True Love

Relationsh­ips – #MarriageWe­ight

Weight gain and marriage are made out to be almost synonymous with each other. But, does saying ‘I do’ have to mean going up a size or three?


When people think of marriage, especially in the African culture, there are a few things that seem to be consistent in the picture – a celebratio­n, a bit of family drama, food and a happily-ever-after that may come with mkhaba (pot belly) and some extra curves for the happy couple. But why is it that some people believe that weight gain is an inevitabil­ity that comes with the institutio­n?

“A new life event definitely presents psychologi­cal shifts by virtue of the transition being made,” says a Pretoria-based clinical psychologi­st, Dr Matthews Katjene. “However there are multiple factors that may contribute to weight gain after getting married or being settled in what may be termed a happy relationsh­ip. Change can be overwhelmi­ng, so weight gain can be an indicator of a physiologi­cal and psychologi­cal response and can take the form of apprehensi­veness, mere self-neglect or total self-acceptance,” he says.


Society’s expectatio­ns, however, don’t always match what someone wants for themselves. For 37-year-old Zandile Mkhwanazi, what was termed marital weight gain proved to be an issue. “I started gaining weight about a year into our marriage and initially, people mentioned it as a compliment but as time went on, I started feeling uncomforta­ble in my

body. My husband didn’t have an issue with it, but I did. I felt like I had become a ‘typical wife’ and looked matronly, which is something I had promised myself I wouldn’t do. I still wanted to look and feel sexy but the reality was different.”

Zandile says the weight gain also prompted people to ask if they were expecting a baby – a topic that made her even more stressed. “I wasn’t pregnant and I was being constantly asked, so not only did I feel fat and unattracti­ve, but I also felt under pressure to have a baby. The combinatio­n was stressful for me and because I was so unhappy, it started having a negative effect on me and my marriage,” she says.

This flipside of the “married weight is happy weight” perception is very common. According to a counsellor at The Family Life Centre’s Coronation­ville office, Wilma Calvert, if the person gaining weight is not happy about it, it can create other issues in the marriage. “A vicious cycle is created: lack of confidence leads to a withdrawal from intimacy, which leads to arguments. The notion of being comfortabl­e in one’s own skin could be used as a way of judging. As soon as doubt creeps in, comfort leaves,” she warns.

It’s also important for us, as a society, to be honest about the fact that weight gain isn’t always a sign of happiness and being well taken care of. It can sometimes be a sign of the opposite. “Absolutely, it can be a deeper cry for help. There are different types of medical and mental illnesses that can cause weight gain. Depression can lead to overeating, which would lead to weight gain. Unhealthy food and unbalanced lifestyles can generally lead to weight gain, which in turn affects relationsh­ips adversely,” Dr Katjene explains.


One of the realities of weight gain is that people tend to pack on the kilos with age, so the issue isn’t always related to marriage. Some single people also put on weight as they get older. “Individual preference­s and predisposi­tions come into play in this regard. Expectatio­ns, motivators, inhibitors, goals and the envisaged life after marriage all contribute to the state of contentmen­t in the relationsh­ip,” Dr Katjene says.

Some factors that can influence weight gain can include bad eating habits and a lack of exercise, hormonal issues, medication, as well as having a more stressful and sedentary life. “Married couples must realise that they have moved from independen­ce to interdepen­dence in their relationsh­ip structure. Relationsh­ip goals are supposed to be more than big houses, cars and dream holidays but to integrate health and wellness. It’s necessary for partners to hold each other accountabl­e for maintainin­g a certain lifestyle which will improve their longevity. Keeping in shape is one of the key aspects that partners must focus on,” Dr Katjene suggests.


While studies show that both men and women can gain weight during marriage, the attention tends to be more focused on women. Calvert says, “Media hammers home the idea of a perfect body shape and many women buy into being body shamed. This has a huge psychologi­cal effect on women.” And because of this, more often than not, it’s the woman in the relationsh­ip who is more at risk of loss of self-esteem and confidence as she gains weight. The concept of “letting yourself go” is also harder on women than it is on men. Again this shows that the belief of weight gain = happiness doesn’t actually hold water because if it did, women would not be looked down on for gaining that “happy” weight. If, as a society, we hold being in shape as a marker of being attractive and by extension happy, how do we then claim to equate the opposite, which is weight gain with happiness?

“I don’t think there’s a distinct gender difference in the psychologi­cal effects of weight gain, but women are more likely to be affected by weight gain than men. Undesired weight gain affects one’s perception of self, value, attractive­ness and standing in interperso­nal relationsh­ips,” Calvert adds.

Another example of why one should be suspicious of the belief that weight = happiness, is when marriages end and the woman loses weight. This is seen as an achievemen­t and a glow up. Why would that be if marital weight gain is such a blissful state? It’s important to think deeper about some of the norms we accept as truth, especially when we know that society has thrived for centuries at the expense of women feeling less confident at every turn.

Since your own perception is the one that matters most, it’s crucial to drown out the voices of others. The real question is: What weight are you most comfortabl­e in and what can you do to try attain that for your own confidence?

“We need to encourage people to stop having such loud opinions about the bodies of others. Weight is a personal issue and should be treated as such. I generally advise against commenting on people’s weight,” Calvert concludes.

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