Potbellies have always been considered a symbol of prosperity, prestige and wealth; that is of course, as far as African societies are concerned. When people see a man with a potbelly, he strikes them as a symbol of success and wealth. A potbelly will get you a front sit in church or at wedding. It will get you favours at the Mudugudu meetings: If you stand up to speak everyone will listen attentively.
I remember a relative who was married for three years but was always picked on by his friends because he did not have a potbelly. “Your wife doesn’t feed you well, that is why you are so skinny,” they chided him. This is how African societies cherished the potbelly back then but times have changed.
“People no longer understand what it meant to have a potbelly back in the day. Before we had all this “keeping in shape thing” and exercising, a man would move around proudly with a potbelly because it was a sign that he was feeding well and his wife was taking good care of him. Nowadays, everything is about having a six-pack and being slim,” says elderly Canisius Kadugara who lives in Remera.
An old colleague was always asked why he had a protruding belly and his constant answer was; “I feed well. Do you know how much I spend to take care of my belly. If I lent it to you for just one day, you would die of hunger because it’s very expensive to maintain?
But as much as men are proud of their pot bellies, women are supposedly supposed to keep in shape as an obligation.
“Everywhere I turn, I hear people, radio station presenters (including women) and see newspaper articles with statements like ‘ladies don’t let go of yourself, keep looking good and in shape for your man’. Why do I have to struggle to keep in shape, look forever young and remain attractive till death yet my dear husband is rubbing his protruding belly ?” asks Olivia Gasana.
Potbellies were common in traditional Africa. Some men showed off their potbellies to which everyone would acknowledge that they well successful.
However some women are not bothered by a potbelly. “I feel proud when my husband’s belly resembles mine at eight months of pregnancy. To me it shows that my husband is well-fed and comfortable. If the question is about beauty; well, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and I don’t think I’m going to lose sleep because my husband has a potbelly,” says Sophie Gatare, a mother of four.
Gerard Gakiza thinks otherwise, “A lot of this potbelly issue has a lot to do with lack of exercise. Men tend to give up on certain things once they get married, like staying in shape. Conversely, this is a two-way street. While men deal with potbellies, women deal with stretch marks, and weight gain after giving birth. It should not be a blame game.”