Respect others’ choices

Respect people’s choices – everyone has a reason for their actions. 

Rida Zehra

A few years ago, I was desperate to add weight (more so to please some relatives), but mainly for myself.  Some of my larger friends, when I told them, suggested a psychiatric evaluation instead.  I wanted to add weight because I’d had it with thin-black-women jokes.

Fast forward 2 years plus and I am now heavier than I’ve ever been.  I have more kilos in me than when I was nine months pregnant.  My relatives can relax now, though some would like to see more bulge.  And now, I can shop in the adults’ sections or enter plus size shops without feeling guilty and out of sorts. The thinner me would never have walked in a plus size shop for fear of condescending looks and superior attitude from people bigger than me.

However, my quest to add weight overlooked a few realities that I only read from ‘your fat friend’.  I realised I had curves and folds in areas I never knew existed. I now must learn to contend with unwanted attention and backhanded compliments from brethren who believe fat equals happiness and wellbeing. I must contend with jeers and funny looks from people who think fat equals unhappiness and low self-esteem. I must contend with unsolicited advice on how to shift unwanted extra holiday weight. I must grit teeth through painful interrogations and horrendous questions such as:

“My goodness, what happened to you. You used to be so pretty!”  Insults disguised as concerns.

“Did you eat Kenya on your last safari?” they say as they laugh out louder than necessary.
“OMG! you are pregnant!” they exclaim as they feign nil surprise.

For the ones I tell I added weight on purposes, the horror on their faces is palpable.  “Are you mad?”

I have learned to smile and nod along because I am happy in my body.  I worked hard to add weight almost as much as others work to lose it.  When I exercise (for keep-fit purposes only) I am tempted to take protein shakes to restore any ‘weight’ I may lose during such exercise.  I know what you are thinking…. but no.

My biggest worry is the feeling that this body belongs to someone else, and it’s here with me temporarily.  Any triggers and it’s gone never to come back.  This fear intensified one day when I bumped into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in ages.  Her comments are still reverberating in depths of my mind.  After saying I looked well, (and failed to hide the scorn evident on her face), she went on to add that ‘being fat is better than thin because when you age, the skin doesn’t sag so much’. I’m still processing that.

I like this body because in winter, for example, I don’t get as cold – I have layers of fat now and can contain my body heat without donning countless thermal vests and leggings. At my thinnest, I wore 3 pairs of thermal leggings and a tracksuit and I was still cold.

Now, having been a thin black woman (apparently it’s not natural – I don’t know who decides what’s natural or not) and living with the insecurities that come with that, I’ve learnt a few truths. Some fat people might not believe there are problems associated with being thin: trust me they are many.  For example, some people will attribute your thinness to various things – sickness, witchcraft, mental illness, generational curses, unfulfillment, unhappiness and lack.

When you are thin, you become the butt of endless unfunny jokes about stones being donated to you before the windy season, you know…. to keep in the handbag so you don’t get blown away. At the dance floor, ‘shake tharass!’ is meaningful and people won’t fight the urge to say, ‘rattle them bones’. 

I haven’t lived in my beautiful fat body for long, and some will argue that I am not fat enough or whatever, so I have limited experience of its insecurities.  I come from a community where fatness is a virtue and I live in a community where fatness is a vice.  I will have to make my own conclusions from experiences from both sides and weigh in any differences.

There’s a Swahili saying – binadamu hatosheki (humans can never be satisfied): some thin people wish they had more meat on, and some fat people wish they had less.  When tables are turned they are still unhappy with the results: it’s like human nature to find fault with whatever one was dealt. Rarely do people rejoice when their prayers have been answered.

When I was thin everybody worried and wanted me to add weight, but additionally kept the rumour mill churning with unbelievable tales of why I was so thin.  I even went to see a doctor and hoped he’d find some underlying issue because I ate as much as everybody else.  He didn’t – “you may have high metabolism…. nothing to worry about…. relax.”  I am not sure even I added weight for me or to hush critics or please others. 

For years I envied curvier women; I prayed and hoped for a ‘bit-more-meat’ but I may have forgotten to be specific and say exactly where I want the extra pounds deposited. My great auntie once said – when you pray, be specific and tell, [not ask], God exactly what, where, who, how and when you need something.

However, I am mindful of body dysmorphic people around the world because there’s more to that than just wanting a different body. I wasn’t this fat when I was nine months pregnant but then again, I was young, and you know what they say about mid-life and all that crap.  Some will wonder if aspiring to add weight is body positive, others will petition the DSM makers to create a new name for this mental illness.

The jury is still out….in the meantime please respect other people’s choices in whatever.


  1. Great weekend read. I have been through the ‘add some meat’ or suggesting that I am thin and wondering why. First, If anyone looked at my family, they would realize we are a certain body type. I also have some really expensive designer clothes that I prefer to fit in for a while. I love my figure just as the way it is. My weight, my choice.

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