MAPUTO, (CAJ News) – WITH five percent of Mozambique’s 28million population obese, the country is in the throes of a ticking health timebomb.
While it places people with the condition at much greater risk of developing serious conditions, including heart disease and diabetes among others, it is a source of stress to multitudes who have to endure ridicule and is one of the causes of bullying in schools.
A 26-year-old woman divulged how her weight issues wrecked her social life and ended her marriage.
“I quit my physical education classes for good when I was mocked by my classmates, who screamed that I wouldn’t endure the exercises,” she said.
“As I grew fatter, people told me I was going to explode. I looked like an older woman, and my mother looked younger than me.
“My boyfriend left me and told me to look at myself in the mirror because I had no structure to be his wife as I looked like a whale,” she said.
Rosa Manhica, another overweight woman, also said she had suffered a barrage of humiliating slurs.
“Comments such as ‘you have such a beautiful smile but maybe you should be thinner’ are part of my daily life,” Manhica said.
With Mozambique having no official statistics, a study on the general effects of bullying has showed that the country has one of the highest levels of bullying, particularly among the youth and adolescents.
“Bullying, including online, continues to pose a risk to the well-being of children and young people, but it is still very poorly understood,” said Theresa Kilbane, senior United Nations Children’s Fund child protection consultant.
With no laws to fight body shaming or any other kind of bullying, awareness has emerged as the only way to reverse the trend.
It is against this backdrop that Uabalika, an anti-body shaming movement, has started in Mozambique.
A woman among the more than 1million Mozambicans with the medical problem started the movement four years ago with a brand of plus-sized clothes.
“I was not feeling comfortable about the lack of good clothes for overweight people. Most of us could not find good jeans, for example. So I started an online shop named Uabalika, which means beautiful in Xisena, a local language,” Andraa Massamba explained.
“My experience showed that more than clothes I needed to show people that being overweight doesn’t have to be associated with being ugly or not normal. I knew that overweight people could also be beautiful.”
Last year, she started writing motivational texts on Uabalika’s online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
“There, I supported people to assume their bodies and beauty,” Massamba said.
She explained she aimed to motivate confidence and self-appreciation among overweight people.
“In my publications, I started showing people they didn’t need to fit the perfect body standard to be happy or acceptable; instead they needed to be happy with themselves.
“We do not need to follow blindly the body standards that society has created for us.”
Since her motivational publications started, Uabalika’s online platforms have become a space for people to share their shaming experiences and their victories under the theme “Eu me amo e respeito as diferencas” in Portuguese, which literally translates to: “I love myself and respect the differences”.
From a movement highlighting the plight of obese people, Uabalika has also emerged as a platform for thinner people to also air the abuse they suffer at the hands of the public ever eager to shame others because of their weight.
“As the time went by, thin people also started commenting and moaning they suffered from the same problems. Thin people are also victims of body shaming,” Massamba said.
Conceived as an online shop, the Uabalika movement has grown to an organisation consisting of seven women and boasts support from health specialists and other institutions.
That has prompted an increase in projects to include children, who are equally, if not more, vulnerable.
“We now have Uabalika kids, which aims to teach overweight children aged five to ten years on how they can have self-esteem and appreciate their physical appearances.”
Massamba said sometimes children were bullied but they did not have support structures to share their experiences and seek help.
“We encourage them to write poems involving the words chubby, healthy and beautiful.
“We think that could help them to associate their body condition to something good and deny the words coming from bullies,” Massamba explained.
Meanwhile, Uabalika will hold its first seminar in Maputo later this month.
A nutritionist and psychologist are among experts who will feature at the momentous event.
“They will be explaining to us how to live healthily and well,” Massamba said.
The upcoming seminar has elicited a positive response with more than 1400 people showing interest in participating online and 200 others confirming they will attend.
“That will be the official launching of Uabalika as a movement in Mozambique,” Massamba said.
She believes Uabalika will reach those with no access to social media and increase awareness around weight and health issues.
In addition to the online platforms and seminar, a television programme to be named Uabalika is in the pipeline.
“We are seeking space in TV stations where we will highlight that overweight people are normal people.
“That is materialising soon,” Massamba said.
– CAJ News