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Nkem Says: Tell Me I’m Not Alone in Feeling This Way

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In life, there are some people that neither need to watch what they eat nor go to the gym to stay slender.

I am not one of those people.

I recognize that I need to eat right and remain committed to my training at the gym to maintain a size 8 or 10 at most. The thing though is… I love food. Yes, I enjoy cooking more than I enjoy eating…but then, can you really cook a meal and not eat of it? Perhaps the silverlining rests in the fact that I eat very small portions, or so I have always believed.

In the last four months though, I have found myself eating much more than I would, normally. And thanks to a knee injury (I don’t know who sent me to do deep squats) I have had to stay out of the gym for the same period as well. As you would imagine, a few love handles and tires now gracefully adorn my body and I have grown to a whopping size 12 (UK).
I know what you are thinking. A size 12 is not bad, but here’s a thing, I am 5.3ft tall.

At size 8, I was petite, and it was cute. People assumed I was much younger than I really was, I would have younger guys, even teenagers, walk up to me to toast me. But at size 12, I now look like a full-blown adult (which I have always been, actually).

It has been a struggle.

Knowing this, you can imagine the shock I suffered last week when a lady at my estate office (who looks about my age or even more) greeted me with “Good Evening Ma”. Sure, a lot of people say “Ma” all the time in this Lagos as a sign of respect, especially if you are procuring their service or they feel you are superior in some form. But this was different. This was not a local girl or someone selling something to me, and her greeting was not at all conducive to my happiness. In fact, it was not until that moment, that I realized the term “Ma” was the one English word that had the power to ruin my entire day.

Truth be told, being called the M-word can be as shocking as finding your first gray hair (for those who have found theirs). It conjures the image of a fat middle-aged lady, married with children but tired of life and bitter because her husband is chasing “small girls” behind her back. Think about it, no one ever addresses someone they think is sexy as “Ma”. The insertion of the word into an otherwise pleasant greeting can feel like a tiny jab, an unnecessary comment on one’s appearance. To be honest, her greeting interpreted as: “Good day fat-unhealthy-lady-who-needs-to-visit-the-gym-more-often, how may I help you this evening?” Uhm…thanks, prematurely balding aunty with the lopsided eye and weak chin, I have a complaint I’d like to register. *kmt*.

I get it, her job was to attend to me. And yes, I understand that maybe she was being polite or deferential, but why settle on the one word that implies I may be overweight or I look like a middle-aged mom? Is it against the estate policy to ask for my name and perhaps call me by that? Did someone somewhere along the way decide it was too diminutive or something?

Okay. I know it’s vain of me to care so much, that I’m almost sounding paranoid. Obviously, I have put on some weight, and yes, I could pass for a nursing mother… but please I don’t feel like a “Ma” yet, thank you.

I was so traumatized that when I got the apartment, I took off my clothes, stood in front of the mirror and looked at myself! My waistline was still intact…no huge damage done, so I brushed off the encounter. But as the devil will have it, two days later something similar happened again. I went to visit a friend, and her gateman referred to me as “Ma” and even asked, “How are the children?”

HIAN!!!

Which children? I was this close to saying to him in Lasisi Elenu’s voice “Are you…Are you mad?” Of course, I politely said, “They are fine, thank you,” and, in my head, added a very irritated “Don’t call me Ma, ode. You can clearly see that there is no wedding band on my finger. I don’t have children in tow. So why are you calling me Ma?” I went on to complain to my friend, telling her that her gateman called me “Ma” and asked about Oga and my children. He burst out laughing and said to me: “I don’t want to be rude, but you have actually packed on some weight, and you now look like a Lolo. You can’t really blame him”.

First of all, that was rude AF. Secondly, referring to me as “Ma” because I am thick is body shaming. It is not okay. Because I am not a size 6 or 8, I have to be a married woman with a husband and children? I have to be a Ma?

The term “Ma,” is, undoubtedly, a slap in the face. It feels like one day you are slender, petite and turning heads then suddenly, almost overnight, people start to talk to you like you’re a fat and unattractive. The issue isn’t my comfort with my weight so much, as to why… why, why does it now need to be a factor in every interaction I have? Why do I have to be trained to respond to a different name once the world at large has decided I am no longer slender and petite?

Men are referred to as “Sir” starting from when they’re old enough to be called anything, and they stay “Sir” through old age. And unlike women who have to go through the titles of  “sister” to “aunty” then “Ma”, they never have to deal with a linguistic system that lets them know at some point, and in no uncertain terms, that in the eyes of the world, essentially, they are no longer attractive, and they have begun to die.When you are called sir, there is a chance you’re being called the same thing that Wizkid or Jidenna is called, but when you are called “Ma”, you are being called the same thing  Patience Jonathan is called… or the woman that sells Okpa at Ikate roundabout.

Ironically, I consider the more formal term “Madam,” which sounds glamorous and powerful like you’re a serious and effective person in the world, yet slightly naughty (if you know what I mean) a better alternative.  That is if you cant be bothered to learn my name. “Your Highness” or “Khaleesi” works as well.

Bottom Line: The extra weight is definitely not enough to categorize me as a ‘Ma’.

What about you guys? Has you had to deal with people calling you ‘ma’ after you gained weight? How did you feel? Or does it happen all the time? (Please tell me I’m not the only one bothered about this!)

Nkem Ndem is an energetic and highly accomplished Media Consultant who loves to help small businesses, especially women-led, grow their online presence using the right digital strategy or transition from traditional organizational boundaries. With years of experience in Copywriting and Editing, Content Branding and Strategy, Social media, and Digital Marketing, she is clearly obsessed with Digital Communications. She is the Head of Content and Lead Consultant at Black Ink Media - an Ideation and Content Agency that excels in providing fresh, creative digital services to content-centric businesses. Find out more about her at www.blackinkm.com or send her an e-mail at [email protected] Also follow her on IG: @nkemndemv, Twitter: @ndemv.

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