The F-word: Qualifying as 'fat' in South Africa?

South African woman are not fat. Instead we come in many different shapes and sizes, far too diverse to be described in a three letter word.

CAPE TOWN, June 8, 2012 -  “You aren’t South African,” Khan insisted through his thick accent, “You’re not fat enough.”

Khan is from Pakistan and has been in South Africa for four days.

“No offence,” he shrugged.

Too late. Offended, on behalf of all South African women. It did, however trigger my curiosity and open my eyes to something I had never really thought about. Are the majority of South African women overweight?

Walking away from Khan, I began looking at woman walking past with a critical eye:

Normal…Skinny…Normal…Fat…Outfit too layered to assume…Chubby but curvy.

It took a good half and hour for me to realize just how ridiculous and callous I was being. Not to mention judgmental.

What is fat anyway?

My BMI says I’m anorexic, but my doctor assured me I’m not (my psychologist has her reservations, but I think I’ve convinced her I’m eating). Another friend of mine, who has the body of a Greek god, has the BMI of a pregnant whale. So technically he would be defined as fat – overweight actually. 

I spoke to my colleague, Lumka Nofemele – a fellow journalist and a fashion and weight conscious South African. She believes South African woman are not fat. Instead we come in many different shapes and sizes, far too diverse to be described in a three letter word.

Khan’s generalization is therefore not true, although one must admit it does hold some weight. We all have our biases when it comes to the “fatness” of a society. For example, Asians are skinny, so are Indians.


Not so much.

When you think of a Pakistani woman, you probably imagine somebody very slim. A curvaceous swimsuit model type comes to mind when thinking of a Brazilian woman. Right?

Every country has some kind of stereotype attached to it. I guess the mistake that dear Khan made was pointing out his bias to a South African woman…rather tactlessly. But then again maybe that comment wouldn’t be considered tactless and rude in Pakistan.

Instead of calling S.A. women the dreaded f word, perhaps he should have said:

“You aren’t South African, you aren’t voluptuous enough” or “you don’t seem to fit the average body type”.

Or perhaps he should have said nothing at all.

It’s not that South African women are fat. But perhaps compared to our Pakistani counterparts, we are slightly thicker.

Unless of course he meant “phat”. But that’s another story altogether.

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Sisi Lwandle

Sisi Lwandle is a journalist, a sister, a daughter and a South African. She loves God, people, telling stories and having cereal for dinner.

She loves music and is a struggling musician. By struggling she means she can't play much more than a few feeble strums on the acoustic guitar.

She spent a few years as a medic, and even lesser years in a City jail (during visiting hours). She hates having to describe herself in less than 1000 words. 

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