It keeps getting harder, it always has. I got through my primary school years being called fat by children, teachers and neighbours, could never tell them I hated it—that it shrunk me. My own aunt made fun of my frame, there’s a difference between teasing and being mean. She took the latter to the highest degree. By the time I got to high school I bet the presupposition was the label would have stuck to me, became a part of me, added to the already piled up layers of fat. That wasn’t the reality of it.
Early teens and eager to start a new path; high school held a sweet promise and prospect for me. The mental premise said I was ready to be ‘reborn’, another chance at this life thing around people who would look at my face and say I was beautiful and stop there. To this new group of people there would be sensitivity I had never been exposed to. Sensitivity. Not pity. It’s nice romanticising about your expectations, an ideal world you see turning into a reality regardless of contrary circumstances.
The day came and I felt like how many Christians must have felt on the day they learned of the Immaculate Conception. A new dawn was upon me and I was ready to grace it with all the ‘bubbly social butterfly’ energy I possessed and commanded with the requisite confidence.
When you are a chatter-box like me it’s easy to find yourself in newly forged alliances. It matters not the amount of negative feedback you get, you straighten your imaginary wig and move on along to other prospective conquests. It is only when you get home, and start reflecting on the happenings of the day, do you panic and say maybe they found you too headstrong, imposing and trying too hard.
Then it comes to you, “oh that.” “I mean, who would spare the fat loud-mouth a second of their time?” It’s the insecurities, sometimes they pounce on you and leave you shaken. Other times when you are listlessly going on about your business they’ll creep in unwarranted. Silent killers.
The first few weeks of school went on with good and bad feedback from all the interactions I was in. That was good feedback—taking the good with the bad. I concluded I was dealt a fair hand. So far so good.
The day of reckoning came in early February when a group of senior students was on in pursuit of recruiting interested, ‘suitable’, Form A students to enter a Miss Valentines pageant to be held February 14.
We showed up in more or less desirable numbers, the senior students scanned through our tiny group and the ‘Head honcho’ without any hesitation flat out remarked, “But Pabatso you are fat.” To which I replied with a resounding, “So?” All the while fighting to hold my tears back because I was not about to once again be told my weight was something that rendered me incapacitated.
I grew up watching Miss World and to me all it embodied was celebrating the remarkable diversity that exists in beauty. Like; yes girl, you are beautiful so you qualify.
Sure I always came across the ‘models should be skinny’ line, the commentary made to a girl of a slender frame about how she should try modelling, all the concepts attached to pageantry, and maybe I was gullible when I disregarded it, put it at the bottom of my pageantry ‘manual’. Like dirt swept under a carpet, you know it’s there but is it really?
Fast forward to the height of my teens I was a pretty face without the body to back it up. This was at the point where it really mattered. The stage where boys are a hobby. A lot of my male classmates were still tad bit wet behind their ears, you know what they say about boys developing slower than girls.
A whole lot of us were ready to experiment, the feeling that came with it was exhilarating. People started getting boyfriends, and you’d always see a pair entangled intertwined, locking hearts to become one. The constant arm-locking, lip-pecking—all became a common sight that crystallised into a norm.
The ‘ugly ducklings’ would always make snarl comments and spew envy just to get a kick out of it. I felt like a reject because it felt like I was the girl guys would never ask out, the girl whose only interactions about dating were to answer questions about her ‘hot’ friends.
I wore this new role like a badge of honour and started spinning the “guys are better company than girls” narrative. It was uncomfortable because I kept reproaching myself for my need for male validation. With time I redefined the status quo, these guys did like me and I enjoyed their companionship so I stopped my self-sabotage and it was smooth sailing from there on.
So yes, my high school dating life was not colourful or whatever definition of beautiful. It was dry. Rihanna sang It’s Raining Men and as much as I took the lyrics to heart, I never could relate. It was in those days I really fell in love with self.
Remembered how I had always affirmed to myself that I am beautiful, call me fat and I’d ask if that translated into me being ugly. It was like I had rediscovered myself, that girl who dared asked a girl four years older than her, “So what if I’m fat?”
Today I am a size 34, with big arms, back rolls and living it up. It’s warm and fuzzy. It’s beautiful. When I first got to university I coined the saying, “It’s only when you are attractive enough to know I’ll find you attractive, that I’ll actually find you attractive.”
This was for my friend who battled with colourism issues and one whose frame weighed heavily on her esteem. It felt good to take a bit of the burden off their shoulders. Each day remains a fight, I still find myself crying because somebody, totally unprovoked, remarked if I noticed I’m still gaining weight. I feel it’s something personal — my business.
So I’ll call them out and tell them I don’t like what they are saying and while they gape in apparent disbelief laced with hypocrisy, I assert that just because such remarks are normalised does not make them any less demeaning or right. Self-love is a journey. A lot of learning and unlearning along the way. Healing. Living.