I’ve been wanting to write about fat for a while since I hit 200. You see I weighed about 110/120lbs until about when I turned 36. I remember celebrating that I finally hit 136lbs and couldn’t get enough of staring at myself in the mirror and seeing all the places I had rounded out in, especially those bony hips. I had a long way to go with the collarbones but hey! progress was progress. I finally felt like I was on my way to being a real maame, full of curves, just like the other women I was surrounded by.
All my life I had prayed for boobs and hips. Like innocent Catholic girl Novena prayers. Let’s just say it was not in the cards. On the other hand, I had calves to rival most women and the adults in my compound were always saying how I inherited those from my mother. But the rest of my body would not catch up no matter how much food I ate and how many rosaries I prayed.
In school I was bullied a lot and called names. Skin and teeth. Bag of bones. My wrist and my forearm were roughly about the same circumference, I had buck teeth and was double jointed. I desperately needed braces but we either didn’t have the money or my grandmother really believed I had a beautiful smile. Boys would knock in my knees whenever I was standing someplace relaxed and my legs were bowed out. Of course I would stumble and then be extra conscious of how I stood for the rest of the day until I fell into that natural stance again. I was even called piranha, which I didn’t know were fish until years after when I decided to google it. I was so mad but I was ten years too late to defend myself. My only defense in school was that my grandmother was a teacher and later principal so I would often report them and then of course get teased more. Sometimes I would tell on them for chewing gum or kissing a girl behind the carpentry shop when they thought no one was looking. It gave me pleasure to no end when they were given corporal punishment, especially for the most egregious offenses. In a way I was invisible and hypervisible at the same time. I was also teased for being dark skinned with white teeth. Flashlight. Koo-darkie. In any case you get the picture. I was bullied for my weight. The problem is that it came from my peers as well as adults who thought I wasn’t well fed. Some even thought my skin tones would lighten up if I was being fed well. Grandmother always had words for these ignoramuses as she called them. I ate the most amount of food of everyone in the family. I drank tres-orix and vitamin B-complex and other appetite enhancers and still, to my chagrin, I was still skinny.
Fast forward to 1996, first year of college. PWI with a minority population of less than 5%, most of whom were international, mind you. People were in awe of my skin color and how slender I was. Note: slender not skinny. I was asked all sorts of questions I had no answers to because they had never crossed my mind. How do you keep your figure? What is your skin regimen? They would laugh away my pain when I said I desperately wanted to gain weight. Why? was everyone’s question. People would kill to look like you. Exactly, nail on the head, BINGO! We had all been conditioned by our culture which regulates women’s bodies to no end. In one culture, I didn’t fit because I lacked the curves and was too angular. Here in this new culture my body was being worshipped for the very things I had been taught to despise. I’d like to say I adjusted to the U.S. culture’s worship of my body, but my Ghanaian one was so deeply ingrained, I spent time eating everything in sight especially fast food.
I returned to Ghana in parts of 2011 through 2013 and that’s when I gained some of the coveted pounds. On my 36th birthday in February 2013, I weighed a whopping 136lbs. It was like I’d been given that blessing finally. I couldn’t get enough of twisting and turning in the mirror trying to create back fat. As you probably know 136 isn’t yet fatty enough to create rolls. You couldn’t tell me nothin! I was on my way to being a proper woman and Americans be damned. This was what life was really about. You are probably smiling or chuckling at this point.
I returned to the U.S. and moved to the New England region and realized that being trim was an asset. Finally, I wanted to stay at the 136 and not gain any more. In my return to the U.S. I had all but denounced my birth country for some atrocious events that occurred in my tour there. I decided I was never going back. This was my home now and I was going to abide by these rules so I could fit in. That’s when I learned what fat-shaming was and just how conditioned we had been to have that perfect European body.
Two years into my New England stint I was hospitalized and the new drugs they put me on ballooned me 30lbs in a few months. Because the nature of my job was not conducive to my mental health, I was put on leave and needed to find a day job. The depression and anxiety that accompanied needing to leave a stable position and move in with someone led to more ballooning. At this point I was at about 176. Two more years of working my own business, ending a toxic relationship, suffering a fall and new bipolar medication, I weighed in at 187.
I am telling this story because it’s been bugging me. I have been controlled by the scale since I was ten but for the very opposite reason until now. Last week I went to the spine clinic because I have a current flare-up of an old injury and I weighed in at 216 and change. I panicked. Now I’m really at the point of obesity because my BMI is like 34 and folks want to know what I am doing for exercise and how somehow this back pain could be due to excessive weight gain. I am cutting down on my bipolar medication and hoping that will reverse the weight gain. Not only do I have the Pandemic 15, I have somehow creeped up slowly over the last three years since living in Central New York.
Why am I panicking? Because now I don’t want to be fat. I am attracting attention for the opposite reason than before. I am being fat-shamed with people exclaiming in shock and asking me to lose weight. Granted most of it is from people in Ghana who I now know I can’t trust to give me a fair assessment. It’s like I wanted to become a curvy woman and then I was, and then I went past that and now I need to return to that ideal weight. Which is what exactly? I hate the BMI and yet I can’t escape it , or the fact that every doctor is trying to link whatever my problem is to being overweight.
When I started writing this piece I was in extreme angst and mostly I still am but as someone who suffers from bipolar disorder and goes through periods of not eating, I am simply thankful to be eating and trying not to focus so hard on what it is I am eating. A part of me is very worried and wants to lose some of it, but mind you, not all of it. Just enough to fit all my clothes from two years ago. Or perhaps more realistically, enough not have to do another wardrobe overhaul this summer. I am trying to get to see a nutritionist who can help me at the very least balance my diet out especially given my mood changes, but I now know just a tiny bit of what my more solid-framed sisters go through.
Sisters, where do you draw the line? Is it the number on the scale? Is it fitting your clothes? Is it being fat-shamed? Is it being more well. What is that inner reason for which you draw a line and work towards maintaining that line? Shouldn’t the BMI account for demographics and such? My line for now is my clothing. Fall of 19 I did a complete wardrobe overhaul and spent a pretty penny. I have slowly inched close to out of those clothes. For me right now, it’s about not spending more money. But I am also someone who signs up for gym memberships and never shows up so there is that!
Whatever your driving force to lose, to gain, or to maintain, I think what we need to eschew is how we let society control us and how we feel about ourselves. But my dear friends that is easier said than done.
A luta continua friends!