'Tis the season to be jolly, and many of us are looking forward to spending time with our families and loved ones over some good food, drinks and a great festive atmosphere.
Unfortunately, though, none of us look forward to being subjected to criticism and shaming from family members when they pose endless questions about work, or relationships, or even our bodies.
Being body shamed online or by people is one thing: often, it can be ignored and it doesn't always hurt as much from someone you'll probably never, ever meet in person. But what happens when you get body shamed by people you call family?
For Rethabile Napo* the body shaming started as banter, but then it eventually became too much for her to handle. Now, like many other women, she dreads spending time at home during the holidays because of the shame her family subjects her to.
Rethabile started gaining weight when she was in primary school. She says, "I was a skinny girl when I was younger. I only started gaining weight in grade 4 or 5, so when I did my aunts would say things like 'oh, you're fresh now' and comment on how I was growing into my body."
She explains that her aunts and grandmother were happy that she was gaining weight, but her cousins would tease her about it.
"It started off with my aunt calling me sdudla but she didn't mean it in a bad way, she just liked how cute I was when I was chubby. But as I left primary and started high school, I was getting bigger, and my cousins started teasing me then," Rethabile recalls.
"One time we were at a family braai and one of my cousins who was thinner than me offered me her unfinished plate of food and said something like ‘I know you never get full anyway’. She said this in front of our other cousins and family friends and they laughed. I just had a big appetite and she made it a fat thing," she says.
From then on they started making jokes about her eating habits and weight.
"Eventually I started eating less around them and even when they dished up for me, I would ask that they not fill the plate and I forced myself to get used to that. One of my aunts, who is also a big woman, would feel concerned about why I wasn’t eating as much as she was used to seeing me eat, but I never told her why," says Rethabile.
"It was almost like I couldn’t win because if I ate too little, my aunt would pressure me to eat more, but if I did that then my cousins would have something to laugh about. It was really difficult for me."
Rethabile says that it eventually stopped bothering her when her cousins would tease her, but now whenever she attends family gatherings or lunches with friends during the festive season, she still prefers to have very little food on her plate.
"I eventually got over it and now that I’m in my 20s, I have grown more immune to their jokes about my weight, but I still find myself eating less than usual just so I don’t draw attention to myself."
"It sucks because even at friends’ parties when we’re having lunch or dinner and there’s a buffet or something, I leave so much space on my plate because I’m scared someone will judge me for eating a lot. Because I’m a fat girl, even if I dish up like everyone else, it still brings that judgement. And I really love food, but I would rather eat after everyone is gone, or when I'm around my boyfriend and bestie or when I'm by myself at home."
Although she doesn't like being around her cousins because of the teasing, Rethabile explains that she's growing to accept and appreciate it more and more.
"It doesn’t hurt my feelings anymore when someone makes a joke about how big I am. I mean, my aunt has always told me to love my body no matter what so I don't entertain naysayers. I would rather not be around my cousins when they make fun of me or my weight like we're still kids. I avoid them so that I can at least work on my self-esteem and work on loving myself rather than wasting time giving them a reaction."
*Name has been changed.
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