All my life I’ve been labelled “the skinny girl” and because of this I suffered from a very low self-esteem. Growing up people would make fun of my weight and height sharing their unkind and unwelcomed comments about how skinny and tall I am. Some people would ask ignorant questions such as “do you even eat?” In my mind I will be rolling my eyes and thinking, “yes genius! I mean how on earth would I be standing here alive and talking to you if I did not eat”. And then there was the torture I endured at school. When I was in primary school I was teased and called all sorts of terrible names such as “toothpick”, “ostrich”, “sticks” and the list was endless. In High school the torture continued as found myself wearing layers of clothing under and on top of my school uniform even when it was 30 degrees outside, just to give the illusion that I wasn’t as  skinny as people thought I was.

I recall a particular incident in grade 9, where some kids drew a very nasty comic strip about me, and the contents of the comic strip were disheartening. They drew an image, apparently that image was me, and they said I was HIV positive and ascribed that to be the reason for me being skinny. I have never cried that much in my entire life, the pain was unbearable.

I remember at some point I wanted to end my life because I couldn’t take the constant taunting and ridicule from the other learners. What was even more sad was the fact that I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through. I thought no one would understand my dilemma and honestly, I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t easily share deep personal feelings and personal information.

I am in university now, and although I do feel like I’m accepting my body a bit better than I did when I was younger, it’s still tough when almost everyone around me epitomises a certain kind of beauty. Sometimes I try to ignore their comments but it is really difficult to do so when everyone is constantly on your case about your weight and pointing out that you are not “woman enough”, because you don’t have curves. People can be so insensitive as they do not realise how much their words pierce through and affect the way I view myself as a woman and particularly as an African woman.

Just because I am thin doesn’t mean that I’m sick. I was born this way and there is nothing I can do about it. We live in a time where society and social media celebrate a particular image of the ‘perfect woman’. This ‘perfect woman’ is someone with a curvy body, a big butt and big breasts, “bigger is better” they say. What message are they sending out to young African girls that are still coming into their womanhood? Are they saying they are not good enough? That they need to change how they look to fit into the standard of beauty that has been idolised by many? Don’t even get me started on the number of young girls that have had plastic surgery to enhance their body parts, just so they could feel “good enough”. Whenever I log onto my Instagram account, in the explorer page I am always bombarded with hundreds of photos and feeds celebrating this one type of beauty with hashtags such as #Bigisbeautiful #curvygirlsonly #thickthighssaveslives etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is problem with celebrating a curvy body. But all I am trying to say is, let us not view a certain body type as a standard of what a woman should look like but rather we should recognise that all women come in different shapes and sizes. Whether they’ve got a big booty or not, our society should celebrate all body types and no one should feel left out.

I am not only writing this to speak up for myself but also for other young women who have struggled with their body image throughout their lives. I want to encourage you to come out of your shell, embrace who you are and recognise that you are also a  beautiful African woman.

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About the writer: 

Lindelwa Mhlongo loves God, loves family, experiencing new things and is make-up and beauty connoisseur. She is a hard worker and lives each day full of gratitude. She is currently a student at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), and she wants to change people’s lives whilst also pursuing her passions.