Picture: Skinny’s Fitness
Durban - I find it both hysterical and hypocritical and am sometimes forced to laugh.

I don’t even get a “hello” but instead, “You've gone so thin,” while I get the then necessary head to toe look-over.

I don’t even get a: “How are you?” but instead “Please share your secret.” 

Added to that I am inundated by inbox messages every day from women all over the country begging me to tell them how I lost the weight. 

Some even resort to giving me the entire run down of every diet they tried and failed but all tell me how miserable they are with the bodies they have and are desperate for my quick fix secret.

What secret? Would they handle the truth if I told them? I doubt it. 

What’s crazier still is how many years of my life I have actually dealt with the opposite response when people saw me. Again, before the “hello”, I was subjected to: “You have grown so fat. You have to do something about your weight. You are young but look like an old woman".

Growing up with the torture and bullying I endured from other pupils left me shattered to the point I gave up on pursuing so many talents because I was too fat.

I remember standing at the edge of the swimming pool, barely a teenager, ready to compete for my provincial colours when I heard the words: “She’s so fat, all the water will come out of the pool”.

Tears instantly welled up in my eyes and I walked away. I never swam again. Then there was the time I had a lead in a play at university and during rehearsals, one girl ran out crying telling the director she can’t be on stage with me. 

Her words: “I could never be as good as that fat pig.” I didn’t hear the “as good” part. What sunk in was the “fat pig” part and I refused to act again.

I preferred to stay in the background as a producer. The comments over the years are vivid. I wasn’t even safe at my own wedding. All I heard was: “See how fat she is. Lucky she comes from a rich family."

My point is, it ruined every ounce of colour I had in my soul because I chose to let it. 

It made me believe I was never good enough, could never measure up and had no right to shine in anything. And yet somehow now that I am thinner I am being given so much power and attention but nothing inside me changed.

I am still the same person I used to be, carrying the same old hurts, pains, and triumphs. 

It made me wonder how many more people are broken down every day because of the shape of their bodies. Recent statistics conducted by ID-Voice SA show that an alarming 95% of teenage girls, who are 15 and younger and 64% of teenage boys are victims of body shaming.

The result of the brutal body shaming is one of the greatest contributors to the alarmingly high suicide rates we have among teenagers. 

In a world that is so visual and run by social media and advertising, the pressure to have the ideal body is causing devastating damage to the self-image and esteem of not only our youth but also adults.

Just last year, Londoner Samantha Bell as well as 30-year-old South African, Jessica Everson, took on one of the world’s biggest retailers for incorrectly sizing garments. 

Bell compared the size of a garment in one store to the retailer and found a 14cm difference in size, while Everson, who is usually a size 36, only managed to fit into a size 42 garment in that same store.

Imagine the embarrassment and self-destruction it causes when you are made to believe you are much bigger than you are. I remember the days of shopping all too well.

I hated trying out clothes because I always ended up having to go to the end of the rail for the biggest sizes.

And the sales ladies were so quick to point out that you actually need a bigger size even when you were just browsing at the really nice stuff they had for the “ideal size” women.

Recently Anel Botha, the Skeem Saam actress, was taken to task on social media again for wearing a dress that apparently made her look fat. 

I thought she looked fabulous but the cruel comments astounded me. I was even more appalled when a former model in SA actually posted a picture of a 70-year-old woman at the gym with the caption: “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either,” clearly speaking about how out of shape and ugly the woman’s body was. She is 70! And in the gym.

The woman should be commended not broken down. In a turn of events, the perpetrator actually received 45 days jail time for body shaming. 

And who can forget the best initiative I ever thought conceivable when Dove did the worldwide campaign in which more than 10500 women and girls from more than 13 countries were interviewed.

A staggering 80% of them believed they had ugly bodies and even resorted to canceling plans, job interviews, and other engagements because of how ugly they felt their bodies were.

How in the world have we come to a place where we feel we have a right to break someone down because of the size of their body instead of building them up for what’s in their soul? Body shaming is inhumane. It’s unkind. It’s cruel and bottom line its abuse. It took me a long time to understand that what I was inside me was far greater than what my body looked like.

I realised I could shine regardless because ultimately showing love, kindness, empathy, and compassion is what really wins a heart and makes a spirit grow. You are so enough it’s unbelievable how enough you are and you can do all things, be all things, have all things because inside you there is strength, courage, resilience, and power beyond your wildest imagination.

Remember the Christina Aguilera song Beautiful? “I am beautiful no matter what they say. Words can’t bring me down. I am beautiful in every single way. Yes, words can’t bring me down Oh no. So don’t you bring me down today. No matter what we do. No matter what we say. We’re the song inside the tune. Full of beautiful mistakes. And everywhere we go, the sun will always shine.” You are a masterpiece. There is no one in the world like you, so you are treasure. You choose Life.

* Tash Hunsewraj Reddy is the founder of Widowed South Africa and Bavuke.com

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