I found my voice in plus size beauty
As a plus-size woman, Tracy Nduati has heard some of the ugliest words spoken about her and her body. All harsh stereotypes that plague society.
“It was not an easy task walking confidently as a young chubby girl. I had to endure mean comments from people I knew little about, ‘Your nickname should be miss elephant’, ‘you are really gorgeous, but you would be a 10/10 if you would shed a couple of kilos’ they would tell me,” Tracy painfully recalls.
She admits to struggling with weight and trying all sorts of diets and regimens, which only worked in the short term and then it would pile right back on.
But two years ago Tracy decided not to let her weight define her. “I had a meeting with myself and decided to love what I saw in the mirror and not hold myself back from anything I wanted to pursue. I can say my weakness has become my strength and I love every single curve,” says Tracy.
Today, Tracy walks head high after participating in a much-publicised pageantry in the region and emerged on the top.
In July this year, she beat 28 other contestants to win the first edition of Miss Plus World Kenya 2019, a competition aimed at showcasing diversity, creativity and the grace of plus size women “When I was announced the winner, I felt an array of emotions; I was overwhelmed with tears of joy. I was excited about the coming journey as a title holder and also scared because I had become pioneer in a field that has not had much attention or appreciation,” she says.
According to Tracy, a plus size woman lives in a world that is constantly judging them; body shaming is a daily occurrence to them. She says for a very long time, the notion that thin is ‘conventionally a pretty woman’, so women have been conditioned to strive to be slim or slightly curvy, but not plus size. “I have definitely faced biases, the list of the challenges faced because of my weight are painfully long. However what stands out for me is fashion or rather lack of options for the bigger woman,” she says describing the Internet as crawling with body-shamers who, like hyenas that have caught the scent of blood, are out to put down anyone whose body they deem unfit.
She says the shaming is so real and the negative effect on an individual’s physical and mental health status can be devastating. “It’s proven that fat shaming only does one thing, it makes people feel ashamed and shame leads to depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour,” says Tracy.
She is, however, glad that there is visibly positive changes in body positivity as more women flaunt their curves. “Being a plus size woman in Kenya today is encouragingly getting positive vibes and I say this because the change is visible, there are more advertisements on billboards with plus size women featured. Our local plus size celebrities are celebrating each other openly for all to see and this is beautiful. Things like these give the younger women confidence and one day at a time we will change the narrative,” she says.
Tracy’s case is similar to radio presenter Lynda Nyangweso, who recently opened up about being body shamed. One of the mean comments she received was that she did not deserve to have a child because of how she looked. “Somebody called me whale,” Nyangweso said in a video posted on her Instagram account.
Not a choice
As the line between healthy criticism and actually making someone feel ashamed of who they are becomes increasingly blur, conversations about weight issues have become difficult.
Research shows that a person’s weight is not only determined by personal choices, other factors can have powerful effects on body weight, some of which are outside of a person’s control such as the environment and genes.
Even if weight is under personal control, is body shaming really the way to help an individual lose weight? “Shaming is definitely the wrong way forward, condemning someone or stigmatising them is not the right way to help someone lose weight. This will make them switch off and go on the defensive. It is hurtful and affects ones self-image. It leads to self-hate, which in most cases leads into depression,” explains Dr Francis Kerre, a sociologist.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that fat-shaming and weight-stigmatising led overweight women to eat more food than their counterparts. Researchers also discovered that weight stigma diminished the ability of overweight women to control their food consumption. Alternately, non-overweight women who read fat-shaming articles increased their motivation to control what they ate. In other words, fat-shaming someone who is overweight does not encourage them to lose weight.