I was about 13 or 14 years old in sewing class in JSS 2 when Ms. Rockson gave a lesson on body types and how to dress them appropriately. I was called to the front of the class along with other students for her presentation. I got tagged with the “ideal” body type. Not so fat, not too slim, just right. That description of my body filled me with so much pride because it gave me the sense of my efforts paying off.
You see, when you have been called obolo or told you’re as round as a ball of kenkey fairly often by your family members with 2 slim older siblings and cousins who were all very slim too, it makes you feel there is something wrong with your body. Never mind the fact that you were not obese or even close to it but the fact that as a baby and toddler you were heavy made those names stick. Feeding the unhealthy perception of your body and an obsession to be as skinny as possible.
When I lived with my family in Accra, those comments about my body were far and in between, so I was not that concerned. Not until I moved to Takoradi to stay with my extended family and then they begun to sting. I was also on the cusp of adolescence with a few unwarranted advances coming my way which I absolutely hated but for some reason gave me the endorsement I needed that I looked good and had to stay that way. I started looking up how much my favourite celebs weighed and what their measurements were so I could keep up. This was about when I was 11 years old.
That obsession with being as slim as the celebs with the perfect weight got me to reducing my portions and eventually having a bottle of malt or Fanta cocktail with a slice of sugar bread as my meal for the day on weekends. At school, I resorted to only having bananas and groundnut and occasionally when I could not ignore the hunger pangs, I would get a couple of fried sausages and ice cream. That was all before my school introduced the school feeding program which meant eating at school means no food or when forced, very little food after school.
I didn’t weigh myself during those years so I couldn’t really tell whether or not I was in track but I felt fat and I hated myself so much that I would not participate during PE because I thought I would jiggle so much and my classmates would make fun of me. This weird relationship with food went on until my graduation from JSS where my aunt took my measurements for my grad kaba and slit and commented on how lean I’d gotten compared to my previous measurements. I remember weighing myself then and I was 55kg/121lbs. Seeing those numbers felt like a mama I made it moment. But I still had the small voice in my head telling me I was still fat.
On I went to the boarding school, a co-ed high school. Which meant more boys. The first year was kinda ok. Dining hall food was terrible and I did not have the most provisions wise so I knew I was not going to gain weight (something my aunt had warned me of before leaving Takoradi for school). Then during the holidays before second year, I found out my boyfriend at the time was cheating and I had been diagnosed with PCOs. I vowed to make myself as unattractive as possible to the boys at school (not like they had been paying attention to me before anyway but yh). I started eating everything and anything. Felt like I had been starved for years and I was finally getting the chance to feed myself. I would have a bowl of cornflakes or wheetabix or cerevita before morning dining where I would go ham on whatever porridge they served stuff myself with bread – especially on days we got freshly baked bread from the pantry. The dining hall prefect was in my dorm and sometimes asked me to come to her table when dining was over and I would take more food from her table and wolf down. Same with afternoon dining then after school, I would go to Aunty Oko after siesta and eat two bowls of jollof with egg and sausage and salad and spaghetti and I’d still be ravenous so I’d go to evening dining with a bowl to smuggle food out after eating there to have either before prep begun or after prep in the dorm with my school mother’s protection as she was the house prefect.
My mum returned during second year to have her wedding in Ghana and she was surprised at how fat I was. Everyone suddenly couldn’t stop about talking about my weight. Instead of being happy for achieving my goal of getting fat so guys did not approach, I now felt disgusted at myself. I cringe now when I look at photos of myself at the wedding.
ByThat was my heaviest at 83kg/183lbs. I was on medication for PCOs and the gynaecologist had mentioned the pills could make me fat. So then I blamed my weight gain on the pill and stopped taking them and went back to my starvation diet.
In third year I lost some weight and dropped to 65kg/143lbs. But if I had had the wrong image of myself even when I was “ideal”, hitting 83kg ensured I would forever hate myself. My weight since third year of high school has been between 60kg-67kg depending on how much exercise I put in. I have tried to maintain a healthy relationship with food and not overthink what goes in but all those years of willingly denying myself of food makes it hard sometimes and it is easy to fall back into that routine.
Each time I look in the mirror naked, my first thought is about how much fat I have in my stomach and how gigantic my thighs are. I try to exert confidence during sex but I shrink inside, wishing I was smaller and sexier. I don’t get to enjoy the moment because I keep thinking to myself, “hold in your stomach, don’t let it jiggle”. My thighs get raised and my cheeks burn with embarrassment because, “omg they are probably so heavy”.
I know BMI is a shitty measurement but I have a normal measurement and I keep telling myself to not worry so much about my weight but hey, body dysmorphia is a bitch. I wholeheartedly want to be happy in my skin. I don’t want to pick at it and complain all the time in my head about how perfect I could be. But no matter what I do, I still crave the “ideal” body I once had – even though I did not appreciate that then.
I have years of unlearning ahead of me as well as years to love on myself. I really hope I get there someday even if it’s later than sooner. But truth is, once you have a fucked up idea of your body it never goes away. You’ll self destruct and almost heal then destruct again.