Category Archives: Thoughts

Dressing up fat

I have not written something as personal as this in a while. In fact, this piece was half-written a few months ago and it will show when I jump between timeless I do not care to edit these jumps and make it more coherent as this will ultimately start nitpicking and never publish. Life being difficult in succession kept me from doing something that I love because getting rest has been a bigger priority, editing is a luxury at this point.

Dressing up fat

Today though, as I stood in front of a dressing room mirror and held back tears I knew that my day could not end unless I penned my feelings down. Something that I should have done for multiple events that have been occurring, but was placed on hold to more pressing issues. I forget sometimes that writing is how I begin to heal certain parts of my hurt.

So, I have poured myself an enormous glass of wine and the bathwater is running. I will retreat to that little bit of a sanctuary once I have posted this.

I have been an advocate for body positivity for years. Representation and all-around acceptance of humans in whichever way they present has been an important part of the work that I do in social justice.

At some point in my twenties, I ran an annual month-long series focusing on body image where I invited people to sit in front of a mirror and write a “letter” to themselves. It did not have to be of acceptance of their body because for some people they had not reached that point in their journey. A simple, or complex, letter, paragraph, or even essay where they would have a conversation with themselves about their bodies. How they view it and how their view of their body was and continues to be shaped by other people’s ideas, voices, and society/culture as a whole. To attempt to strip some of that away the next question I would ask would be, where is the me in all of these ideas about how I should feel about my body. Each and every person who participated in this series with me felt that it altered something in the way that they spoke to themselves. Some people, after doing the exercise could not publish because the work they had done had become very personal.

A poster of the Body Image Series

Healing, acceptance, and just general thriving in a body that is not palatable to society is never a linear process, but I had hoped that this letter would be a reference point for not only the writers but for others and so I still have an archive of letters that will never be published.

What started as the knowledge that I was a firm advocate for body positivity was then morphed as I discovered language that could explain my experience in more nuanced ways.

An example of this was my introduction to the word fatphobia. There is no one definition of the term and there are many ways to approach beginning to describe it as well as well documented backlash it has received. I use the word all the time but recently have been rethinking it. Although it has its place I think that fat (obesity) stigma works better for me, especially in the line of work that I find myself in. I like the use of the word stigma because of the types of stigma that exist, mainly, internal and external. My thoughts about language use are always changing though and next week I may find a better way to express myself.

This lengthy intro is a setup though for the actual reason that I wrote this post. All this work that I had done, both to encourage others and to heal myself came tumbling down in a matter of weeks recently.

You see, I had been asked to attend an event where there was a specific dress code. Within that, we were required to wear the same outfit. The most obvious response to this, bearing in mind that the group of women invited were all varying sizes would be to customize the outfit and rule out any possibility of making a chore out of the ordeal.

Alternatively, to make use of a store that was not merely size-inclusive in making plus fashion, but catered for smaller sizes too.

This however was not the turn of events that occurred.

Before the trip to have measurements taken and possibly agree on a style to be used for the event there was an idea to possibly buy the outfits from a popular chain store that offered stunning outfits. I immediately raised the point that these types of spaces were often not size-inclusive. This suggestion was sidelined as there was a possibility that bigger sizes were available.

The thing with being fat for most of your life and enjoying fashion is that very quickly you know which stores can cater to you and which shops you should not even step foot into. This particular store was on the “no list”. However, as I had not entered the store in years, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Something that I should not have done.

Needless to say, I did not even attempt to close the zip.

It was after this that I gently excused myself from the proceedings as I could see that the general consensus was to make use of this and another similar store which was equally not size-inclusive.

My gentle excusal was refused as there were plans to in fact rather make use of a seamstress. This gave me hope that I wish I never had at that moment. My hopes were high and the fitting made me feel included in a process that had unintentionally been excluding me from the first suggestion.

Immediately after this, as we stood in the parking lot of the seamstress, the suggestion of the chain store came up again. A surprise to me, a pain in the heart as I could see where this inevitably would end. I was not going to find an appropriate dress and time was running out. Although I was upset the grouping of people I was with have never been fat. I am certain that their weights have fluctuated over time and they have experienced bouts of unhappiness with their size, but that is vastly different from navigating life over the spectrum of a size 16 for most of your life.

When you want to do anything as a fat body, it is ruled by second-guessing if you can. Sitting in a restaurant and choosing a chair instead of the couch because you know you will not fit between the table and the couch. Being terrified of heights because you are equally as terrified that the structure will not hold your weight. Not wanting to engage in outdoor activities that require you get dressed in any other clothing that is not your own because you fear that you will not find a size. In any situation, I have probably thought of every possible thing that could go wrong because the world is not suited for fat bodies.

Contemplating death as I ziplined in 2018

An outfit was inevitably chosen, one that favored bodies that are acceptable and consumable for society. And although the sizing at the shop was depictive of one that would fit me, the reality is that fashionable clothing that has no stretch will never be the size that they profess to be. I stood in the dressing room wearing an outfit that once again, I would not even dare to attempt to zip.

The multiple times that I had expressed size inclusivity out loud to all members of the party rang in my head as my heart dropped into my stomach and all the work of self-love, expressing myself, and being confident in my body was shattered. An ultimate betrayal of myself that I had let this be the defining moment of the work that I had done for myself and how I viewed my body.

There were no words to fully express how despondent I felt, and going forward would never be the same. I knew that as I took the picture in the dressing room and sent it to the group to show that once again, this was a bad idea.

I am certain my bath water is ready for me now and I will have to refill this alcohol.

Before I rest though and try and forget the day that was, I feel that it is once again important to listen to people who are fat when they finally gather the strength to once again speak up and say that something is not inclusive. The back and forward attempting to squeeze them into an idea of what is possible is harmful. More than that, the conversations that you have out loud, in front of your friends that are fat should probably also be relooked at. It often comes off as anti-fat no matter how unintentional it is. How can you move from a moment of saying, ” I hate all of this fat, it makes me look ugly” to “I wish I had your confidence”. You have equated fatness to ugliness and then asked me about being confident even though I am ugly?

As I said toward the beginning, healing, acceptance, and just general thriving in a body that is not palatable to society is never a linear process. But this bath and writing this post is the kickstart that I needed today.

A quick note to all of this though. After this incident, an alternative place was found, which was one of the initial suggestions, and dresses were found without much fuss that ranged in size from the smallest of small to the largest of large. A happy choice. The feeling of dread to participate was lifted.

Newly 31

If you know me, you know that I have a best friend named Jessica. Today is her 31st birthday.

Looking back on the past two years specifically which centered around the last year of being a 20 something year old and then making it to 30 there are two reflections that I want to make that have been an overarching theme in these years.

Failure

noun: lack of success.

Jessica is and will probably for the rest of her life continue to be a mentor. This is not one of those soppy moments where I talk about how she is one to uplift others as she works on herself. Rather a moment for me to reflect as someone close to her, but still on the “outside of her being” about how she navigates those relationships.

She is a person who is not afraid of speaking about her failures, about her struggles with her studies and about the possible delays that this may have caused. There is a power in that which can never be underestimated because if there is one thing that we can all relate to on a human level is failure.  My best friend has wielded her possible halts as a stepping stone to greater things. It has not slowed down her momentum to dream and successfully execute certain goals.

The main reason for this is because she has done away with automatically equating failure as a shameful experience.

Her resilience is something that I am certain each and every one of her mentees will attest to. She will support you through your career highs and lows, will fight for you in spaces that your name is being spoken of and will take the time to advise you should you need that moment. Although this isn’t a true measure of impact, I see in the material form how much she means to the people that she mentors when she receives gifts, treats and trinkets from them.

Mental Health

noun: a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.

Working in corporate, growing up as a black body, living as a woman in South Africa and so many other challenges can and will take a strain on one’s mental health. I saw this first hand a few years ago. It was a difficult task for her to stay close to me when I was in a battle with my own mind that impacted my sense of reality, hormones and ability to be or want to be social. However, she and my really awesome support structures pulled through for me. Only for the roles to be reversed in a different way as corporate attempted to swallow my friend alive.

It is an amusing and often odd thing that because we have our own relationships with our psychologists it has trickled into our relationship. The lessons learned and reflections given in those sessions have made us better friends.

Currently, one of the major loves we have for each other is holding space for the other. I am certain you have come across this term before but if not, it means being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone. It means putting your focus on someone to support them as they feel their feelings[1].

Holding space for someone is difficult. Being present in a busy world is increasingly hard. Moreover, not being judgmental as someone pours their heart out to you is also challenging as some of our natural thoughts would be to ask ourselves why they did certain things. In order to hold space for someone, you have to be ready to do so. If you aren’t, you risk the possibility of not being present, making the other person feel unheard or completely missing the point of what is being shared with you. This has led to many pre-conversations with the crux being, “can you hold space for me in this moment?” “I have something to share with you with regards to xyz, do you have the mental capacity for this?”

Doing this has allowed us to have a relationship that does not feel like a place to dump issues and move on. An actual safe space where I can tap into as a place of care and love.

There are other reflections to be made for the past two years, some on lovers, love, reaching limits, boxing, dreaming and travels but perhaps that should be for another day.

To draw these two things together I want to finally say to you who may be reading this, if there is one thing that my best friend will tell you it to take your mental health seriously and do not be afraid to try again. There is no harm in aiming higher than what you think is possible and you never know if it may actually work out.

Happy birthday to my best friend and I hope we have many more years together!


[1] https://www.gstherapycenter.com/blog/2020/1/16/what-holding-space-means-5-tips-to-practice#:~:text=%E2%80%9CHolding%20space%E2%80%9D%20means%20being%20physically,judgmet%20while%20you%20are%20present.

A termination.

I have always seen the quotes where we are consistently told that 6 months could change our lives. I think that is part of why I am still in utter shock that 12 days could change my life.

12 February 2021

At the crack of dawn, I was already preparing for my visit to the radiologist. I tried to repeat a mantra in my head that it would be okay. As much as my self-diagnosed disease was bad, there were treatments for all of them. Regardless of how brutal they may be.

By the time that I had filled in the forms with the receptionist, I had calmed down. The fact that the specialist was running late just gave me extra time to prepare for what they had to say about my health. I laughed while the radiologist examined my kidneys first after I told a joke about me not being pregnant. She had started at my kidneys because my symptoms were erratic and she wanted to make sure that she got a good reading on everything.

You see, my period had stopped for the past 3 months as a result of me switching contraceptive methods. This however did not negate the fact that I was experiencing abdominal pains that shook me to the core when they decided to strike ever so often especially while lying down.

Within five minutes of my laying down to hear my diagnosis of some sort of medical condition the radiologist giggled and announced that I was pregnant.

Let’s backtrack for a second here to early 2017 when I first found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant. I had recently broken up with my first boyfriend and was having a great time with a guy that I met in the lift who lived in my building. After seeing each other for a while in 2016 he wanted to change our relationship status from, “just kicking it” to something more serious. I was not ready and as a result, we broke things off. This was only for him to come back a few months later and tell me that he was fine with our previous arrangement.

We then carried on with that. I was still at the very beginning of articles at the law firm I was working at and I knew that I did not want to be pregnant right then. We would use condoms at every single encounter because my path towards being an admitted attorney would not be deterred.

After missing a period, I joked with him about being pregnant and I didn’t realise then, but his laugh was almost nervous. My stress levels at the time were through the roof and it wasn’t shocking to me that my period was late/missing. I went to a friend’s house on a whim with a pregnancy test and told her that I was shockingly nervous to take it, but that it should be fine.

I sat in the bathroom with her while her boyfriend watched a soccer match in their living room. We waited and joked, spoke about hair and how we both needed a drink.

Checked the pregnancy test and there were two very very distinct lines which marked a positive result.

But how? I logically know that any contraceptive method is not 100 percent safe, but how was it possible that I was in the 2 percent failure rate? I returned to my place and called the culprit over for a visit where I asked in sincere amazement as to how this had happened.

His explanation started with telling me that I was refusing to be in a relationship with him. I didn’t understand. Then he explained to me that he had thought that if I were pregnant/had his child then I would want to date him because I don’t seem to be the type of woman that would want to be a single mother.

My head spun and I did not understand what exactly was happening. I asked him how that would be possible because we used protection. I did not know the word for it then, but I have since learned that what he had done was stealthing. The deliberate tampering of condoms with a sexual partner without them being aware.

Although I could not put my finger on it and identify that this was an assault at the time, I was felt violated and convicted in my decision that I was not keeping the fetus.

12 February 2021

And so as I lay on the bed on a Friday morning before work in 2021 and the radiologist told me that I was pregnant I could not fathom what she was saying. A hand waved through the screen and the fetus would not keep still enough for her to measure. Ironically I was wearing my favorite dress that came from the maternity section.

I was on the pill for this very reason not to fall pregnant. I took a pregnancy test at the end of every month just to make sure that I was on the right path. Here was this person telling me that she thought I was 3 months into the one thing that I swore I would never want to do.

During my lunch break, after already calling my primary partner to tell him the news I called to make an appointment at a women’s clinic for a termination. Since I was unsure of how far along I was, I needed to have a sonar and check-up before the procedure. As a result, I was then booked for the 23rd of February 2021.

That night was the first of almost two weeks that I cried myself to sleep.

12 February 2021

Two. That is the number of times that I have cried painfully in front of my partner. Where I could feel his distress and panic as to the fact that he couldn’t do anything to put the pieces back together. That I just needed to fall apart and his only role was to hold me physically as my mind worked itself up into a state.

16 February 2021

By the night of the 14th of February, I hadn’t slept with worry. Mostly because I had done some preliminary calculations and it seemed that I was 16 weeks pregnant. 20 weeks is the maximum for termination, so what if I was wrong? I woke up and frantically called every gynecologist near me. The third one that answered told me that they had a free opening in the next hour. I got dressed and called an Uber straight there.

After all the basic tests, the gynae told me that I was 15 weeks and one day pregnant. I doubt that I will ever forget that number.

In my head, as the gynae was telling me about how I had missed the first set of blood tests and check-ups all I could think of is that I still had time to terminate. I nodded and agreed when he told me that I should be back in 4 weeks to do a gender scan and to do some blood tests. An appointment that I am yet to cancel.

As much as I had been riddled with anxiety and uncertainty for the past few days, the confirmation from the doctor that I was still within limits of terminating a pregnancy that I knew nothing of for the past 4 months made me feel better.

I finally got some sleep that night.  

19 February 2021

I had to reschedule my appointment at the women’s clinic since a pre-assessment was no longer necessary. A surgical procedure with anesthesia was moved up to the 19th of February. I spent most of the day at the clinic wishing that I had brought a jersey even though it was hot outside.

20 February 2021

Grief and relief. What a strange combination to be faced with.

The five stages of grief, in no particular order or time frame apparently, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Relief on the other hand is defined as a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress.

The first person that I told about the pregnancy was my best friend. My message was clearly laced in denial. It read, “Not me being pregnant Jessica.” I laugh now but what a millennial response to have in such a situation.

Within these days I had moved from debilitating anxiety to relief that this was not happening to me. My body still carried the trauma of the emotions that I was processing. Right at the start, I had already tried to start easing my mind to the fact that it may be too late for a termination. That I had to go through with this. Not necessarily that I had to keep the baby that would be born, but the fact that I would have to carry the fetus to term.

Although I know that I made the right decision for me, one that I will never regret or feel bad about, there is no stopping the feeling of loss. Grief is about processing a loss. Logic, pre-determined plans, and goals are irrelevant when you are going through extreme circumstances.

23 February 2021

I finally said out loud and acknowledged that I had gone through a loss and moving straight to acceptance was not a possibility.

I booked an appointment with a clinical psychologist. All that I did was cry while trying to explain what was wrong. My therapist didn’t tire of letting me cry or gather my thoughts.

Before the end of that day, the receptionist had already sent me a form to fill out which would ensure that I got treatment for acute stress disorder accompanied by recent trauma. Loss, no matter how justified, is still a loss. We cry over the end of terrible relationships because they still happened and there were real feelings there, good or bad. I cry over the fact that my life was almost changed forever and that I was able to avert it.

Having a marginally good credit score enabled me to access money in a rush, having access to a safe and legal termination, having access to a mental health provider, and being afforded time off from work without jumping through hoops. These are things that I am grateful for the most today as a type this.

My life is still changed as a sit with a newly inserted IUD, but this is the choice that I have made.

All that has happened will never fall into a list of regrets. I do however need to deal with the emotions of an exceptionally stressful week that still leaves me tearful.

Choosing me

16 July 2016 was the day that I started working at my previous firm.

Before this, I had been wholeheartedly job hunting for articles for about 4 months with not a single interview.

One day I received a call for an interview in Pretoria East and so I drove from Rustenburg with a prayer in my heart all the way. Your girl nailed the interview and started working 3 weeks later. The 16th of July 2016.

My first day was a blur of information and when lunchtime came I headed out to sit in my car. I took the opportunity to call my mom and told her everything.

I ate.

I didn’t spend the full hour outside and then came back in.

The moment I walked in, the candidate attorney who was training me scolded me for taking lunch. Her words were, “ you don’t get lunch.” I found it strange but I let it be. The following day I needed to go to the pharmacy at lunch and headed on out. While driving I received a call from the office asking where I was. I confusingly checked my time again just to make sure it was 12 o’clock and proudly said, “it is my lunch time. I am going to the pharmacy.”

My supervisor, who was the one who had called, then informed me that I need to tell her if I was going off the property during lunch. I was confused but I realised very quickly that lunch time was clearly not my own. I made peace with this and got into the habit if not taking lunch. I ate at my desk and carried on working. The culture was clearly entrenched in the company that certain employees were not afforded as many rights as previously thought.

Fast forward to the two candidates who were training me leaving the company. I took over the work of two people. This was court visits, drafting and general admin. It was clear to my co-workers that I was overwhelmed but as common practice with interns and even more so in the legal fraternity I was here for my articles ad there was nothing that I could do about it. Candidate attorneys are after all easily replaceable.

After a few months of roughing it out alone it was clear that this was indeed the work of two people and another candidate was thankfully hired. She has since become like a sister to me, but that is a story for another day.

We worked 7 am – 8 pm on most days during high volume period. Our work was still never done. The two year passed in more of a blur with the additional stress of board exams, evening classes and Masters. I was constantly stressed and the worst was still to come.

The Law Society (Legal Practitioners Council) has conveniently never reviewed how much abuse candidate attorneys go through in their time of articles. I constantly say that the most unfair practises and rules are within the legal fraternity. The affidavit that you work towards in order to be admitted as an attorney of the High Court comes at a high price. Usually just your sanity, but probably your liver too.

After my favourite co-worker finished her articles the firm did not offer her place to stay. This left me alone, again. At this point though, the department had downsized and the two support staff that we had were either moved to other departments or left the company. In the legal department it was me, my supervisor and my boss.  Down from six to three.

My supervisor was tasked with the call center management and then I was tasked with the management of the legal aspects of all our clients. This technically meant that it was just me in the legal department doing all of the ground work. My supervisor then went on maternity leave.

I began working from 7am up until 10 and even 11pm for over 3 months. It makes me emotional at times that for months I never saw a sunset or sunrise because of my schedule. I would be in absolute awe when I was able to experience these little joys.

In the space of one month during the excessive stress from work, I lost both my maternal grandmother and my youngest niece.

I broke.

For two days I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t even reach for the alcohol that I had been using as a coping mechanism. I had gained an excess of 10kgs because I genuinely had no time to cook or care for myself.

Luckily the two days that I disappeared from work were right before the weekend and so in theory I was able to rest for 4 days.

When I finally returned to the office I was summoned to the bosses office. After explaining what had happened, I was offered therapy. The offer was not to reduce my stress or work load but rather to attempt to fix the broken, well oiled machine who was desperate for her affidavit.

I still took the offer though and went to therapy. My therapist immediately advised me after the first session that she was going to book me off work and send me to a wellness clinic because I was on the thinnest line towards burn out. I declined.

Remember how I said that the law society has crazy rules? Well, as a candidate you cannot be absent from work for over 30 days. You guessed it, no falling pregnant, no admission to mental health institutions and all of that apparently unnecessary absenteeism that humans are susceptible to. I was then placed on various medication for stress, anxiety and depression. I pushed on until I wrote my last board exam with the firm, because that was my exit strategy.

I didn’t pass the exam. The moment that I found out, I made the decision to quit my job. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was one exam pass away from admission but I just could not reconcile staying at this firm until 2020 where I could rewrite.

And so I quit. I made the decision to choose myself.

This is something that I never do. I am a finisher. I have a high work ethic and drive. In this instance, I just could not carry on.

In the process of me serving my notice the department I was in hired 3 people to replace me. I trained all of them and I throw up a little prayer for them every time I think about it.

31 October 2019 was my last day.

It has been over a year since leaving that work space and I genuinely am happier than I have been in years.

Sometimes the beginning of a beautiful story of loving your life is between making difficult decisions that may be frowned on by others.