While flicking through a college friend’s photo, I came across this beautiful photograph of her, taken at a friend’s birthday party. It was one of her best photos, and there she was, screaming, pointing to her midsection.
“I can’t believe I am growing tyres!” I tried to find the so-called tyres, straining my eyes to find major faults on her body, all in vain, and was perplexed.
After all my troubles, she zeroed in on a small rim of unflattering protruding flesh around her waist, almost unrecognizable and went ahead to fret over it for the rest of the day, as if her world was going to crush because of that small piece of flesh.
Some people prefer to call the layer of fat that is deposited around a person’s midsection “love handles”, because apparently, they provide a soft place to rest one’s hand while one’s arm is around a person, lover or friend, or perhaps because they can serve as places to hold onto, while in the deep throes of passion.
Others, like my friend Pesh, call them tyres, because they are like a tyre rims worn around a person’s waist. Call them whatever you like, a lot of people find them very uncomfortable and quite embarrassing.
Maureen, a beautiful twenty-something lady, resident in Kigali has only one problem with her body image.
“I hate my stomach and am ready to do anything to get rid of it.”
Maureen looks more beautiful than the average woman; it is difficult to understand her obsession with her body. But it is the quietly protruding belly that you would never notice under sensible clothes which is to blame.
On the street, you would need a magnifying glass to find out her troubles. Nevertheless, she behaves as if her so-called belly is like a huge scar on her face, there for all and sundry to spite.
Maureen is not alone. Aisha has the typical heavy set of a beautiful African woman, ample chest, heavy backside, and shapely hips, generally waspwaisted – an African man’s dream woman.
On first meeting Aisha a few months back, she explained that she is a troubled woman. For lunch, she told me she takes a glass of hot water or two, because she believes it will help her cut the uncomfortable weight but she says it has not helped.
A few months later, we meet again. She has left her highly stressful job in a busy moving goods company, and her body has suddenly trimmed down without any coercion, miraculously. She blames the weight on the stress of her previous job.
You then begin to wonder, isn’t stress supposed to thin you down? Surprise! For some people, it puts on the kilogrammes.
Maureen, Aisha and Pesh are a few of the many women who closely associate their body weight with their body image.
According to Greenfox, a women fitness and weight loss retreat, being somewhat dissatisfied with your body is normal. But millions of women today take body dissatisfaction to the extreme.
They dislike their bodies so much; it gets in the way of leading happy, productive lives. It may also get in the way of successful weight management.
Is big not beautiful?
The media plays a role in making women uncomfortable about their body image. They thrust magazines full of thin models, adverts showing beauty as slender and tall, so that women aspire to starve themselves into thinness, forcing themselves to take on unnatural hip sizes, breast sizes, all in the name of beauty.
It does not help that all the Miss Rwanda’s and the Miss Worlds are pencil thin. It reinforces the idea in many people’s mind that beauty is being thin. It does not stop there. Some young women are uncomfortable because their lovers do not want any flesh hanging of their partners’ waists, and other places.
“ He thinks I am too round and all the time he suggests that I am not like the way I used to be when we had just began dating,” Sheila, who met his current longtime boyfriend while still a student at the National University of Rwanda, laments.
“I know I have put on some weight,” she continues. “I work long hours, so I have to depend on snacks, pizzas, chips, cakes for my meals mostly.” She is worried that he will run off to some thin girl, as he tries to rediscover the Sheila he met at university.
Michael, a Kenyan expatriate in Rwanda, says that as much as Rwandese women are naturally more beautiful than their mates in Kenya, in Rwanda, people are a little bit lax with their waist lines.
“It is like a disease,” he confides. “A lot of women seem to just not mind those love handles.”
Keiara Tenant, an African-American woman says, beauty isn’t necessarily being able to fit in size-two jeans and having a flawless skin.
Marika Sboros, a journalist, complained that the Miss South Africa beauty pageant in 2005, “cuts out the majority of this country’s sexy women who have what are called ‘African trademarks’ - big breasts, bums, and lips.”
According to a New York Times article, the fact that widespread negative body image co-exists with the growing weight problem is “no accident.”
The ‘’narrow aesthetic that is promoted in popular culture leads women into a vicious cycle of overeating.’’
They think they should deny themselves food, and then they eat more than they want, and then they feel terrible so they eat too much again, and they don’t know how to solve that problem, so they eat more.
That is exactly how Maureen, who tried to go on a diet to reduce the size of her supposedly protruding belly, found out.
“I miss bread so much and I don’t know how long I will manage to keep away from it,” says in an interview early this week.
The truth of the matter is that we gain weight because we are taking in more calories than we can utilise, and hence the excess is stored as fat.
Most restaurants in Kigali cannot serve a meal without offering you mayonnaise and potato chips, macaroni and the likes.
We love food that tastes nice, and we think that this is the reward for working hard, quite unaware that food that appeals to the eye or features in the ads is not necessarily the healthiest food.
To make the situation worse, exercise is usually not a priority, so the chance to burn some extra fat, jogging or walking a mile a day, disappears along the way.
And beware: A research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says that you might be able to blame it on your best friend, too. Researchers found that people were 57 per cent more likely to become obese if a friend does first.
That number shoots up to 171 per cent if a close friend gains the pounds - and that seems to apply even if the friends are hundreds of miles apart. Obesity, it appears, spreads from person to person like a disease.
A balancing act
Not only in Rwanda, do women hate to be fat. A Connecticut medical writer is worried about her weight problems.
“I tend to blame all of my problems on my weight. I can’t do activities like I used to because I’m fat. I don’t socialise because I’m fat. I think everything that’s wrong with me is because I’m fat.”
She goes on to ask herself, “Would I truly be completely happy if I was thin? Would all of my problems miraculously vanish as I approach my ideal weight?” Perhaps, this is the question people should be asking themselves.
Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, the director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, says “It’s very hard to find a woman who really likes her body. Even if she likes the shape, she will not like her toes, her knees, her elbows or her ankles. There’s always something wrong,” She continues.
He says women must ‘’uncouple their body esteem from their basic self-esteem,’’ and realise how destructive these unrealistic ideals can be.
While you sit there, worrying about the size of your waist, or the reading on the weighing scale, you should be careful to know that you are not necessarily embarrassed of your weight because Miss Rwanda 2008’s body is petite and tight, but because, if you let your weight to overflow, it is your health and your future lying on the line.