Rhoda Musiima has that larger than life personality. She speaks with the passion and joy of someone who has successfully battled and conquered their demons. Just a few decades ago, being overweight was prestigious because it meant the person had money to buy food and was eating well.
Everyone aimed at becoming big because it was a status symbol. Now, with the influx of foreign culture thanks to new technology, being plus sized is considered unfashionable. Social media is awash with gym photos and healthy meals. The new status symbol is being slimand fit.
Musiima did not experience negativity on her physical appearance until she gained weight.
“My body started changing during my Senior Six vacation. At first I thought it was because I was eating a lot of food, so I reduced the amount of food intake. Then I thought it was because I was not exercising, so I started to exercise. To my shock, my body only continued to grow bigger,” she recalls.
The fact that everything she tried out did not work as she had expected troubled her more.
Cruelty from the world
By late 2013, Musiima’s long vacation had come to an end. It was time for her to join university. However, she was very much aware of the kinds of changes she had experienced. This even made her feel more insecure about who she had turned out to be since she had come to learn that her friends had quite a different outlook. Most of her friends, she says, had gone for the Miss Uganda beauty pageant and even worked with modelling agencies.
Being with her slim friends made her feel overweight and self-conscious. Things were made worse by the public that bullied and insulted her wherever she went.
“Often times we would go out for lunch and I would feel guilty ordering for junk food. I felt everyone in the restaurant was looking at me waiting for me to order a salad. I remember a time we were going out for lunch and one of those weird men saw us enter a restaurant and he said oyo tebamuwa meera ndaaba munene meaning Do not give that one food, she’s already fat. Statements like these started to drill and crack my self-esteem,” she relates.
How she overcame
In order for her to overcome her negative self-image Musiima says she decided to become proactive in the search of lasting solution.
“Battling any insecurity is never a one day thing; dealing with insecurities is not a disease that can be cured by swallowing pills thrice a day. It is a journey, one that has got a lot of bumps and victories to it. I had to embark on this journey if I wanted to be a normal person. Different insecurities need different antidotes or solutions, for my lack of self-esteem and confidence, I needed self-love and self-confidence,” she says.
“I shut the rest of the world out and focused on myself. This helped me find reasons or things about me I am grateful for. These moments of gratitude are very important in one’s self-love journey. Drawing lessons from situations helped me eliminate repetition of my mistakes in the long run, I reduced on the sad moments in my life, hence giving more time to do things that I love,” she adds.
According to Musiima, the easiest people to seek support from are usually family members and friends during our low moments.
However, she decided not to open up about what she was going through to her friends and family. Although she never told them, she says she noticed that they actually knew what she was going through.
“My family and friends have always known me as a chubby person who loves pop culture, fashion and inspiration. I never opened up about my insecurities because I felt no one could understand. Struggling with an insecurity is very difficult mainly because its intangible, people cannot see that you are a dying on the inside. Each one tried to support my effort in their own ways, which helped me heal quickly,” she says.
Why do people body shame others?
Academic studies of media and its effects on body image indicate we live in an image-heavy society online and in person (advertisements in magazines, newspapers, billboards, shopping windows, etc.) Because of this, technology has made a focus on appearance stronger than ever.
Because our culture loves thin, whether it be in print, movies, music videos, etc., seeing something different is not considered fashionable.
While obesity does bring its own health risks to an individual, in some ways body shaming can be just as detrimental to a person’s health, especially among impressionable teens and adolescents who struggle with self-esteem and confidence.
Combat body shaming
Body image issues often start in childhood so it is imperative that parents, focus on building a child’s self worth rather than focusing on the physical.
Encourage a healthy lifestyle for your children, but do not put the primary focus on weight and outer beauty.
In addition, monitor your child’s social media usage and accounts. Step in when bullying and body-shaming is taking place.
Do not allow your own children to be the bully.
Encourage teens to look up to realistic and inspiring every-day heroes.
Model empathy and encourage empathy in your children. There are many reasons people struggle with their weight.
Many of which are health related and can be a constant battle for the individual.
It is important not to shame people, especially if they have little control over it.
BODY SHAMING IS DANGEROUS
While bullying and negative portrayals of overweight people are often overlooked or implicitly condoned on the grounds that ‘it might help them to lose weight’, you probably need only look back to your school days for examples of bullying crushing confidence and isolating people.
An analysis by the Centre for Advancing Health indicated that high school students who believed themselves to be overweight were much more likely than their classmates to suffer from depression or to attempt suicide. It is clear that pressure to conform to some notion of desirability is present from a young age and to not fit into that can cause serious mental health problems.