opinions about your weight.”
The child still feels and looks fat. The child is never satisfied: you must keep jogging, try a new diet, keep setting more goals, lose another 5 kg and post more pictures celebrating your achievement.
The circle never stops: the Facebook likes, and the compliments are never satisfying.
After some time, I was exhausted from all these diets. When 2020 began I made a new goal - I wanted to start afresh with my body, I wanted to do things differently. I decided that if I was going to lose weight, it was going to be through healthy habits and mindset.
No pills, and no quick fix diets. The journey has not been easy, but it has been amazing. This journey is teaching me that self-love and choosing myself is an everyday act and decision.
I’m learning that I am a man and there is no shame in my struggle with my body and weight, and no shame in talking about it. Knowing this has been liberating for me as a black man.
- Mpumelelo is a researcher and advisor at the City of Johannesburg.