When we speak of body-shaming, women readily come to mind as the victims. And this is not without good reason. From the internet to TV commercials and everything in between, society has made it a life-long mission to dictate to women how they must feel about their bodies. Thus, these “attacks” on their bodies are brazen and very commonplace. So, we very easily understand why whenever these stories are told across the globe, women more often than not control the narrative.
Traditionally, Nigerians and (perhaps Africans in general) have no issues with body-size or physical looks. As a matter of facts, the curvier our women are, the better. In some cultures, particularly amongst the Igbos in the Southern parts of Nigeria, there exists a practice of placing a bride in a room or house (called the fattening room) prior to her wedding. She would remain in this fattening room for a minimum of two weeks, doing no work, attended, bathed and pampered silly, furnished with all manner of foods and mandated only to live like a Queen, eat and gain as much weight as possible.
The only problem with the popular narrative about body shaming is that we tend to forget that men are victims too.
For men, body shaming is subtler but all too existent. Sometimes it comes as direct hateful comments such as in the case of Wentworth Miller or Vin Diesel when they put on weight. But, most times, it comes in the form of questions and assumptions. It comes in the form of the praise and media coverage a man gets when he finally “bulks up” and gains muscles and rippling abs. This form of body shaming took center stage recently in the case of the American rapper Wiz Khalifa; pictures of him with muscles and rippling abs found ways to surface online and for a long time, the internet went crazy.
In recent times, there has been a push back by women and certain parts of society. Gradually, there is beginning to be more diversity in different aspects of the media. People of all body shapes and sizes are being represented. It is becoming a more regular occurrence for plus-size models, pregnant women and nursing mothers to walk the runway. But this is still mostly for females. For men, the situation remains the same. This, in my opinion, is mostly because we men refuse to even entertain the thought that there is a problem. We are ashamed to admit to being body-shamed. Notice the way you thought of curvy thick women like Ashley Graham and Jessica Leahy when I said “plus-size models”. Have you ever seen a plus-size male model on the runway? Notice how you really don’t want to think about it? Do you even know what is wrong with that? Or are men not allowed to be a little chubby?
It is even more painful that those men who are happy to be a little chubby do not want to talk about it and are ashamed to admit that they want to be chubby. A lot of men would read this article, agree with me and still scream out about how I am a “pussy” who is too lazy to “put in work” for that dream body. After this article, I would still end up being the “crybaby” who can’t lift weights and sculpt the perfect body. Who doesn’t want the “perfect body”?
Rarely do you ever see “ordinary” and “average” men with normal body physiques cast for ads or even movies. When you see this, more often than not, they are often cast as comedians or cast in ads about the dude who struggles through life (often exemplified by his rumpled, poor clothing, little or no muscle mass, and bushy beards). Do you notice how as soon as this guy “gets a handle on his life”, he becomes clean-shaven, better dressed (naturally) and more barrel-chested? Do you not know any guy in real life who takes care of the business of his life but prefers his dreadlocks to an otherwise ‘’polished” haircut? I know I do.
There exists a myriad of African songs glorifying the human body (male and female) in all its curves, folds and edges. It is telling that one of the biggest stars in African fables is the Tortoise. Not exactly known as a paragon of good looks, bodily beauty and appearances, he features extensively as the star of our folklore because of his wisdom, and love for food. His merit though underlined by these main factors, remain (to the majority of Africans) in who he is. His personality and not his looks. But things are not quite the same anymore.
Frankly, there is a temptation for me to blame this change on the usual suspect; the internet. It is easy to believe that those responsible for body-shaming are a few faceless trolls on the internet, seated behind their keyboards and hurling the hateful comments the rest of us see. The fact though, is that we all as members of the society as one global village share this blame.
Lately, as I have eased into life on the slower lane far away from the 9-5 rat race, I have become less stressed. I am happier and I may have added a few pounds around my mid-section. I am fine with this though. Former colleagues see me and the first thing most of them say is “You are now fat” and I am fine with this too. In all fairness, some of these comments are made in genuine praise and admiration. I am black as tar, with woolen hair and thick lips; and I love it all. I am six-feet tall, now weighing 220 pounds, I consider myself to be a healthy and fit young man, happier now than ever.
Related Post: The Art of Slow Living: Chasing Less, Living More
You see body-shaming, contrary to what some might think, is not synonymous with fitness or better health care. It is more about an accepted mode of appearance and much more about subscribing to the arbitrarily prescribed forms of beauty dictated by people who should have no authority over your life.'Body-shaming is not synonymous with fitness... It is more about an accepted mode of appearance and much more about subscribing to the arbitrarily prescribed forms of beauty dictated by people who should have no authority over your life.'Click To Tweet
In the end, the answer lies with you. To be kind to yourself, decide what you want from your body, to get it and figure out ways to live with it. To look at your reflection in the mirror and accept who you are, while working towards who you might want to be. There is nothing wrong in wanting to have a slimmer face or a six-pack, but it is also great to love your chubby cheeks, bushy beards and love handles. It is alright to want to look a certain way and it’s alright to not care so long as you are happy.
I have never quite seen the need to carry weights and get a gym membership “for the gram”. In time, perhaps this might change. In time, I might even begin to yearn for a more chiseled chin and six-pack abs. One day, maybe.
Until then, the only six-pack I crave is of the vegan beer variety.