My weight and body shape have always been a topic of discussion, but over the years I have learnt to embrace myself in all my skinniness.

Body image, particularly weight are major topics of discussion within society. Today, looks are your ticket to success and the more you fit the ‘acceptable’ body image, the higher your chances of gaining recognition on social media and getting job opportunities.

On social media praise is given to specific body types such as the ‘Brazilian butt lift’, a cosmetic procedure in which excess fat is removed from one part of the body, and injected into areas of the buttocks for a fuller shape and size

I became conscious of my weight from grade four due to being a butt of jokes about my height and my small figure. I had been referred to as a “giraffe” for most of my primary years and had always heard people comment on how skinny I was with the follow-up question: “Do you eat?”

I have always been the tall, skinny child in class, who stood at the back for photos. I stand at 170cm tall and had weighed 51kg for most of my life until recently. I now weigh 58kg. My pants size is 28 and 30, the latter mostly for length to accommodate my very long legs. My dress size has always between extra, extra small.

It has taken a lifetime to be comfortable with full-body pictures of myself. Photo: Malaika Ditabo

I danced ballet for seven years and did athletics for a few years, which contributed to my shape and size. I have a big appetite and an even faster metabolism.

In grade six and seven, I was uncomfortable, frustrated, and self-conscious. I stopped wearing fitting clothes and would cry to my mom about how unhappy I was in my body. I recall how she would encourage me to embrace myself, saying she had not carried me for nine months to come out looking ugly. This always put a smile on my face but a part of me never felt good enough. Why could I not have a fuller figure like the women in my family, who, although slim, have hips, curves, and bums?

I could not help but question: “When will I become a woman? In 2013 (in grade seven) my mom bought me a book titled Rock What You’ve Got by Katherine Schwarzenegger. The book discussed eating disorders, body image issues and low self-esteem. Schwarzenegger highlights how many teenage girls are unhappy with their bodies and shows how true happiness is not attained through our body size but by loving ourselves. Reading the book made me feel seen and heard, and although I have not suffered from an eating disorder, I better understood the lengths young girls are willing to go for acceptance. I also learned about “body dysmorphia”, obsessing over a perceived defect/flaw in one’s appearance, which I deeply related to.

Although there were images of supermodels who shared my body type, that representation did not connect with me and did little to boost my self-esteem. The issue was with me. In my mind, I did not look like them and I certainly did not believe I was gorgeous. I was a shapeless body that was skin and bones.

Taking pills and drinking weight-gain smoothies proved futile, as there was no change to my appearance, no change on the scale and no sign of a curve. However, seeing many other girls online share their struggles with being skinny, highlighted how the remarks, good or bad, were unnecessary and invalidated our feelings. We are more than our weight.

One day in mid-2021 I woke up tired of hating myself. I began by firstly unfollowing many people and eventually deleted Instagram due to it being instrumental in how poorly I viewed myself. I stopped waiting for approval and validation from others and began to have an honest conversation with myself. I began taking full-body pictures, to confront what I look like and not what I thought I looked like. Over time and with practice, I accepted myself.

What I would like to tell grade four Malaika is that: “You are worthy, beautiful and abundantly blessed. The journey of self-love and acceptance will not be easy, but you have to take the first of those thousand steps. Here’s to growth, prosperity and inner peace!”

FEATURED IMAGE: Malaika Ditabo. Photo: file