I always try not to tell this story. I fail. I could probably try harder but sometimes you have a story that is dying to get out and like a fart, the more you suppress it, the harder it fights to get out and when it does, oh is it bad! I do not want this story to be a repugnant fart, that is why I will tell it now, at ease, before it pushes out of my body and makes me look bad.
I recently got introduced to Nancy on Bikozulu’s blog, who in 2015, wrote about her experience as an obese woman on a journey of weight loss. I enjoyed reading her posts and got a few insights from her. Our stories are a little bit similar and I will tell mine too, undoubtedly not as effortlessly as she told hers.
I have always been a fat girl and before I go any further, I will reclaim the word “fat” from the Americans and take it back to mean having a large amount of excess flesh, not a derogatory term used to insult and debase people. Fat is not an insult, it is a description. For purposes of this story, “Fat” will not be an offense until it is made so. And it will appear a lot.
I would love to credit my genes for my predicament and totally ignore the role my eating habits have played here, but I cannot, as both my parents were never really fat people. My father was very slender, in fact, he was the thinnest man I knew growing up. I thought that all daddies were supposed to be tall, skinny and brown. Imagine my shock at the first fat daddy I ever saw. An uncle maybe, but a daddy? No. Daddies were tall and slender.
As a child, I too was skinny. Skinny that I loathed the hours of 2:00PM and 9:00PM because meal times meant scolding, cajoling and often, spanking. I did not like eating, I much rather preferred playing with the neighbours’ kids and making dresses for my dolls out of dried barks of the Matooke plant. The only thing I ate with glee was raw tomatoes. I could eat a whole basket but my mother and her army insisted that I eat the matooke and posho and beans at the table. I must have been so tiny that my sister often bought treats that she used as bait to get me to eat. This one time she came home for school holidays with a really cute dress. It was black with tiny pink and red flowers. I loved that dress! After hours of incessant pleading, she told me I could have it if I gained 8 kilos that holiday.
Challenge accepted. I ate all my meals and emptied my cup at breakfast. I even exerted myself less because I had heard that being lazy made people put on weight. At the end of that holiday, I was 5 kilos up but she gave me the dress anyway. For effort. I wore that dress at least 3 times a week. I was 8 years old.
I always stood out in class. Short and little was a winning combination. Once when I was older, I overheard this former teacher tell my mother that I was so petite I easily disappeared into the grass. This worked quite nicely for me because I was treated preferentially. Where others got 5 canes for late coming, I got 2, where the rest of the class carried 10 litres of water for the teacher on duty, I carried 5, when everybody else made the long lines at the kitchen for supper, a prefect led me right to the large soot blackened saucepan for mine. I must have looked very delicate to warrant such kindness. Later when I grew up and piled on a few stone, I should have lost all the weight, if not for anything, to experience this level of kindness again. This world is cruel and if you look a certain way, it can be absolutely horrendous.
Along the way, age happened, then puberty happened, then Golola Moses appetite happened. The little scrawny kid morphed into this chubby teenager and didn’t stop morphing. I gradually got used to having to resize or get new clothes when the ones I had didn’t fit, the discomfort of taking stairs and coming from a place where lifts and escalators are reserved for the fancy hotels and office blocks, it was mostly uncomfortable.
The whole weight thing did not really bother me. Whenever I said this aloud, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. In fact, people expected me to have some type of body image issues. They looked at me funny when I had ice cream and chips and had this weirdness about them whenever the topic of weight came up. But I did not. I was who I was. My size and physical appearance did not bother me as much as say, not knowing the latest Beyoncé song, not scoring a perfect A in Biology or not having DSTv at my home. Being a fat teenager was the least of my worries.
I got fat and fatness became my identity.
At the end of my 16th year, shopping had become a night mare. The comments by shop attendants, the cute clothes I couldn’t have because one of my Pirelli tyres hang out, the remarks by Boda-boda men and taxi touts, it gradually became my identity. For the first time in my fat existence, I became fully aware of my physical appearance and how it influenced how everybody else saw me. I decided to lose some weight. I was in senior five now and the consequences of my physical appearance were starting to dawn on me. I had to reign it in lest I have my mother have better style than me because the only clothes that came in my size were fit for a style-less mother. It was then that I made my first real attempt to lose weight. It wasn’t easy. I failed.
But I tried again, and I failed again. From drinking warm lemon and cayenne pepper water every morning to halving my portions, to daily sit ups, nothing worked. I got fatter and more miserable every day that I gave up every four days into a new fad attempt at weight loss.
At the end of my twentieth year, I scribbled “To lose 10kgs” in my diary as one of my new year’s resolutions. I was now in my second year at the university and I had done this four years in a row but this time, I was determined to make myself better. I knew that if I lost weight, all the silent comments and rude undertones would go away and most importantly, I knew that I would be able to wear those tops that showed my naval. I could not wait. This time though, I solicited the help of my athletic friend who went to the gym for fun. I laid it all out for her, my insecurities, my desires and how I hoped to get to size 10! I can still remember her reaction, she was glad that I was ready to do this and she pledged to support me all the way through.
It was gruelling.
My days begun at 6:00 AM with a 5 – lap run in the football pitch around the corner from my hostel, then 100 sit ups and sugarless tea, cassava and ground nuts for breakfast. I had fruit and cereal snacks and lunch, at about 3:00PM after all my classes which consisted of only boiled food and vegetables. The few times I had supper, it had to be a salad or boiled potatoes however, I allowed myself a big tin of ice-cream or a large juicy burger once a week. Thank God for those treats, they kept me sane.
Six hard, long and painful months later, I was unrecognizable. Tales of my transformation followed me wherever I went. They came with all sorts of feelings and reactions from congratulations, to admiration, pride, shock but most surprisingly, anger and other negative feelings I could never put my hand on. I was quite surprised though, that some of the people who always felt uncomfortable, and made me feel uncomfortable about by outpouring belly were not happy that it had transformed into a decent three-pack. I was happy. Truly. Clothes fit better, I had the confidence of a tall leggy model on the catwalk, I spent much less on food and my frequent stomach upsets occurred much less. Because I exercised daily, I rarely got flues and random body aches, slept much better and had the upper body strength of a boxer. My life was good. Despite my change in appearance though, I was still catcalled in the streets and told I looked much better chubby by the same people who said I was too fat.
One year later I graduated from Makerere University and left the hostel that had become my home for three years. It didn’t take much time before I fell out of my routine and back into all sorts of unhealthy habits I had discarded. Slowly, like a thief in the night, the weight piled back on. I did not catch it stacking on because I was enjoying my new-found freedom and confidence too much to care what I actually looked like. I was 76kg before it dawned on me that I had to do something. This time though, I knew what it would take and like before, I knew it would be quite the journey, no short cuts.
I filled my closet with cute sports apparel and bought a new pair of high quality earphones to make the solo jogs in the neighbourhood bearable. Unlike before, I was not under any pressure to get to a size 10. No deadlines, no timelines, just one goal. To live a healthy life and manage my weight so I could wear the dresses I wanted to, not those that fit.
Four years later, I still struggle. My rolls and flabs pop in and out but I do not worry, because I know I am far more than that. The comments and slurs that once infuriated me so much do not anymore because I know people do love to comment on other people, it really is not about me. For now, I will keep jogging thrice a week and having my large plate of pork ribs every so often because in the end, I am healthy and happy at the same time.