My last (unpublished) column for ELLE South Africa — featuring Thickleeyonce and others
It was heartbreaking when ELLE South Africa shut down at the end of 2018. This was my last, unpublished column for the January 2019 issue (the theme was Mad Love), and probably the one I’m the proudest of.
I am more than my weight
In this month’s Mad Love issue, body positive columnist Samantha Steele tackles the journey to accepting your body.
It’s not easy to love yourself. Or should I say, it’s not easy to hate yourself. Your self-esteem dies by a million tiny cuts: the jeans that don’t fit, the comments you overhear, the looks you catch, the ‘helpful’ comments your mom makes, the effusive compliments when you lose weight. Each of these is a tiny reminder that you’re not quite right, that you don’t fit into the mould other people do, and that you could be really, truly happy… if only you could lose your curves.
I spent my teens and twenties convinced I was wasting my “good years” in a fat body. I oscillated between sad-eating enough calories to power Santa’s sleigh, to skipping supper to go for a run. But no matter what I did, my butt would always blossom out and I could never wear the elusive size 10 clothes my Christina-Aguilera-looking friends could. I would despair at my soft stomach, and then have my mother remind me that my rounded rear was a problem too. The pain my body caused me seemed endless: a fleshy cage of unhappiness I could never leave and never change. My BMI put me in the ‘obese’ box but I couldn’t get below 68kgs no matter what I did, or didn’t, do. According to my BMI, I should be 50kgs and that weight seemed as elusive as finding a unicorn in my cupboard to take me to Narnia. It was a number I pinned to my happiness: when I was 50kgs, then I would find a boyfriend, then the cool girls would like me, then I would achieve all the potential I had locked away tightly in a safe of self-hatred.
Cut to the present. I went to a dietician — this time to treat my PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) — and she used new technology to measure every part of me, including my bones, and guess what? I am literally BIG BONED and, according to her, BMI simply doesn’t apply to me. 70kgs is my ideal weight — a weight I once had and hated because I thought I was 20kgs too heavy. I RAGE at my young self for hating my perfect body! I RAGE at the doctors that told me I was obese when I was healthy and fit. I RAGE at people who looked askance at my curves and made me feel awkward and ugly. Most of all, I RAGE that I never let myself love myself — not even once.
My journey to self-love is littered with tears, and missed opportunities. I finally accept — and yes, even love — my curves, my shape, my softness. There was no quick fix to get me here. There is no checklist you can tick off to love yourself: it’s a journey to realising your body is not your enemy, it’s your ally. It’s not something to “fix” and fit into a narrowly defined definition of beauty. With your body you hug, you laugh, and yes — you eat! The nasty voice hissing in my ear will never quite go away, but I know that I am more than my weight. And so are you. You are enough.
CELEBS SHARE WHEN THEY LEARNED TO LOVE THEMSELVES
LALA TSHABALALA | Plus size model and body positive activist | @misscurvylala
I started following brands, publications and people that are pro-body and beauty diversity and made me feel valued. Through this, I started to see that I don’t have to apologise for what my body looks like. It’s mine.
LESEGO LEGOBANE | Plus size model and body positive activist | @thickleeyonce
I started taking self-portraits and through photography I was able to fall in love with myself. I would take self-portraits in the most vulnerable way and hang them on my wall. Why have I been so cruel to this beautiful, amazing girl who just deserves love?
MEG RINGDAL | Plus size fashion blogger | @mindthecurvesza
In 2013 I took a year off to backpack around the world, and despite being fat I swam with river dolphins in the Bolivian pampas, and hiked up Machu Picchu. My weight didn’t stop me from doing any of these things, so why should it stop me from loving how I look?
WHITNEY GREYTON | Body Positive Activist and Podcaster | Fatty Boom Boom Podcast Picture credit Renata Lloyd
I stopped being interested in punishing myself for the body I didn’t have and asked myself a radical question: “What would happen if you didn’t work so hard to hate yourself?”. The question alone blew my mind and I committed to finding the answer.