“You’re So Fat!”

July 30, 2008




Unbeknownst to me as soon as I set foot inside my house my host Mom had set a goal for herself. Her goal has been to make me “kubwa, like a real African woman.” She told me that when she first saw me she thought that I looked like a starving child. I told her that was pretty ironic since the first thing I ever heard about Africa was that the “starving African children” really needed me to finish all the food on my plate.


It seems as though my mom has accomplished her goal…For the past couple of weeks, she has been telling me that I am fat. She says this excitedly, proud of herself for making me “kubwa.”


Kubwa means big. The first time my Mama told me I was getting kubwa I brushed her off and told her she was wrong. Then, just to make myself feel better, I went running. During the school year I usually go running everyday. My first week in Kenya I went running three times and then I sprained my ankle. My “sprained ankle” became justification for not running again for the next month. Somehow I managed to convince myself that I walk far enough to work, there’s no need to get up early and deal with catcalls every two seconds from the boda drivers.


I also managed to convince myself that my diet is healthy because I don’t eat sweets. In the morning, I drink two cups of whole (literally straight from the cow) milk tea with three teaspoons of sugar in each and then I usually eat a couple of pieces of whole white bread with either full-fat butter or peanut butter along with an orange or multiple bananas. Lunch is iffy, if I’m with an American then I’ll eat a real lunch, if not I either go to the bakery and buy grilled corn off the street or, like today, I eat “wild lunch.” “Wild lunch” is what the guys I work with eat, basically it’s the cheapest thing you can buy. Today that consisted of cow hooves and ugali and tomatoes, it was interesting to say the least…Then I come home and drink another two cups of tea with tons of sugar and usually eat more fruit and maybe another piece of bread. For dinner we usually have meat and either rice, chapati (think oily tortilla) or ugali (think flour and water).


Apparently this diet has began to take its toll, today my Mama told me that a bunch of her friends have been congratulating her on making me fat. I freaked out a little bit when she told me this:

“Does everyone really think I’m fat?” I asked.

“Not fat bad. It’s good! Besides aren’t all you people fat?” She replied, referring to the well-deserved stereotype that Americans are fat. She loves to refer to Americans as “you people” and frequently tells me about all the strange things that “us people” do.


I then proceeded to explain to her the complicated issue that although America is one of the fattest countries in the world, we are also the most weight obsessed. I told her about the problems a lot of girls I know have with food, telling her that some of them even starve themselves in order to be skinny. I told her that it wasn’t okay to call someone fat in America, that we say “plus-size” or a “bigger” person. I told her that I really, really didn’t want to be fat or even “kubwa” when I went back to America.


I told her all of this in front of my nine-year old sister Jackie. When I finished my rant, Jackie told Mama that she “didn’t want dinner because she wanted to lose weight too.”


Needless to say, I felt horrible. What was wrong with me that I had made a nine-year old think that she needs to lose weight? I realized that even though I claimed to hate the American doctrine of “skinny=pretty” I was buying into it and furthermore I was selling it!


I made Jacks look at me and I told her that she was the most beautiful little girl I knew and that she was absolutely the perfect size and that she shouldn’t ever stop eating because then she wouldn’t have the energy to play with me all the time.


Then I decided that maybe my Kenyan “diet” wasn’t so bad. Maybe instead of children in America being told to finish their plates for the “starving children in Africa” (as if food was a problem of resource shortage instead of a problem of distribution) African children should be told to finish their plates because American women don’t know how to.