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Larger than Life – Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

Larger than Life

I was going to title this; “How I Was Complicit In My Own Body Shaming” when I realised that to even suggest this is to apportion blame incorrectly and to imply agency when there was none.
The context is this; I was at a family function when I was told, within the course of the benign sort of nothing-conversation you have with elderly people at rare family events, that I needed to do something about my weight. I can’t even relate this exchange verbatim because a part of me still wonders if this really happened or if it was part of an elaborate fever dream. I found myself agreeing with this man, nodding emphatically, saying I would Google the miracle weight-loss bean his wife is selling. I was so polite* through it all because it’s not like what he was saying was any kind of revelation to me. I have picked up weight, quite a bit of it, over the last four years. I struggle with impulse control, unruly hormones, work that is to a large extent sedentary, psychological crutches, a complicated relationship with food etc. etc. etc. And even as I write this, there is this need to explain myself. Why? I don’t owe this to anyone, not least an uncle who is almost legally blind but who could miraculously see me in all my abundance well enough.
At the time of this exchange, I was more than a little amused. This was after all unsolicited advice from someone who, even before his dotage, was barely taken seriously. But as I think back to it, I become angry. I did not invite this. It’s none of his business. That my struggles manifest in a more physically apparent manner, than say someone with a painkiller-dependency, does not open me up to unrestricted judgement.
I know what I need to do to fit into my old jeans again. Anyone who has ever struggled with weight is a nutritional expert. Sugar is evil mmmkay. Exercise more. Thanks Admiral Obvious, maybe you can have this conversation with my adrenal glands? It’s not like I’m not trying (again with the explanations, also, if you try and sell me Herbalife I will delete you from my life).
For a long time I’ve been putting out disclaimers, cushioned myself in self-deprecation.
I’m not going to do this anymore.

*One day I will write about why we shouldn’t raise our daughters to be nice/polite.

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

4 thoughts on “Larger than Life”

  1. I love what you have written, and you have made me re-examine the conversations I have with my daughter (and also the conversations I have with my sons). What really matters is health – physical and mental.

  2. Well written..enjoyed reading this. If and when you decide to lose the weight, do it ONLY for yourself and because your HEALTH is what matters. I’ve worked with enough people over the years to realize that anything other than true authenticity brings all the lost weight back..and then some. That said, you are lovely, witty, aware, intelligent enough as is..You are already enough.

  3. I read your article wanting to go up to the wretched fool and ask him what was lacking in his life that he had the audicity but as I read on this is what I notice most, which I honestly feel is part of the battle with our generation – “*One day I will write about how we shouldn’t raise our daughters to be nice/polite” – because honestly why should we!

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