Body image plays a huge role in how we are perceived by the society we live in. This perception impacts our experiences in everyday life. We are nudged, not so gently, to make an effort to look a specific way. It’s everywhere. We see it in images on television, magazines and billboards. We are told about perfection on radio. We speak about it in everyday conversations.
I was bullied for about half of my early schooling days because my teeth were skew and I was the fat little girl. My tormentor, a girl much shorter and skinnier than I, used to refer to me as Sibeko from a comedy show called Emzini Wezintsizwa. The horror I had at being compared to the fat, untidy, always drunk-but quite smart- television character. Bathong!
As a result of that, I became an awkward and sad fat little girl. Until one night, I had a glorious dream of me bashing my tormentor into the ground. A classic case of mind over matter.
I walked onto the playground the following day with the bravery of a Charlie’s Angel. The bully started her usual routine and made fun of one of the other girls. She made a stupid comment about how dumb the girl was because she couldn’t read properly. I didn’t laugh. She noticed, called me Sibeko again and I promised her a serious beating if she carried on. The rest, as they put it, is history.
For the next few years, I built my confidence up brick-by-brick. I focused on the things I was good at. Accepted all the things I was not. I made it work. But for some reason, the confidence I felt in my head didn’t mirror with how I felt, physically.
Now before you give me a lecture about fitness and weight loss, please do me a favor and have a seat. The likelihood that you are going to tell me something I have never heard before is slim. Yes, pun intended.
I have struggled with weight and my body image for years. It took me storming out of the gym one afternoon to realize that I had been doing it wrong all this time. I wanted to lose weight because I wanted to fit in, not because I wanted to be healthy.
Since that penny dropped, I joined a number of body positive movements which advocate for a healthy lifestyle and a positive look at your body, regardless of what size you are or however many defect your body has.
I realized how much pressure I had put on myself to transform my body into what it could possibly never be given my genetics.
I am aware of my body. I know that becoming more active would be great for me. That does not mean I must hate myself in order to achieve this. I will dress as I please and I certainly will not disappear from the face of the earth because I am not conventionally pretty. No can do.
My experience with the school bully stripped me of my voice for a while. After I got through that, I promised myself I would never allow that to happen to me again.
I will get healthier. But at my own pace. Not because I am trying to subscribe to some standard of beauty that I probably would never attain.