Death - and body shaming - at a funeral

Two weeks ago I went home to bury my uncles. Their unexpected deaths were a shock to the whole family. Our hearts were broken – they still are. On the Wednesday before I went home for their funerals, I frantically left the office with my colleague to buy “appropriate” clothing. My family is very traditional and unlike a few years ago I am now considered a woman, therefore I must dress like women do at such occasions. A doek or hat to cover my head, a long dress or skirt that is long enough to go below the knees. And of course khiba, an apron, to wear as we peel, cook and wash the dishes. This new “woman” role that is expected from me is tough, I quite enjoy it.

Deserted the peeling for a Size 20 three-foot pot. Fun. LOL.

Then why was I panicking about the clothes I will wear?  Because I had nothing to wear to hide all the weight I have gained over the past year. You see, my family is very vocal about how people look, especially how fat people have become. I wanted to buy loose-fitting dresses that will drape over me. I was hoping these clothes and the grief we were currently going through would be enough of a distraction from my weight gain.

I should have known better.

An hour into my arrival at my grandmother’s house and I was fielding remarks of my weight gain. “Bathong Pontsho! O ya kae ga o le mokana?” “Ne o le montle yang ga ne o slimile.” “Dirope tsa gago di dikima yang!” My response was sometimes a giggle, but mostly silence. If these comments were said in the presence of my mother, she would defend me and harshly shut down those who commented about my body. I was grateful for the protection she gave me, she knew how much they hurt me – a lesson my mother learnt only two years ago.

So here it is: My relationship with my mother descended into chaos in June 2015. In a heated family therapy session I basically told her (in front of my sister and father) that I believe she hates me and only really puts up with me because she birthed ne. To the shock of everyone in the room, including my therapist, most of the resentment I harboured came from the fact that I was deeply hurt by how my mother used to talked about my looks. I’ve never been thin, I went from 13-14 year size straight to size 34). Since then my mother and I have rebuilt our relationship. We’ve worked through our issues. So she’s always in my corner and knows that certain things hurt me more than she used to think. 

Anyway… My mother was not always around me at the funeral so the relatives continued. By Saturday, I was enough and hoped (again) that the grief of my uncles’ death would mean that my body is not on the firing line. Haha, I was cute for even thinking that. Half an hour before the funeral program began I went to change into another dress – the one I was currently wearing was drenched in the smell of smoke and stained by the ashes. As in most black families in South Africa, one bedroom is reserved for mourning where the deceased closest relatives lie on the mattress all week. Our oldest female relatives, mostly my mother’s aunts, were in that room and I had to change in that room. I begrudgingly went in to change. I told myself I will not look at their faces but I could feel their eyes on all over me. And then the comments started. If you walked into that room, you would think they were not talking about me in my presence. I listened, in silence, and in pain. I changed as quickly as I could and left the room.

As relatives who only pitch on the day of the funeral streamed in, their remarks also followed. By the end of the day, I was grew more tired of their comments than I did of the labour of the past two days. After washing all the dishes and packing most of the pots, I packed my bags and starting saying my goodbyes. I was leaving earlier because I had to catch up on work back in Johannesburg. I leaned over to hug my aunt and kiss her goodbye. “Ke kopa o ntshepise selo se le sengwe (Please promise me one thing),” she asks earnestly. I nod. “Ke kopa o sa akola go feta fa, fella tlhe (Please don’t gain more weight than this, stop here).”

It felt like someone just sucker punched me. Here are I am, saying my goodbyes after the biggest tragedy in our family, and my aunt’s parting message to me is that I must stop being fat? Wow.
My parents walked me out, I kissed them goodbye and I left.

It’s been almost two weeks since I buried my uncles, and processing their deaths has not been a priority. My biggest concern has been to find ways to lose weight.