I recently embarked on a journey to lose weight, much to the dismay of my family. I had many reasons behind my decision to attempt to shed a few pounds, mostly because I started developing stretch marks and was also unable to fit into the clothing which I really liked. It was the response of my family and the stereotypes it awakened, however, which inspired me to write this blog.
The above screenshot was taken from a conversation I had with my family regarding my weight loss. To summarize it all, my sister says she will not be going to places with me because I am too skinny and my mother goes on to say that she does not want me going to Eastern Cape as she is worried what people will say when they see me. Mind you in the above picture my weight was around 67kg, which is nowhere near being considered skinny.
I took it upon myself, before writing this blog, to interview some of my friends from different cultures to get their perspectives on the stereotypes associated with weight in their respective cultures and upbringing.It was really interesting for me to see how much of a role culture plays in our weight.
“Growing up my mom went to gym frequently and educated us about the health dangers associated with being overweight. From age 9 she often took me and my sister along with her to gym and we both grew up attending gym frequently… being overweight in my family is considered as a sign of being lazy and letting yourself go” Ashley, (Female, White) .
“Growing up, my parents were never really into gym or fitness……As for healthy eating, my dad had a stroke when I was about 6/7 and it was caused due to his high level of cholesterol. This got my mom on high alert and started cooking healthier. It’s been that way ever since. ” Matthew, (Male, Colored).
“My mother never went to gym because she said it was a waste of money and growing up in her culture it was considered taboo or too modern…. people who are skinny are frowned upon and labelled as either ‘sick’ or ‘poor’, being thick is celebrated and people are often complemented on it and are referred to as being happy because they can afford to feed themselves” Sisanda (Female, Black).
“When I was younger we used to hike a lot and do a ton of outdoor activities. My step-dad is a previous athlete and so we were quite active. We were never into dieting, and we were always chocolate lovers. Also, as Indians our relationship with food was always good. Over the years my parents have become less active so I have taken my health and fitness into my own hands….I think all woman are built differently, and so should have an ideal figure respectively. It is less about having a “thigh gap” or a flat stomach, but more about fat percentage and living actively and healthily.” Zaheera (Female, Indian)
A recent study in America found that African American women had the highest number of obesity, one of the reasons for this is the fact that most of these women are not educated and thus not aware of the many health implications caused by obesity , like diabetes, high level of cholesterol, high blood pressure, strokes and heart diseases. To read more on these statistics click here.
The media also plays a big role in what people consider the “accepted” body type, although this has changed drastically over the past 100 years people are still being influenced by what they see on television. With celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj considered “sex symbols” of this generation you find that many people are even going through surgery to achieve the “perfect body” despite the many health implications and danger that they could encounter.
In a world where words like “selfie”,”hashtag” and”curvaceous” are part of the dictionary even the sky is unable to limit a persons unique definition of themselves and their body types. We are unable to choose our cultures, our upbringing or the stereotypes instilled in us but we do have the power to choose our own path. Zaheera puts it perfectly by saying, “Being healthy is the best scenario, but the tricky question is, how do I know that I’m healthy? Or even, healthy enough? Personally, I think balance is the key“.
At some point in our lives we are all influenced by our culture and our upbringing but we have the power of choice to determine what we want with our lives as well as our bodies. We all have the choice to conform or rebel, what matters is that we exercise our power of choice, I did. I have now lost more than 5kg since my last “weight loss” conversation with my family and I could not be happier. I feel healthier, stronger and more content. A step in culture’s scale should be merely a step towards figuring out the person you want to be, not a trap. Choose health, choose happiness, choose to be educated, choose life! We only get one body in this life, take care of it!!
Interviewees: Matthew Letting, Zaheera Rajab, Sisanda Langa, Ashley Hopping.