“You need to eat more pap”.“You’re so tiny, I’m scared I might break you,” or how could I forget the loud “slender sama catalogue,” from the group of guys chilling by the corner. These are just some of the comments that I got used to hearing almost on a daily basis while growing up in Soweto. My only crime was that I was skinny. But not only that, the people saying these things to me thought it was a compliment.
I ate vitamins in the hope of gaining weight
From what I’ve seen in family photo albums, my mom was petite in her youth, and so was her mother and my great grandmother. Even my siblings are skinny. However, my weight was always a concern in the family because I seemed to be smaller than the “acceptable” small. The small they were used to.
I started taking vitamins in pre-school. This was an attempt by my family to help me pick up weight. Although at that age, I never really knew what they were for, I didn’t mind because they were tasty and came in cute, colourful containers.
Hair and uniform were a problem
Growing up, I had thick and long hair. My mom was convinced my hair had something to do with my lack of weight, so she made sure I didn’t grow it out past neck length. This was around the time the snide jabs from visiting aunts started. They kept reminding my mom to bring me over during school holidays so they can feed me porridge and “fatten me up”.
Family gatherings were the worst. The force-feeding, the heaps of food piled onto my plate were subtle reminders that I needed to eat more. During my teens, my friends and most of my female cousins started getting boobs, and their bodies got curvier. I, on the other hand, was stuck in my 10-year-old body. It hurt that everyone around me was growing, but my body stayed the same. I hated that I was a late bloomer and I had to work at convincing people whenever I was asked my age.
I remember shopping for school uniform, and how there were never sizes small enough to fit me. We had to get everything altered by my neighbour. It seemed like I kept getting smaller even though I was my healthiest. There was a time when I wore a blazer to school every day because I thought my arms were too thin. But I soon started dancing and this really helped with my confidence.
The street-harassment is unbearable
Even something as simple as going to the shop can be unbearable. Because, like clockwork, some guy will call out, “slender never get tired,” or tell me how I “should consider modelling”. It is annoying that when guys call out at me, because it’s always linked to my weight. I can’t leave the house and not have the fact that I’m skinny rubbed in my face.
My weight is not a choice
The media glorifies skinny people, and this creates the perception that we have it easier. However, I have found that being skinny isn’t all it’s made out to be. Because of the glorification of skinny celebrities, skinny-shaming is more acceptable. Which is worrying, because it has the same effect as fat-shaming. All kinds of body-shaming should be inexcusable.
I can’t help that I am naturally thin. People seem to have the idea that my weight is a choice. They say hurtful things yet wouldn’t dare tell someone who’s overweight to eat less.
I’m tired of being constantly reminded of how skinny I am. This is my natural weight and it’s not easy to gain “healthy weight”. I have come to love and accept that this is me.