Hear Me Out is a weekly limited series where Ifoghale and Ibukun share the unsolicited opinions some people are thinking, others are living but everyone should hear
Everybody get wetin dey do dem, and what is doing me is that I’ve been skinny for my entire life.
I’ve gone through periods of weight gain all my life, only to quickly lose it again. It’s exhausting having to ride these waves, and should we?
COVID came to me like a gift or a jug of iced tea after almost five years in the desert of — let’s name it — skinny land. I hated skinny land.
Skinny land is where I first noticed how my t-shirts slacked on my body. Oh, I didn’t like that. Even worse were the passing comments on how I looked sickly. Yes, hahaha, you could, in fact, probably lift me over your head; I am not amused. But the thing I hated most about skinny land was realising in university that I was not a fan of my own reflection in the mirror.
For all my time as an engineering student, sitting through long classes and squeezing sleep in during the short nights, I wholly abandoned the one rule my dad set as he dropped me off every semester: make sure you eat.
The lie was that, not-so-deep-down, I knew I’d choose school activities and my responsibilities over food every single time.
I would come home looking like a third of myself, and my mum would panic. “Foghale! Are they stealing your money? Why are you starving yourself?” Then she’d cast a mountain of rice on a plate for me, complete with three chicken laps.
I was willing to put on some weight, so I welcomed it. It was easy to lie to myself. I told myself I would be consistent with my meals: three times a day with snacks in between. As my dad dropped me off at school in my third year, leaving behind his one rule, I thought, “This is the semester I will gain weight.” The lie was that, not-so-deep-down, I knew I’d choose school activities and my responsibilities over food every single time.
That’s why I adored 2020. When COVID came to Nigeria, we were all stuck at home for almost the entire year. Life slowed down, and I began cooking — a lot. I learned the secrets of curry sauce and egg-fried rice. I made alfredo fettuccine, spaghetti bolognese and carbonara drizzled with parmesan reggiano. I noted the foods to avoid: skimmed milk, low-calorie fruits, low-fat everything. All of this because I wanted to gain what I called “healthy weight”.
The changes felt slow, then all at once. After about seven months, I smiled at how my neck filled up its opening in my t-shirts. Two months after that, my jeans began to sit perfectly around my waist without assistance for the first time. I, a formerly skinny person, had finally gained some healthy weight.
The problem with this — hear me out — was that I saw this as something I needed to cling to. What I should have done was allow myself to recognise the free time, the unhinged access to all kinds of food, and my lack of travelling that helped me gain weight, while holding space for a phase of my life where any of those things would be absent. And that phase did come.
Picture this: it was hot in June of 2021, and NYSC decided to ship me off to Benue state for what I could only imagine would be 12 cruel months. After much wahala, I finally accepted my posting. I packed my bag, took one last look in the mirror — muscles, lean; neck, thick; watch, not helplessly dangling at the very edge of my wrist — and left for the bus stop.
From inside my cheap hotel in Benue, I wrestled three villains. First, it was homelessness. I couldn’t cook a single thing, so for over a month, I was eating once a day. Usually small portions of street rice and too many bottles of coke. It also didn’t help that my PPA had me making several long-distance trips on foot. (Exercise? Fuck my life.)
Then there was the food poisoning in July that lasted for almost two weeks. However little I had been eating up until that point, I now ate far less. Don’t get me wrong, I was hungry a lot of the time, but mostly I was weak and tired. I chose sleep over food. Between the homelessness, falling sick and whole days on an empty stomach, I lost more weight than my pandemic gains, and my confidence went down the toilet.
I hadn’t been in Benue for up to two months.
It’s not a crime for my body to respond to circumstances. Still, it was definitely not okay that my self-esteem suffered for it. I thought I was angry at having lost weight, but it turned out I was disappointed with the seemingly endless cycle of gaining weight only to very quickly lose it.
We shouldn’t live our whole lives latched to the idea that we’re somehow more attractive because we occupy a specific point on the body image spectrum. And nobody should ever have to wake up every day to a spreadsheet telling you, in precise numbers, how many calories to consume in order to gain X kg every damn week.
The cycle is brutal, and I want out, which is what I’m doing. Or am trying to do. People like us, who have been skinny since birth, will likely lose weight based on pure circumstance. Desperately trying to gain weight is simply not worth risking low self-esteem if those gains should evaporate — as they just love to do.
The trick then is to do the best with what we have and accept — no, observe, then try to love — all the changes our bodies go through. Granted, we should put in reasonable efforts to eat regular, healthy meals, but you see that thing where we devote hours of our lives to self-loathing, as we hold up an image of what we think we should look like? Yeah, let’s not do that anymore.
Funny, I’m leaving Benue state the very day this article is being published. I’d say I’m on the horizon of a new phase in my life. I’m headed back to my father’s house. Will I have access to more food? Will I stay in one place long enough for me to eat consistently? Yes and yes, most likely. After all, that is the origin of my pandemic gains. Today though, I’m still very much skinny, and I can already picture my mum freaking out.
Hear Me Out is a brand new limited series from Zikoko, and you can check back every Saturday by 9 a.m. for new episodes from Ifoghale and Ibukun.