I have always felt a little out of place in the world. A little odd. A few steps behind everyone else. A little left out on the world’s greatest secret. A little less clued-in on the world’s funniest joke. My laughter has always been a little louder than most. My voice a little deeper and my smile a little wider and perhaps weirder. Physically, a little bigger. A little taller. A little chubbier. So much so that it became my nickname at home…among my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. “Mkubwa”. It’s Swahili for “big”. And that was me. Big.
That is what people saw when they looked at me. A big girl. You see, in my culture, it is tradition for children to be named after their grandparents. The first born son after his paternal grandfather, and the first girl after her paternal grandmother. If you are blessed with a second son, then he would be named after his maternal grandfather, and a second daughter after her maternal grandmother.
And so it happened that I was my father’s first-born daughter. In keeping with tradition, I was named after his mother. My father’s siblings also had daughters, and they too, were named after my grandmother. Which meant we shared a name. I share both my first and middle name with one cousin.
As you can imagine, family gatherings were confusing to say the least. You’d call out our common name and you’d have four girls answer back. So they devised a mechanism to distinguish us. By size. And of course, being the eldest and the biggest, I was very aptly named “Mkubwa”. Boy oh boy did I hate it. It not only made me very conscious of my size, but it also made me feel like the outsider. Like a giant among little Tyrion Lannisters. Or like Shaquille O’Neal next to Kevin Hart.
Now Shaq may find humor in the size difference, but I never did. Every one else was cute and tiny and I was this…large child. Not exactly the perfect set-up for soaring self-esteem.
But I smiled through the many years of being identified by my size, and I pretended to be perfectly okay with it. I suffered through the family gatherings where every one else seemed to fit in effortlessly, but I struggled with something as basic as my “family” name.
I think we underestimate the power of words. Words, no matter how well-intentioned, have the power to build or tear down. They have the power to create and destroy. And years and years of hearing words like “fatty” or “chubby” or “big-boned” take their toll on a person. Looking back, I wasn’t that big. I was just bigger than my brother and bigger than my cousins. Who in all fairness, were all pretty tiny. But all I knew is that I was bigger. I was odd. I was different. Therefore I was less. And I grew up trying to shrink myself in the hope that I would one day fit in.
But I never did. And I never will.
Eventually, when I was in my early twenties, I asked my family to stop referring to me as “Mkubwa”…and explained that I find it very upsetting, and they stopped. But it was too late. The damage was done. I was extremely self-conscious. I had entered the very fearsome world of adolescence with a bruised ego and a very damaged sense of self-worth…and emerged into adulthood as a fully functioning broken woman-child. And perhaps that is the explanation for some of the greatest mistakes of my life. But that is speculative and is definitely a story for another day.
I have always feared attention…thinking that if people looked too closely, they would see just how hard I work at perfecting my calm exterior…how hard I work to keep up the semblance of an orderly life. It’s not easy. Smiling like everything is okay. When nothing is okay…nothing has been okay in years. As if the battles my imagination and sub-conscious waged on my waking mind were not enough, I had to fend off people’s careless and ill-thought out remarks.
A small remark about how “…your arm is three times the size of mine.” A laugh. Or how “…one thigh of yours is like both of mine.” A little more laughter and a high five between two of your closest friends. Or how “…your chin looks like its doing a jig every time you talk.” Or the occasional “…goodness, why does your back have folds?? Are those…love-handles? Ew.” Or “…you really should eat less.” And my all time favorite “What? You’re 25? No way! You look 35. Are you sure you don’t have any kids? You look so much older than you are.”
You know. Classy statements like those. Some are more subtle and it happens in the most innocent of ways (or so it seems). A sideways look. A little snigger here and there. At times their comments even go unnoticed by my overly sensitive mind. But in those quiet moments, I get to thinking, “So and so’s comment about my body…what did that mean? Was there a hidden meaning to it? Were they trying to be back-handed? Or was it a genuine compliment?”
So yeah, life’s not always been easy. And people do not make it any easier. But I have perfected the art of faking happiness. I keep up appearances like a boss. Perhaps better than most. I am the most chipper person you will ever meet. All smiles and laughter. Compliments and good thoughts.
I actively avoid parties and social gatherings. Because I hate looking and feeling bigger than everyone else in the photos. I nit-pick at my arms. My waist. My thighs. My face. Everything is fair game in this mental game of “Point out the fat”. And I have hidden behind the phrase “I’m a loner/introvert” for so many years, I actually began to believe it. Because being alone and sad is easier and less hurtful than trying to fit your square peg into every one else’s round hole of a life.
It’s not like the words are unmerited. I am not small. I make no excuses for that. My eating habits are appalling and I never quite stick to my healthy diet plans or exercise routines (sorry Shaun T). But it doesn’t make the words any less hurtful or easier to hear. Like I said. Tears and destroys.
But that is all about to change. I have been a victim for waaaay too long. And I have been a prisoner to other people’s opinions for far too long. Eleanor Roosevelt said that “…no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And I have consented to other people’s ill-treatment of me for far too long. I have let those words imprison me in a big body for far too many years because being big is familiar, it’s all I have ever known after all. But no more.
I started this blog to journal my weight loss journey. And as they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. So here goes…goodbye self-pity and excuses.
I start this journey at 89 kilograms or roughly 196 pounds. I’m about 5ft 3 inches tall (Yes…I know. Most people around me are appallingly short.) so at that weight and height, I basically look like this ↓↓
When all I want to do is look like this ↓↓
Black. Fierce. Absolutely sexy. And healed. Healthy. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally.
Wish me luck.