As a mental health professional when I thought about what to share next for this audience I wasn’t quite sure which area (although there’s so many to choose from the list we generated from our first post) to tap into and shed some light on. I delved into my own personal struggle and the topic of weight was tugging at my heart.

In Ghana, weight is one of those topics that when openly discussed, knowingly or unknowingly we realize quickly that most of us in one way or another may have been shamed for our weight, specifically for not meeting the African expectation of a woman’s body (which in most cases is big boobs, flat tummy, big buttocks and a tiny waist).”The hourglass shape” even more so after pregnancy and the expectations postpartum, I know this because I have been shamed for it myself and some of the women I spoke to about this shared similar sentiments.

Prior to being a mother I was “tiny” , not curvy (still not curvaceous I should add lol).Not the kind of tiny that was deemed attractive by most anyway. The kind where people assume you are deliberately maintaining a slim physique, which is not (in my case) the reason at all. Some Ghanaian women are effortlessly curvy and some of us not so much. This post is aimed at normalizing conversation that glorifies EVERY type of body shape. I think that it is important for us to do this for our own selves and also for our younger children to see and love every part of their body regardless of what is in vogue or when society tells them otherwise.

I am one of those people that have always struggled with maintaining weight, depending on what was going on with me. Stress, health and diet are some of the influencing factors. The issue for me is sometimes these factors are beyond my control. I cannot keep count of the number of blood tonics, weight gain pills and appetite boosting syrups I have taken just so I can plump up and not have people talk about how much weight I had lost or how sickly I looked. Thinking back I do recognize how unhealthy that thought process was and the unhealthy actions that came with it, thankful now for self-awareness. The pressure used to really get to me; sometimes it still does because although I am in a process of challenging my own inner critic. I also have to consciously silence other people’s projections towards me. I think back to the times where I could simply NOT allow myself to wear certain clothes because in my mind these clothes would not flatter me. It felt at the time that my body shape was not acceptable and I became too conscious of what people would think, felt very self-conscious when people stared. Ugh…thank God for the work I have done (still doing) on loving myself and challenging my inner critic.

My inner critic sounds like this sometimes “I am unattractive, I will only be beautiful once I gain weight and have curves” So for me challenging my inner critic looks like this in statements “do I feel unattractive because of what society is telling me? Because when I look at myself I can make a list of some of my qualities and this invalidates my inner critic. I have shown bravery, kindness, love and open mindedness in situations and I feel good and content, I see a beautiful human by my own standard and I do feel attractive especially when I’m not listening to other negative voices or society’s expectations or definitions. I may not have the beautiful curves that another woman has but that does not mean I am any less worthy of love. It takes A LOT of work (for me) to shift this mindset because it has been the primary message I received as a child. A lot of the negative messages I got came from the people closest to me and although I am not trying to find someone to blame I also know that sometimes people do better when they know better. Key word here is ‘sometimes’ because we also know there are some people that will still continue to project their own insecurities unto us and that is why I strongly feel that we need to create these strong boundaries and protect our peace. It is important to recognize people we feel our best around and those who continuously make statements that bring us down. When we know this, it can be easier for us to limit or speak up against their negative messaging.

The opposite end of this spectrum which is being “overweight” seems to be another whole topic on its own especially after childbirth. I know so many women; friends and I have had this discussion. In these talks I have come to realize how “hard” we are on ourselves. Trust me I have been there and occasionally I still go there (I’m a work in progress) . When I got pregnant I gained weight, I mean because of the many side comments I had received about my former issue I kind of felt that because of my pregnancy  I could escape the scrutiny but I was so wrong! In addition to peoples comments I also became my own weight watcher and critic at the same time doing what others were already in the habit of doing to me. I’m not sure why I felt it was right for me to be so hard on myself after birthing a whole human being but I get it now. If I was not being gentle with myself it allowed others to do same.

The other thing which may sound familiar to you as you read was when some people felt it was okay to start talking about the ‘looseness” of my belly right after delivery and how undesirable I would be if I did not tie my bellow and “snap back”  …a close family member went as far as to say if I did not snap back my husband would start looking elsewhere. Thinking back now it is bothersome that such talk has been normalized. I do not think it is in any way okay for us to say these things to women especially after going through an experience which for me was quite traumatic and not okay to say to women at any stage. With all the pain and loss of blood one is expected to forget all that and snap back because my Ghanaian society cannot deal with a woman who has gained weight and to top it off gained some more in her mid-region. How dare I, right?

I do know that being overweight can tend to have health complications but I also know being hard on someone so that they can lose weight defeats the whole purpose because in the end the person has to deal with a decline in the overall wellness of their mental health hence may give up before the process of change even begins. Whoever told us that being critical of people, making jabs here and there about peoples bodies was the fastest way to get them to do something such as take a look at their weight really did a number on us. Self-compassion has proven (according to research by Dr.Kristen Neff ) to be more effective so that means next time we really do have to remember this and take a lot into account.

We need to ask ourselves what making these statements implies and how it affects the individual emotionally and mentally. For some women it may be easy to “snap back” but for others such as myself it may take some time and both of these are okay. Right after childbirth, the mother undergoes so many changes (physically, emotionally etc) so at times they may need sometime before they even start thinking about weight loss. There are people who may want to go on a “get my body back” immediately and those that want to take their time. I don’t think it’s anyone’s job to “force” or push this process down anyone’s throat.

Being in my profession does not mean I am immune to any of these comments and interactions in my head where I have to practice being more empathetic and being gentle with myself especially when I notice how my thoughts affect my general mood. Knowing that I have a set of tools to help me cope helps a great deal however it does not mean I may not fall back and try to go over my tool set to get back up after being hard on myself which is okay might I add. It also means people will not stop invading my safe space every now and then, with remarks and comments that leave me feeling beaten and down. Some of these people are relatives and some are friends. There is so much education that needs to go around. So have you started wondering why I decided to write this post and go on and on as I have been doing?? Well if you have then beats me…ha-ha just kidding. I wrote about my own struggle so that any mother or woman who has had to go through something resembling mine and has felt similar can feel validated and supported & to challenge their own inner critic.

I  am hoping that these conversations can be common so that our dear Aunties, Uncles, sisters, friends, husbands and anyone who feel that our bodies have to meet their expectations need to take a closer look at the impact that it has and also why they feel that it is okay to project their own embedded insecurities unto us. Because that behaviour causes more harm than good and is NOT okay. We would need to stop body shaming each other and also stop the unsolicited weight comments …we have to…. Your friend or sister or therapist can go through these challenges too, the point here being we all struggle with one thing or another it is important to show compassion to ourselves and others. In the cases where we still get body shamed, what do we do? Challenging our inner critic as I did earlier in this post, body positive self-affirmations and setting boundaries with people help a ton. Setting boundaries can look like this “I do not appreciate these comments about my weight”. Another little thing I do is I began following (on social media) women who look like me (shape wise) and how much confidence they exuded  in simply being themselves definitely impacted me positively. If you are reading this and perhaps need more support with this , if it still feels like the negative thoughts are persistent and interrupting with your daily life when it comes to weight or other issues mental health related I would encourage you to speak to any of us here at Hopefulnkomo for more support. We are a non-profit mental health organization available to assist and best support you.

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