On being a ‘chubster’ – meditations on beauty and bodies

by Shehnaz


A few weeks ago I bumped into an acquaintance of my mum’s at the mall.  She knew of my current illness and inquired after my health, she then gave me a once over and asked, “Are they not giving you anything for the swelling?”

That evening we had dinner with (my husband) family and my two year-old niece, commented on the portion of lasagna I had served myself.  She cleverly remarked “That’s a big slice Shennie-mum”.  I had to laugh: was a two year-old really trying to comment on my weight gain or was she just saying that the portion on my plate was big…

Either way my weight was now the source of many comments and conversations, some funny and some crude. Since my treatment began last November I have steadily been gaining weight as a result of the steroid pills, prednisone. Many people who take prednisone for an extended period of time have horrible side effects, in that sense I have been very lucky that the most obvious side effect of the medication has been a moon-face and a ballooning belly!  For the most part it has been okay. My wardrobe however has been severely altered and is now limited to items with elastic and my husband’s T-shirts and jackets.  On the days that I felt a bit low and uncomfortable from carrying the extra weight I was reminded by my mother that it is better to have my health, and that being true I then pucker up and carry on.

Recently, though, two family events happened and I felt terribly awkward and unattractive, a feeling I last experienced as a teenager at school socials.  It then got me thinking about ideas of beauty and how it relates to be being thin. The notion of thin being beautiful is a deep seated one and probably common amongst all media affected young women.

I have a small frame and have never really struggled with weight – but don’t get me wrong, like every other women touched by Barbie I want a flat tummy, voluptuous breasts and strong calves, in fact getting bigger calves was a key goal of mine as a teen. I must also admit that I spent a fair amount of time Googling tummy or ab exercises as now advertisements on “how you can a six pack” or “how to get rid of your tummy fat” appear on my Gmail.

Other than the obsession with the roll of fat on my belly I have pretty much settled into the way I look and been okay with it. The constant comments on my weight in recent months have unsettled me. I grew up in a small town that was by apartheid design had predominantly “Indian” population. I still don’t know why, but Indians are very concerned with light skin. The lighter skinned you are the more beautiful you are.  Then one day we attended a wedding where the green eyed, light skinned bride sat on the stage, but here’s the thing she wasn’t very pretty. She had mis-matched features and a hunched back, that was when 12 year old me decided that the dominant sentiment was wrong. For many adolescents weight is probably the biggest concern in the attempt to being magazine beautiful. For me it was light skin.

One of the greatest challenges I have faced these past few months is that despite exercising daily I am getting bigger. I have to exercise to ward off the side effects of prednisone, which is weakened bone density. It occurred to me that other than Zumba (which I love) I have probably always joined a gym or participated in some form of exercise motivated by being thin rather than health was a by product, when in fact it should be the other way around.

I am disappointed in myself that I have allowed comments on my weight to make me feel low and unattractive. I am the same person and in fact getting through the sarcoidosis saga, also a little bit braver than I was at the beginning of last year.

As always I realize how I am constantly developing and how when you think you dealt with something – something’s happens which reminds you that you are still on the journey.

Miss Representation put together a good video – check it out.

The reason I felt I needed to write about this was that as a 30 year-old (pretty) confident woman I was made to feel bad by comments – just imagine what happens to a teenage girl who is yet to define who she is and find her place in the world. Just something to think about and perhaps to try and create a space both in the media and more importantly in our minds that girls and women come in all shapes and sizes and that thin does not mean beautiful.  I think this is important for women to do but equally important for men!

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