Weight and African Body Image

If you know me, you know that I don’t talk about weight to much, but it does deserve a blog post as it is something unique from American culture.

Here in SA, being thin as a woman is not a good thing. Women here my age and older are nearly all quite stout, especially in their bums. African women have wider hips (usually) than Caucasian women, and a lot of their body fat is stored in their bums. This can be awkward when you are stuck in between 3 grown women in the back of a compact car, but that’s life here.

Anyways, since coming here, I have been told by more than one person that I need to fatten up. At first I was offended, as I don’t wish to gain weight here, nor do I think I look thin enough to need to gain weight. But after living here awhile, I am beginning to understand.

From my age on, SA women only seem to gain weight. You really don’t see a slender SA woman, unless she is a koko (grandma). This is not viewed as bad in this society-rather it is seen as ideal. As a thin American woman, the assumption is that I need to eat more and gain more weight, presumably so I can get a man and be fertile enough to have babies. Oh boy.

I still had trouble understanding why being overweight was universally seen as a good thing for women, until I moved to my village and began to see life and poverty on a whole new level. I believe that SA women want to be on the larger side because it proves that they have enough money to feed themselves well. I also think it proves that they are not sickly, or having HIV/AIDS or TB. These diseases have drastically impacted SA, and lead to emaciation. I’m not sure if these assessments are spot on, but I do think they have something to do with why several people think I need to gain weight.

That being said, nearly all women PCVs who serve in SA gain weight, and a lot of it. But considering I have a 5km walk one way to one of my schools, I think it is less likely for me. But I swear! I eat, and I can cook, contrary to what many SA women think.

My teachers keep feeding me sweets, pop, and extra servings of food. Their personal mission is to see me weigh enough to be a proper SA woman.

It is nice to see all shapes and sizes on TV and whatnot, and have women be confident in how they look though.



About Jen Lamos

Christ follower. Writer. Permaculturist. RPCV. Photographer. Gardener. Keeper of Chickens. Daughter of God.

4 thoughts on “Weight and African Body Image

  1. My grandpa once had a nurse’s aid from Nigeria and she told me that I would be VERY popular with the guys because I am “larger”. I was quite offended when she first said that to me but she explained that it meant that I was wealthier and a “good catch”. So I guess if I can’t find anyone here I will come stay with you. 😀

  2. Hey Jen, interesting post. I have thot a lot bout this topic as well being here and more specifically being a woman of color and having wider hips and a bigger butt! Haha but I find it goes both ways. In a more traditional/cultural sense many woman do think being larger is better and they try to make u eat. But also with the Western world becoming a bigger influence on the youth of SA, ideas r changing. I have actually had a few Ppl call me fat! Lol I wasn’t offended or anything cuz I’ve actually lost lots of weight being here (I have long walks everyday as well). I think that further out in remote villages ppl still think that “bigger =wealthier” but closer to towns/cities I think more western ideals r influencing the culture. Anyway just wanted to add my thots! 🙂 hope u don’t mind!

  3. Most of my conversations with gogos here are like this: “do you have babies? Are you married? Well, you’re a fat one aren’t you?” I consider my village pretty rural and ignored these comments, then a teacher at one of my school offered to buy me a corset-girdle thing. Apparently no matter what size you are, it isn’t the right one.

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