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In the shoes of a plus-size person



Society has historically determined what is normal and abnormal according to shifting values and expectations, and these standards often affect minority populations the most, since they are by definition different from the majority (and hence, "abnormal"). Society shapes everything that can shape one's personality and identity, from gender to beliefs to even the concept that there is a "good average" size of a person.

Given that going against "social norms" can lead to ridicule, bullying, and other forms of pain and trauma, being plus size can lead to the development of many mental disorders like eating disorders and depression while few may feel "deserving" of treatments. (These issues can affect people of all sizes, of course, but this article in particular addresses the issues surrounding those identified as plus-sized by their peers.) Social norms can cause these mental illnesses without explicit intentions, so efforts to address these issues are also often buried or trivialized. Emotional and physical abused faced by plus size persons is rarely acknowledged in many social settings, which means few receive justice after being abused. The worst part is that because much of the ridicule arises from social constructions, society as a whole itself "justifies" these actions, which leads to many plus size individuals being victimized more in public spaces than in closed private spaces. Facing such public humiliation and pain is just one example of the abuses that many experience, sometimes to the devastating point of causing low self-esteem, losing confidence in themselves, demeaning themselves, and even believing suicide is what they deserve (and of course, it absolutely is not!).


Even without reaching that point, being plus size can come with a lot of name calling. The "plus size" term itself is a description which describes "excess," already showing abnormality. For example, when an object is describe as being "plus size," that suggests that it's more than what it should be - in short it's much bigger than "acceptable." Society has given power to ourselves and each other to determine who is small, average, big, or bigger. So for those that are big, they fit into the category of what is regarded as "abnormal," with common English names include Fatso, Biggy, or Chubby. In the Shona language, demaning names like Dhafu Dhunda or Dhumba among others exist. Some people even have descriptor names, with the most common one as "chicken body, land lords." All this name calling kills confidence in many plus size persons as they are sometimes reduced to a chicken. It's also a form of verbal abuse, which few or none get justice for after being victimized as long as it's socially accepted or at least tolerated. In Zimbabwe, we see name calling often in ranks and markets, and some people even have songs for their enjoyment when verbally abusing plus size people - the most common being "a mai munodonhedza musika," meaning you are big to the extend of causing havoc in the market. These abuses forced many people not to wear what they want because they live in fear of being hurt for their body. And overall, women are most likely to be affected by these abuses here done at the hands of men. But the most painful part is that even other women participate in such diminishing name calling, and sometimes that's because it makes them feel as if they are superior when in fact, the entire construction of a body norm itself is harmful to all humans.


So: being a plus size person means you are prone to be intimidated almost every where. At home, grocery shops, clothes shops, buses, food outlets, and out and about the neighbourhood. There are few comfort zones for plus sized persons - if they eat in public they are given a bad stare; if they buy huge groceries they are stared at, all of which is intimidating.

Unfortunately, body shaming affects mainly youths who are more concerned about their bodies and engaged in sporting activities, particularly because they are still developing their sense of self. Society has instilled a mindset that when you are plus size you are less attractive than an average woman, so youths can end up obsessed with maintaining and reducing their body to be an "average" size. This obsession can lead to eating disorders. And as youths put their concentration on keeping up the "average" size (which is constantly changing anyway as people grow), those who "fail" to do so may lose their self esteem, stop taking care of themselves, and when they reach a stage which they are expected to get married they get married to the first person that comes to them.


With all these societal linkages, lots of opportunities for black markets products have been created. Unauthorized products are now sold in streets and the demand is high because a lot of people wants to appear as expected or exceptional by society. A lot of unauthorized and untested slimming tablets, flat tummy injections and fat burning lotions are being sold, and the aftereffects of these products are not known because they are not tested and not approved. A lot of youths in particular are taking these products as shortcuts to reduce their weight and to keep a body size which is regarded as "average" at the expense of their health.


Nonetheless, body shaming not only affects women and young girls but men also. Young men also experience body shaming as they're expected to have a broad chest and a flat tummy as the society has instilled that to be attractive, men needs to have broad shoulders, muscular chest, and a six pack. Young boys has also been consuming unapproved products in streets to enhance their muscles.


Clearly, mistreatment of plus size persons should not be regarded as trivial issues, and it is important to realize that it is affected by complex factors such as gender issues which need to be recognized and addressed. We call for more robust activism against body shaming. It start with accepting ourselves as who we are, "plus size" or whatever else, and acknowledging we aren't "different" from others or less deserving of worth simply because of the shape of our bodies. Laws which incarcerates offenders of verbal and emotional abuse should be enforced. Women, in particular, should take a stand and support each other to spread positivity and regard support each other equally regardless of gender, sex, colour, or weight. After all, we're all in this together.

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