The fab ladies be­hind the Fat and Ugly Face­book group

They’ve had enough of be­ing body shamed and dis­re­spected – so th­ese ladies are stand­ing up to the haters with an on­line sup­port group for full-fig­ured women

DRUM - - Con­tents - PIC­TURES & TEXT: ZAMA CHUT­SHELA

ONE of the pic­tures on the Face­book group shows four gorgeous, groomed women smil­ing for the cam­era, each in a crisp white shirt and blue jeans, en­joy­ing a day out in na­ture.

They have sev­eral things in com­mon: youth, zest for life, a love of fash­ion – and be­ing over­weight.

And it’s their size that’s re­ally helped them bond and form a united front ag­ainst a world that can be hurt­ful, crit­i­cal and of­ten down­right rude.

They’re used to be­ing called names, be­ing pointed at and ridiculed by strangers. They also know what it feels like to be hu­mil­i­ated when they take public trans­port and are made to feel ashamed of the size of their bod­ies.

Which is why they de­cided to take back the power from the body shamers and start an on­line sup­port group for big wo­men – and the name they’ve given it is a hefty “we’ll show you” to all the bul­lies out there.

It’s called Fat and Ugly, and by call­ing them­selves this the words no longer have power over them, says group founder Nox­olo Mchunu (22), who’s from Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal.

“We’re send­ing a strong mes­sage to our haters. We’re us­ing the same words peo­ple used to hurt us to our own ad­van­tage.

“We now un­der­stand words can only hurt you if you al­low them to. The real­ity is we’re beau­ti­ful and com­fort­able in our bod­ies.

“We do ex­er­cise and eat healthily but ob­vi­ously our bod­ies are meant to be like this.”

The bul­ly­ing over her weight started when she was in pri­mary school, Nox­olo

Fsays, and it was dif­fi­cult to deal with.

“What’s funny is when I was young ev­ery­one seemed to love my chub­bi­ness. Things changed when I en­tered ado­les­cence and peo­ple started call­ing me na­mes and pick­ing on me.

“At one point I played bas­ket­ball and I was good at it but I was taken off the team be­cause of my weight,” she re­calls. “That made me sad.”

Nox­olo and her friends want to put an end to name-call­ing, es­pe­cially when it comes to vul­ner­a­ble kids, and they plan on vis­it­ing schools to teach kids to love them­selves as they are – with­out look­ing for val­i­da­tion from oth­ers. AT and Ugly group mem­bers mo­ti­vate one an­other on What­sApp as well as their Face­book page, where they share their ex­pe­ri­ences.

“Our mes­sage to so­ci­ety is

we’re here to stay,” says Nox­olo, who’s a size 46.

The group has at­tracted hun­dreds of peo­ple from all over the coun­try and there are new re­quests for mem­ber­ship daily, she says.

Open­ing this group wasn’t a spur-ofthe-mo­ment de­ci­sion; it came from years of abuse – and some­times hurt­ful com­ments come from the peo­ple clos­est to you.

“We’ve been called ugly names by our own fam­i­lies. They pass nasty com­ments about weight with­out even re­al­is­ing the hurt they’re caus­ing us.”

Thobeka Mahlase (19) says she didn’t think of her­self as dif­fer­ent un­til she started tak­ing public trans­port.

“Once I was sit­ting in the front of a taxi and when the driver got in­side he rudely said, ‘You’re too fat and bloc­king my view. Just go and sit at the back’.”

She felt in­sulted and embarrasse­d at the same time, Thobeka says.

“Weeks later I had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence with an­other taxi driver. I was on my way to school and I chose to sit right be­hind the driver’s seat.

“The driver’s as­sis­tant told me to get out be­cause I was tak­ing up space meant for two peo­ple.”

Th­ese were her first ex­pe­ri­ences with body sham­ing and they stuck with her. “My mother al­ways taught me to be con­fi­dent and I’d never had any neg­a­tive re­marks be­fore.”

Fat and Ugly mem­bers share sto­ries that made them join the group. Yolisa Nt­shantshane (21) of Mthatha weighs 101kg and says her neigh­bours have never let her for­get it.

“I’m the only big per­son in my fam­ily. When­ever I was out play­ing with other kids my neigh­bours would be shout­ing at me say­ing, ‘Hey, gib­hag­ibha or Hey,

sdudla [fat one]’. That hurt a lot.” She re­calls au­di­tion­ing for a play in school but not get­ting the part due to her weight.

“In­stead they chose an­other girl and made me to do a voice-over for her.”

But join­ing Fat and Ugly has helped her ac­cept her body, Yolisa says.

ANDILE Nsele (20) of Richards Bay weighs 95kg and only started gain­ing weight after ado­les­cence. The worst body sham­ing and the most hurt­ful com­ments about her size have come from her fam­ily, she says.

“Ev­ery time I go home they re­mind me that I’ve gained weight and tell me to eat less. This hurts be­cause I don’t re­ally want to be slim – I love my body as it is.”

She’s em­brac­ing the Fat and Ugly la­bel now.

“Our in­ten­tion is to take the neg­a­tiv­ity out of th­ese words,” Andile says.

An­other group mem­ber, Lindiwe Ndlovu (21), says she’s learnt to shrug off the in­sults that have been hurled at her since she was a child. “I was called um­abefu, stu­fu­luza, tseke

leke – all nick­names mean­ing ‘the fat one’. That used to hurt be­cause I was too young to de­fend my­self. “But over the years I’ve gained self­con­fi­dence and I’ve ac­cepted my body now.” For Non­tokozo Dlamini ( 21) of Pine­town near Dur­ban, her worst ex­pe­ri­ences of body sham­ing came from fel­low univer­sity stu­dents.

“They would just point and laugh at me. I de­cided to stop eat­ing at the cafe­te­ria be­cause other stu­dents would look at me as if I was do­ing some­thing wrong. I ended up spend­ing more time in the li­brary to avoid other peo­ple.”

This is why she be­lieves the Fat and Ugly ini­tia­tive is so im­por­tant – it helps you come to terms with who you are and makes you feel part of a com­mu­nity. She hopes other young women who have the same is­sues will join too.

“We’re here to sup­port one an­other,” she says.

Sbahle Mziny­athi (24) was also called names when she reached ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion level.

“For­tu­nately, my fam­ily is very sup­port­ive so I had no time for the haters,” she says.

“Women like me are tired of be­ing la­belled fat and ugly. We have de­cided to take the same weapon and use it to fight right back.

“The aim is to de­stroy the neg­a­tive stereo­type associated with be­ing fat.”

And they seem to be do­ing it – one mo­ti­va­tional post at a time.

‘They pass nasty com­ments about weight with­out even re­al­is­ing the hurt they’re caus­ing us’

Nox­olo Mchunu (ABOVE LEFT) founded the Fat and Ugly group. Lindiwe Ndlovu (ABOVE RIGHT), Sbahle Mziny­athi and Yolisa Nt­shantshane (BE­LOW LEFT & RIGHT), and Non­tokozo Dlamini and Andile Nsele (BOT­TOM LEFT & RIGHT) are mem­bers of the group that’s out to stop body sham­ing.

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