On Being Fat

Fifty years ago, Aunty Peggy, a neighbor of ours walked into our yard looking quite pregnant.

“Mum, look!” I said, pointing at her stomach. “Aunty Peggy’s stomach is big.”

Instead of just looking, mum slapped me on the face hard.

“Stupid boy!” she shouted.

I burst out into a loud cry, not understanding what wrong I had done.


After Aunty Peggy had left, mum explained to me that it was rude to point at or talk about a woman’s pregnancy. I should never do that again. Our culture did not allow it.

 

Many years later, while I was attending a seminar with a group of friends, I remember asking a female participant how old she was.

“I don’t know,” was her response.

“How can you not know?” I asked.

A friend who was witnessing this conversation, interjected: “John, you don’t ask a woman how old she

is.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s just not done,” he replied. “It’s considered rude.”

At another time, I was sitting with friends in one of Kitwe’s social clubs. In walked Mildred, a childhood friend of mine. I hadn’t seen her for many years. She had been quite a slim girl when I had last seen her.

When she walked into the room, I was surprised to see how fat she had become.

“Ah! Mildred,” I greeted her. “You look fat!”

My comment seemed to anger her. She did not answer or smile but just walked out of the room.

One of my friends rebuked me: “John, you shouldn’t have called her fat.”

I answered, “What else could I have said? Isn’t she fat?”

Another friend explained, “Well, you never refer to someone as fat. You could have told her that she looked successful or something like that.”

I attempted some sarcasm, “What about, “You look physically well endowed?””

No one laughed. I got the point. It is not polite to refer to someone as being fat.

Cultural norms! You can’t talk about a woman’s pregnancy. You can’t ask a woman how old she is. You can’t call a woman or indeed anyone fat.

 

John: Before and after

John: Before and after

Well, at least I can talk about my being fat because I certainly won’t get offended. I hope that by talking about the issue I can lighten my burden, so to speak.

For me, being obese has been a rather negative experience. The following situations represent just a few of the challenges that I have to endure.

Any form of physical activity is undesirable in my current state. Running and jumping are feats best reserved for athletes. The only unavoidable physical exercise involves moving the bed into position before I can fall onto it to take a well-deserved rest.

Before my physical metamorphosis, climbing stairs used to be a very welcome prospect. I used to enjoy running up the stairs, often jumping over two or three steps. Now I can only climb up the stairs as a necessary evil. I no longer refer to climbing up the stairs as an exercise but a physical torture.

Last week I went to visit a patient in Kitwe Central Hospital. His ward was on the fourth floor. I was accompanied by my relatively less physically endowed wife. When we got to the ward, I was so exhausted, breathless and stressed that if the nurse had suggested that I be admitted, I would have gladly accepted her suggestion.

 

Obese lady

Obese lady

 

Putting on socks is perhaps the most stressful exercise that I have to face every day. For one to appreciate this problem, they have to try and visualize the process of putting on socks. Here is how I do it.

I sit on my bed with my feet on the floor. I place a sock on the floor in front of one of my feet. I have to do this because my stomach makes it impossible for me to physically touch my toes. (Yes, it’s that serious! You could say that I am made up of three parts – the upper, middle and lower regions. The middle region – my stomach – acts as a physical communication barrier between my upper and lower regions.)

I then, somehow, get my toe into the open end of the sock and then make an incredible effort to grip the side of the sock with my fingers and pull it over the foot. I usually have to take a two-minute break before doing the same with the other sock.

After this feat of superhuman effort, I usually fall back on my back on my bed to take a well deserved rest before getting up to continue my daily dressing routine. It is perhaps needless to state that I always dread the thought of waking up to another working day.

Finding the right size of clothes to wear has become a headache. My wife usually buys my clothes. In the past, all she needed was to call out the size number of the shirt and pair of trousers. Now she has to ask for the largest size and then promise the shop attendant to be back the next day to confirm whether the clothes are the right fit. She then brings the clothes home for me to try them out to see whether they will fit me. These days, they do not fit me most of the time.

 

John in Ghanaian outfit

John in Ghanaian outfit

 

Last year, I made a decision to change my style of dressing from Western to Ghanaian. My first outfit was a rather expensive three-piece suit. When I first wore it at a formal business function, I looked good and comfortable in it.

Two weeks later, there was a wedding of a cousin-in-law out of town. I decided to wear my newly acquired suit. I put on the gown and the pair of Ghanaian trousers. I sat down on my bed to put on my socks. When I bent down to try and pick up one of my socks, the pair of trousers burst open at the

back. It opened up as though a big rock had passed through the cloth. Not the kind of tear that can be mended.

Because I was behind time, I decided to proceed to the wedding just like that. I took comfort in the knowledge that my long top would cover the offensive gap in the cloth. I made a firm commitment to myself to keep my legs together at the function. It later turned out that I never enjoyed the function because my mental focus was on the state of my trousers all the time. I couldn’t talk or laugh freely. (I am the kind of person who laughs with my entire body, usually lifting my legs and throwing them wide apart.)

There is one interesting social side to the challenges of being fat. Travelling in public service vehicles can be a source of embarrassment. The bus conductors do not like to see fat people using their buses because of the loss of income which results from carrying less than a full load of passengers. A fat person like me usually occupies the space reserved for two normal-sized persons.


If you will allow me, I would like to take a break to catch my breath. When I return next week, I intend to discuss possible solutions to my weight problems. So until I convince you that there are possible solutions to the problem of being fat, I urge you to put down that piece of pork chop until then.

 

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John Katebe is a professional speaker and writer with And Seminars.

John conducts .

Email: jkatebepresents@gmail.com

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