Body Shaming: The Elephant in the City

Let us talk about the elephant in the city.  Why is body shaming an acceptable practice?  Why do we give these body shaming bullies an audience?  Why do we give them an ear and egg them on when they turn to their social media platforms to shame others?

I have had enough of these crude intimidators.  They imagine that bringing others down by making uncultured remarks about them or about parts of their bodies makes for good conversation. 

But the problem is not so much these repulsive beasts as it is you dear reader.  You who give them an ear.  You who laugh at their revolting observations.  You who agree with and contribute to their vile commentaries.  Instead of putting them down you fan their flame by giving them a ready audience.

This morning I was at a waiting room somewhere.  Where and why I was in a waiting room is not of great importance.  Anyway, a number of us were seated in this waiting room, of course, waiting for our turns.  There was a television set to help make our wait bearable.  It was tuned to the popular County News Channel, CNC.  We were all minding our own business, some of us watching the news when the news anchor introduced us to her guest, a female member of parliament.

They were discussing school feeding programs, their pros and cons and what role parliament was playing to ensure their sustainability.  They moved to a clip where the member of parliament was visiting a school and eating rice, beans and sukuma wiki with the children.  This was one of those feel good news items that did not depict the sadness, strife and viciousness that was this world.  I felt good watching the clip of the member of parliament eating with the children.

And then, a man seated behind me made a comment.

“With her big stomach, she will finish the food for the children.”

Someone giggled and then laughed.

More people joined in the laughter.

“There is no difference between her body shape and that of a rhino,” said the man.

More laughter.

“Since she got elected, her stomach has been growing more and more distended.  It’s like she is pregnant with the votes she received.”

More laughter.

“But she is doing a good job,” a timid voice ventured from the corner. 

“Yes, doing a good job eating taxpayers money,” said the man quickly putting the timid commenter down.  “She is so shapeless with that big belly of hers.  I’m sure her husband has a mpango wa kando.  I’m sure he can’t stand a loud mouthed political woman with an elephant figure.”

More laughter.

“If I was the husband, I would call the Kenya Wildlife Service to come and capture her and take her back to Nairobi National Park!”

Very loud laughter. 

“A little grazing and running in the park with bring her belly back to something we recognise as human,” the man said laughing.

I now turned fully around to look at this bully.  I expected to find a fit, if not skinny, individual but alas!  The brute I cast my eyes upon was the exact opposite.  Where do I commence describing him?  Let me just describe his belly since that was his point of contention with the member of parliament. 

Dear reader, his belly was massive! It was beyond something you can imagine in this life.  It was sagging all the way down to his knees such that you could not see his lap when he was seated.  It fell away at the sides as gravity pulled it downwards towards the floor.  I take it that he could not get a shirt large enough to cover his monstrosity of a belly as it lay visible at the sides where it hang towards the floor.  And as if that was not enough, it had taken on a life of its own.  It wiggled when he spoke and jiggled when he laughed. 

I felt sorry for him but I could not let him continue disrespecting a respectable member of society for failing to meet standards set by him which he himself fell far from meeting.

I took out my pocket mirror from my handbag and turned it on him. 

“What are you doing?” he asked incensed. 

I looked him straight in the eye and spoke to him loud enough for his cheerleaders to hear, “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?  Have you removed the log from your eyes?”

“What?” he asked, taken aback.

“I said, have you removed the log from your eyes?” I repeated.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. 

“You see if you had removed the log from even one of your eyes, you would have seen that your belly rivals that of the woman you are body shaming,” I explained.

“Mind your own business,” he said sulking.

Embarrassed looks from his former cheerleaders.

“I was minding my own business until you laid an unfounded and uncalled for attack on a respectable member of society,” I said.

“If she is respectable, why doesn’t she mind her own health?” he quipped.

“Why don’t you mind yours,” I retorted.  “Nobody has employed you to comment on other people’s figures.  You don’t hear us commenting on yours.  Or do you want me to start a commentary on you?”

Let me leave it at that dear reader, for the situation in that waiting room deteriorated after that and I had to beat a hasty retreat.

That incident reminded me of another when my daughter was about nine months old and I had taken her for her scheduled vaccines.  Other fathers and mothers sat in the Well Baby Clinic waiting area, bouncing their babies, comforting their babies, playing with their babies, feeding their babies. 

A woman with a particularly rotund and lively baby walked in and upon registering, sat down and proceeded to pop out her breast and feed her baby.  Very natural, you should think.  A normal scene in the waiting area of a Well Baby Clinic.  As soon as the baby latched on and started feeding hungrily, a lady sitting opposite her hissed and clicked her lips.  She then looked at the nursing mother and asked, “When was the last time you fed the baby?”

“Why, about an hour ago, before I left the house,” the nursing mother responded innocently. 

“Well, your baby looks obese and it is because you are feeding him too much.  Breast milk is full of fat and proteins that are making your baby obese and let me tell you that he will grow into an obese teen and into an obese adult.  He will never be able to shed off all that fat and protein from the breast milk.”

The nursing mother was shocked.  I was shocked.  Several others who heard these sentiments were shocked.

“What is wrong with you?” I asked the woman.

“If you want to kill me go ahead, but I speak my mind,” she told me.  “That baby is obese and will remain obese and ugly for the rest of his life if she continues feeding him that way.”

I was too stunned to speak. 

Turning back to the nursing mother, she said, “Feed your baby after three hours strictly and each feed should not last more than ten minutes.  Thank me later.”

I could not believe my ears!  The very paediatrician we were all there to see, the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation kept drumming it into our heads that “breastmilk was best,” that we should “exclusively breastfeed on demand for the first six months of baby’s life!”

I turned to the nursing mother, “How are your baby’s charts?”

“They are normal,” she said.  “Normal weight and normal growth.”

The baby body shamer just sneered and looked away, ignoring this information.  I looked at her and said, “It is not right for you to body shame a baby.  The baby cannot defend himself.  Further, you have in your statements, accused this poor mum of being a bad mother and yet she was merely doing the right thing.  You should not go misleading young mothers with your warped statements.  Experiment on your own kids, but leave other people’s children alone!”

Such are the minds of body shamers, that they shame even babies and the elderly.  They have no respect at all.

I was at a function for the opening of Hekima Old House.  It was an old people’s nursing home that had been built and equipped by the county government.  I was slightly late for the ceremony and ended up sitting at the back near a group of youths.  Some of the old women who were the pioneer occupants of the home had a poem for the Governor.  As they shuffled forward to recite their verse, the young man seated next to me said, in a voice loud enough for half the audience to hear, “Saggy boobs!”

I got angry at him and without thinking, I pulled him by the ear (it was physical assault I know, but I could not contain my anger) and said, “Respect these women.  They are your grandmothers.  They gave up their perky boobs to nurse your mothers who in turn gave up their perky boobs to nurse your girlfriend who will in turn give up her perky boobs to nurse your kids.  Shut up and thank them for their selflessness!”

The youth walked away, rubbing his ear.

Social media has made body shaming reach fever pitch in this city.  The bullies are now able to hide behind social media handles and spew their vitriol on society.  They need to be stopped before they lead us to accept body shaming as a normal part of our social lives. 

Just this afternoon, a photograph of a popular Kenyan philanthropist was doing the rounds on social media.  She was captured while holding a microphone and addressing a group of young women.  The bone of contention?  Her hands were darker than her face.  Of course, the body shamers did not withhold their comments. 

“Such an old woman bleaching,” they said.  “Who does she want to attract with light skin and yet she has grandchildren.  She will get skin cancer and die.  Ugly woman! Stupid woman!”

This is what our society has descended to.

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Author: Didi Wamukoya

14 thoughts on “Body Shaming: The Elephant in the City

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  4. I was chubby as a kid and was body shamed a lot by fellow students. Then I started playing sports in high school and I became really skinny. I also grew very tall. I am usually body shamed for being very tall and skinny.

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