Nigerians and the Culture of Shaming

In my dyed armpits post, I mentioned that I had some thoughts about Ndani TV’s latest shows. Well, here we go:

Recently, I started watching this new show on Ndani TV’s YouTube channel call, “Skinny Girl In Transit.” Basically, the show is a comedy about an overweight woman who is being guilted into weight loss and exercise in hopes that it will help to improve her romantic odds.

I’ll admit the show is pretty funny, but I can’t help but find the premise problematic on a visceral level. This is because it has an air of body shaming. The implication about that kind of story is that people who are overweight or obese are unattractive and somehow undeserving of romantic involvement because they have a particular body type or size. Needless to say, this is a very damaging sentiment to internalize.

I know it’s not a common thing for guys to admit but I’m a guy who has been in and out of “transit” my whole life. I mean that very literally. My mom used to tell me that when my brother and I were born, a nurse who took care of her in the maternity ward told her that we were the fattest babies she had ever seen. In the years since, I’ve experienced family members poking and prodding at me in hopes that it will get me to lose weight. An aunt literally slapped food out of my mouth because she said that I was eating too much. The list goes on.

The crazy thing is, when you actually do try something in hopes of some improvement, people still try to shame you for it. In the second episode, Tiwa tries her hand at what looks like WiiFit Boxing, and her mother, the same crazy woman who prompted Tiwa’s admittedly comical weight loss journey starts making fun of her for it! #CantFuckingWin!

Two weeks ago, I joked in the comments on S’s Beard post about how a relative once called me “Supernaturally fat.” The part I didn’t mention was that she said that right after I had just mentioned that I lost close to 30 pounds from a lot of running and jogging. Hearing comments like that is completely demoralizing. For the record, fat shaming actually doesn’t work at all. In fact, studies show that it can have the opposite effect for people who are trying to lose weight.

To be honest, my beef with shaming extends far beyond the realm of physique and body image. Nigerians seem to really relish the idea of pointing out other people’s flaws. Our whole culture is built around this idea of shaming people for perceived imperfections. People make it a point to curse at the poor, the vulnerable, and even the idea of the country as a whole.

There was a tradition of calling the top ten names in each grade at assembly when I was in secondary school. But it didn’t stop there. They would also call the bottom five names in hopes that it would embarrass them enough to make them improve their scores. I never thought much about it in those days because I was fortunate enough to be nowhere near the bottom five, but in retrospect, it was a sick tradition. Throughout my entire run at boarding school, I noticed that some of those names never made it off that bottom five list. If they did, it wasn’t by much or for very long and boy, they did we let them know it. We used to call the person with lowest grade “Superman.” The obvious implication was that the person had to have superhuman strength in order to be ranked dead last, effectively carrying the entire class above his/her head.

That had to suck for those kids. Especially at an age where everyone’s struggling to find themselves, it likely wasn’t a great feeling to know that they had become the object of the entire school’s ridicule. There is a kind of learned helplessness that victims of perpetual shaming become accustomed to. In that condition, such people tend to give up on the effort and motivation required to make any improvements. They don’t just feel like their situation is hopeless; they also feel like they are as hopeless as well. Once they’ve internalized that kind of message, it’s very hard to break out of that cycle.

The effects of learned helplessness in studies of weight loss and obesity are well documented as I previously mentioned, but I would argue that it’s at least plausible that learned helplessness could have played a role in explaining why some of those names never made it off the list. In fact, learned helplessness can be a very telling symptom of clinical depression, which is probably a lot more common than many of us would be willing to admit, but that is a topic for another day.

Question time: Have you ever been shamed for anything? How did you react?

P.S. I know I spent most of this post talking about fat shaming, but let’s be clear: Skinny people get shamed as well. It’s still just hurtful and still just as dangerous.

Written by Tola