#31. Trying – and failing – to make sense of body shaming/fat shaming in Ghanaian Society
“Every Ghanaian woman has some sort of body issues” – Nana Ashanti
To be clear:
Advising people who are clearly struggling with weight gain issues in a diplomatic manner is a necessary evil – obesity and complications arising from it are not a laughing matter. This piece is not about giving advice and doing your bit to help family and friends live healthy lives.
Furthermore, this piece will focus on women because my personal experience with this is with women close to me.
This piece is about the snide, hurtful comments people make about healthy plus sized women who will never be slender.
And that’s fine because they are not supposed to be slender.
Women’s bodies run the gamut – tall with large breasts, short with wide hips, average size with large buttocks and every other possible combination in between.
Body Mass Index (as flawed as it is) is a safe way to help folks live their best lives within their best weight.
And for the record…in case there is any room for doubt…..the size 6 weight ideal for others is highly unrealistic for Ghanaians.
For the simple reason that that’s simply not how we are built – when God was handing out curves, She was extra generous with us. Buttocks, wide hips, breasts – Ghanaian women are blessed beyond measure with curves that look good in just about any damn thing.
Slender isn’t our default figure, curvy is.
And our society does its bit by linking curves with ‘good living’ which means, as a slender tall girl, I’m sometimes asked if I’m unwell
So, imagine my astonishment, when my plus size friends share how they are body shamed, fat shamed and made to feel less than.
Because they are curvy.
Because they are buxom.
Because they have broad hips.
Because they have large buttocks.
In essence they are shamed for having the kind of bodies the Kardashians pay money for.
And it makes no sense.
Or maybe there’s a method to this madness and I missed it……
As a mental health advocate, one of the conditions discussed on the social media platform I manage was eating disorders and the question that cropped up was “but do people have eating disorders in Ghana?”
Short answer – yes
Long answer – we seem to have adopted European standards of beauty where plus sized is no longer acceptable. And we seem to have the mindset where we can talk any old way about women and their weight and then hide it under “advice.”
A friend told me how her mum tried to reduce her food portions when she was around 9 or 10 years old because she (the mother) noticed that she was going to be plus sized like the women in her husband’s family. Til date, my friend has a yo-yo relationship with food. Her story shocked me because we are close; but I have heard other accounts of parents doing same to their children – berating them when they eat, talking about their weight in a disparaging way, trying to put them on diets and so on. And when those seeds take root, they grow into tendrils of depression, low self-esteem, addictions to diets, unhealthy eating patterns and many other unhealthy behaviours that hurt the mind and soul of the individual.
Then she mentioned the struggles she has when shopping for nice outfits from boutiques. From not seeing her size to be told outright at the entrance that “her size is not available.”
That killed me – slender is not our fashion standard, plus sized is. Why is clothes shopping difficult for her?
Clearly the whole conversation left me befuddled and off-kilter; but a small part of me acknowledged it as true because of the nature of my work in the mental health advocacy space.
Bearing all this in mind, it’s not really surprising that teenagers and young women flirt dangerously with anorexia or bulimia in an effort to have figures acceptable to society.
And for what?
To feed the narrative that women need to look a certain way to please the male gaze?
To feed the stereotype that plus-sized women aren’t beautiful?
To feed the idea that unless you’re slender, you can’t be happy with yourself and with your life?
I mean really – what possible logical reason is there for a society that prides itself on its curvy women to, almost in the same breath, harshly, insidiously start criticizing these same curvy women?
In what world does this even make sense?
My logical brain is trying – and failing – to fully understand why fat shaming and body shaming is so prevalent here, so whilst I continue searching for answers, I will conclude thus:
Judging a curvaceous woman for having curves is an exercise in imbecility. Let her be happy in her body, with her body, who she is and what she brings to the world on any given day.
If she’s unhealthy, you can point it out in a diplomatic and non-intrusive way.
If she’s not, I beg, drink water and mind your own business.