The Selfie Diet

Unathi throws weight be­hind so­cial-me­dia craze


The shar­ing of in­ti­mate info about weight-loss goals helps peo­ple reach their goals Dr Sonya Grier Amer­i­can Univer­sity re­searcher

Idols South Africa judge Unathi Msen­gana has no idea what she weighs be­cause she’s not stepped on a scale in two years.

But the in­cred­i­ble trans­for­ma­tion of her body from fuller fig­ure to en­vi­able six-pack — which she has doc­u­mented on so­cial me­dia — has been an in­spi­ra­tion for and some­times the envy of thou­sands of her on­line cheer­lead­ers, many of whom are wag­ing their own bat­tles against the bulge.

The one thing that con­nects svelte Msen­gana, first lady Tobeka Madiba-Zuma, celebrity chef Siba Mton­gana, Nel­son Man­dela’s grand­daugh­ter Zoleka Man­dela and US re­al­ity star Khloé Kar­dashian — apart from be­ing high-pro­file women — is that they’re all doc­u­ment­ing their body trans­for­ma­tions and fit­ness goals in the vir­tual world.

While some dis­miss it as nar­cis­sism, US aca­demics and lo­cal so­cial me­dia and fit­ness ex­perts are laud­ing it.

A study by the Amer­i­can Univer­sity, pub­lished re­cently in the Jour­nal of In­ter­ac­tive Mar­ket­ing, said be­fore and af­ter self­ies and public dec­la­ra­tions in vir­tual com­mu­ni­ties could be a key com­po­nent to weight loss in a tech­no­log­i­cally driven world.

“The study tracked two com­mu­ni­ties — sur­gi­cal and non-sur­gi­cal — over a four-year pe­riod. The shar­ing of in­ti­mate in­for­ma­tion and pho­tos about weight-loss goals in a vir­tual space is a key fac­tor in mo­ti­vat­ing be­hav­iours that ful­fil that new thin­ner iden­tity and thus helps peo­ple reach their goals,” re­searcher Dr Sonya Grier said in the re­port.

Msen­gana — who has an In­sta­gram fol­low­ing of over half a mil­lion — says she shares pic­tures about her weight-loss jour­ney to en­cour­age black women in par­tic­u­lar to en­gage in con­ver­sa­tions about be­ing healthy.

“I don’t live my life for other peo­ple. I do it be­cause it’s a con­ver­sa­tion we’ve never had as black women. I don’t live un­der the pres­sure of in­spir­ing other peo­ple. I’m very im­per­fect and I love the fact I’m im­per­fect publicly as well.

“It’s def­i­nitely a pos­i­tive rev­o­lu­tion I can feel hap­pen­ing . . . one that I am grate­ful to be part of,” said Msen­gana.

“For us black peo­ple, to be spe­cific, we’ve never had con­ver­sa­tions around health in such a high con­cen­tra­tion. Gen­er­a­tions be­fore us were busy with more im­por­tant things like free­dom.”

She be­lieves so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as In­sta­gram are al­low­ing women to have im­me­di­ate, raw and in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tions re­lated to their body im­age.

First lady KaMadiba is an­other celebrity in­sta­gram­mer who is us­ing the plat­form to record her weight-loss goals and en­cour­age oth­ers to fol­low suit.


Apart from her short work­out videos and be­fore and af­ter pic­tures, KaMadiba, who has lost 30kg, is con­fi­dent enough to post pic­tures of her fluc­tu­at­ing weight, re­flected on her elec­tronic scale.

She posted on In­sta­gram: “Get­ting mo­ti­vated to start a diet and ex­er­cis­ing can of­ten be the hard­est part. But fear not be­cause help is at hand, it’s easy. De­cide why, if it’s for your health, set goals, cre­ate vis­ual goals, kick the bad habits of choco­lates, sugar and re­place with healthy snacks . . . #fit­ness­mo­ti­va­tion #fit­nesslife.”

In re­sponse to praise about her post from a fol­lower, the first lady said: “Head­ing back to 80kg and a per­fect size 36/M. You should see the look Com­man­der in Chief Bae gives me.”

Rap­per Ka­belo Ma­bal­ane is an­other fit­ness fa­natic whose posts on run­ning in­spire his 85 000 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram.

Ma­bal­ane, who ran his 10th Com­rades marathon this year and reg­u­larly posts pic­tures of his work­outs, run­ning gear, routes and sup­ple­ments, used his ad­dic­tion to road run­ning to kick his drug habit.

He of­ten re­sponds to his fol­low­ers with ad­vice on train­ing and nu­tri­tion.

So­cial me­dia ex­pert Yavi Madu­rai said it was not just the celebrity set who were mak­ing their weight-loss goals public — mil­lions of or­di­nary peo­ple around the world were do­ing the same thing us­ing In­sta­gram as their plat­form.

“With some­thing like weight loss, where it’s an af­fir­ma­tion of our­selves on a deeply psy­cho­log­i­cal level, it al­lows us to have that vir­tual cheer­lead­ing on a 24/7, al­ways-on kind of en­vi­ron­ment. It al­lows us to push for­ward. Or­di­nary women liv­ing nor­mal lives who go on ex­treme weight-loss drives are be­com­ing in­spi­ra­tional for oth­ers like them­selves,” said Madu­rai.

Well­ness and fit­ness ex­pert Lisa Raleigh said so­cial me­dia had boomed as a plat­form to share “just about ev­ery as­pect of our lives — health and fit­ness in­cluded”.

She added: “The gains from in­clud­ing a so­cial el­e­ment in your fit­ness jour­ney are rooted in ac­count­abil­ity and praise.

“Putting your goals and progress out there keeps you striv­ing to main­tain ap­pear­ances and fol­low through on what you’ve said.”

Celebrity chef Siba Mton­gana is one of a pack of celebri­ties di­et­ing on­line.

Unathi Msen­gana shares her weight-loss jour­ney with hun­dreds of thou­sands on In­sta­gram be­cause, she says, ‘it’s a con­ver­sa­tion we’ve never had as black women’.

Ka­belo Ma­bal­ane in his hey­day, left, be­fore tak­ing up road run­ning.

Tobeka Madiba-Zuma, above, weighs 30kg less in her ’af­ter’ pic­ture than she does in the ’be­fore’ snap, top.

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