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.