Navigating life as a woman in the world today is incredibly difficult. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their takes on everything from sex to politics right here.
The subject of this week’s What She Said is 26-year-old Busayo. She talks about navigating life as a skinny person; being bullied in secondary school, disrespected at work and receiving unpleasant reactions from people due to her body size.
When was the first time you realised, whoa, I’m skinny?
People have called me names for as long as I can remember: fele fele, number 1. It became something I was super conscious about in secondary school. In SS 1, the period where girls start wearing skirts instead of pinafore, and they were filling up their skirts and stuff like that, I did not look like the other girls and people did not hesitate to point that out. That was when it hit me that yes, this is a thing.
Tell me more about secondary school.
The first part of it was awesome. I was one of the cool kids and everyone liked me. I had lots of friends. Then it slowly started to get brutal around the time I became self-conscious about how people saw me. People were more open and they would say it as they thought it regardless of how I felt. Maybe it was always like that and I just didn’t care. Maybe it started to hit me as I grew older. But I remember the second half of secondary school was horrible. Like, can people just not notice me? Can I not be the skinny girl in school that everyone makes jokes about? The guys used to do this thing where if I was walking by, they would blow air at me. There were two options for me — I stop and I don’t move, which would mean that I was entertaining their joke, or I move and they say they moved me with their breeze. It’s funny, but when you think that this used to happen in the middle of the class and everyone would laugh at me… It was quite annoying. I would laugh with them, but it took a huge toll on me.
I’m so sorry. Did you have issues with teachers?
Yes. One of the most elaborate encounters I had regarding my weight was with teachers. There were these female teachers that always made comments about my body when they passed by me. Especially the Yoruba teacher; I get why people hate Yoruba teachers. One day, we were having a class – Maths I think, and she popped to talk to the Maths teacher. I don’t remember what made her notice me, but she asked me a question and I stood up and answered, next thing she says, “È̩ rì bó ṣe rí. Àyà gbẹ̀, ìdì gbẹ̀, kò sí ńkànkán bẹ̀.” See how she looks. Chest flat. Ass flat. There’s nothing there. The entire class lost their minds. Their laughter was so loud people in other classes wondered what was going on. My light-skinned friend who sat behind was holding in his laughter so hard that he turned red. He ended up falling down with his chair — that’s how much people were laughing. It was like that nightmare where you’re naked in front of everybody and they’re laughing at you.
Another day, I was walking by two teachers, and I greeted. As I passed them, one said, see how she looks like number 1. I looked back and she glared at me. That entire day, I kept wondering why they decided to pick on me. They clearly could tell that their words would get to me. So I thought to tell them how I felt.
My best friend was a writer, so her solution to everything was to write something down. She advised me to write them letters, so I wrote two identical letters. Very short letters asking them to understand that the names they called me were offensive and I’d really like for them to stop — I thought it was polite. I dropped them on their tables at the end of the day so they would find the letters in the morning.
The next morning, a junior called me to the staff room. I got there, and they told me to kneel down. They had passed the letters around and all the teachers were like, oh wow, THE GUTS of this little twat to tell us we are offending her. They found the word “offending” offensive because only young people can offend older people, not the other way round. They flogged me, and when I saw they weren’t going to stop, I walked out of the room and went home.
What happened after that?
They told me to call my mum, and when she came down, she was furious. They apologised to her, not me. I became the girl that all the teachers hated. I was shunned for prefectship the next year, which was funny because I was the first junior student to become a prefect at the school because I was the smart, favourite kid.
What size were you then?
This one is hard to answer o. Now, seven years after, I say I’m officially a small size 6, but I still have to fix my clothes a lot of times. Then, I was probably a small 4.
How else does your size affect you?
The biggest way it affects me now is how people see and respect me. We’re in Nigeria; it’s already difficult to be respected in any space as a woman. Imagine when you’re now a woman that looks like a thirteen-year-old boy — people will very often try to take advantage of you, look down on you or assume they can get away with anything. Women and men would make fun of your size, ask you how are you going to get a husband, tell you you need to eat more, this and that. The most worrying is when people disrespect you because you’re tiny.
How do they disrespect you?
I’ll give you a scenario. This one makes me laugh all the time. A while ago, I was out with a friend that’s younger than me. She’s big and tall. We were gisting about something and having a fun argument, and a random man got annoyed. “Ahan, look at this young girl. Her sister is telling her something, but she is just arguing and arguing.” He thought she was my older sister.
That one is funny, but there is the occasional harassment where even when I’m amongst friends, I get harassed because my body makes me seem vulnerable.
Once I was giving a presentation at work, and a man stops me and goes, “Sorry, how old are you again?” And when I answered, he just said okay and moved on like nothing had happened. I don’t see this happening to my colleagues — people stopping and asking them how old they are.
Sometimes, they undermine my skills. In the most professional setting, a Yoruba man would just go, “All these small-small children. What do you know?”
On multiple occasions, people have stopped me to tell me to not wear clothes that show my figure — usually bodycon dresses — because it’s not flattering. I’m like, first of all, I don’t know who the fuck you all are. This also happens at work. Who asked you?
Now, I’ve come to the point where I laugh a lot of these things off.
Any last words?
One of the issues with people and skinny-shaming is when people hear skinny-shaming they go, “Oh boohoo, you’re a perfect size 8 girl complaining about your perfect life and perfect body.” They don’t consider that not everybody is the perfect size 8. There are skinnier people than that, and they are the ones usually complaining.
If you’d like to share your experience as a Nigerian or African woman, email me.