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

Nkem Ndem

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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 a dynamic freelance writer and editor who can be reached for copywriting, editing and proofreading. She is also a content creator (web, T.V, radio) who has had stints with Jumia and SpiceTV Africa e.t.c. Now she works at Glam Africa as Online editor and BellaNaija as Features writer. E-mail: [email protected]; IG: @kem_dem; Twitter: @ndemv

29 Comments

  1. Jummy

    March 16, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Was just thinking about you the other day Nkem. Good to hear from you.

    To the crux of the article, I’m about the same height as you and have struggled with my weight my entire life. Last year I went to into depression and gained maaaadd weight.

    I was already 80 kg before gaining the extra weight but most of my weight is normally on my lower body so I used to tell myself that I was only “thick” and not fat lol. By October 2017 I weighed a whopping 88kg.

    Everyone kept telling me I had gained weight but I didn’t care cause I wasn’t ready to lose the weight. Plus my boyfriend didn’t ever complain so I was like “bye Felicia” to every one who did complain. LOL Close friends and family did mention the weight gain but it didn’t translate to calling me “ma” cause I have a baby face with or without fat on my face/body. My self esteem and body confidence was really down though. Didn’t like going out cause I didn’t like wearing clothes cause I didn’t like the way I looked.

    Anyway, my boyfriend’s ex resurfaced out of nowhere like she does every 3-6 months or so. Worst still, my boyfriend’s brother was getting married and she heard and asked his sister to give her an IV. When I heard she was attending and even bought aso ebi, I was like “huh, she’s gonna be there and we’ve never met each other and now she’s gonna see me looking like the whale I have become? Hell naw!” Ladies and gentlemen that was when I picked up my first salad in years oh. Can you imagine? I started to lose weight because boyfriend’s ex was attending his brother’s wedding. LOL.

    Anyway, it turned out to be the best thing ever for me oh.. I’m down from 195 to 160 pounds. Body confidence has greatly improved and I won’t lie the “goodness you look so beautiful with the weight loss” makes me chuckle a bit.

    Advice to you Nkem, since you can’t work out and you still wanna lose weight, let me advise you to do something that undoubtedly works. Try intermittent fasting, I promise the pounds will just start to fall off. I’ve been doing it and combining it with working out and controlling my portions. I’m not really picky about what I eat and I still managed to lose all the weight. I do the 16/8 model and have a late breakfast and early dinner. So I eat between the hours of 11 am and 7pm and fast between 7pm to 11am the next day.

    Gosh I’ve written a whole lot today oh. Lemme be going. Lol

    • Adaoma

      March 16, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      Jimmy, please come back. I’m on several IF groups but I’m scared cos of the supplements I may need to take and the potential effect on my hormones as per periods as I still want to have another child. What has been your experience?

    • Jummy

      March 19, 2018 at 7:11 pm

      Adaoma sorry I’m just seeing this. Well I’ve been on IF for 3 months now and I mostly listen to my body.

      The 16/8 model isn’t a biggie for me as it only means I’m having a late breakfast and early dinner. I take some days off each month as well, ranging from 2-5 days per month.

      I also listen to my body. There are days when I feel insanely hungry during my fasting period and once I can’t control it anymore, I eat!

      My hormones and period have been normal. I haven’t had kids neither am I trying to so I don’t know if it’s affected my fertility, but I don’t think it has.

    • Nkem Ndem

      Nkem Ndem

      March 21, 2018 at 9:13 am

      Thank you @Jummy for taking out time to write. I have heard of this intermittent fasting but have never taken it seriously. I guess I just need the discipline to be serious and do it for real. let’s see how the next month goes. xo

  2. Engoz

    March 16, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Just recently discovered I am way older than one woman in my church. She has three kids already and has the special gait of a ‘Ma’, lol. Should have speculated her age, ‘cos she acts childishly. I’ve always been tiny, so don’t go through this. You can’t blame people though, because the best way to trigger older Nigerian women or women who are married especially is to address them without their designated title. They are the ones that know who did not greet well and can join witchcraft just because of that. Very petty sets of people. I would rather find out later that they are younger than for their petty wrath to be visited on me.

    • Puzzles

      March 16, 2018 at 1:46 pm

      I agree with you to an extent. Many Nigerian married women (those i have encountered) consider it an insult if you address them by their first name, especially if you’re a single lady. Even those you knew before they got married start acting somehow when you address them the way you did when they were single. To avoid unnecessary insults, i address them by their husband’s name or child’s name (Mama Somebody) unless they specifically ask me to address them by their first name. I’m so used to expecting this behavior that it takes me aback when a married lady introduces herself to me by her first name.

  3. Tolu

    March 16, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    You have just spoken my mind. Believe me, you aren’t the only one bothered about this. I used to be a size 8 and now I am borderline 10. The most irritating ones are those who will meet you in public and will not shut up and keep ranting about how you’ve added so much weight and need to go to the gym and watch what you eat. Wait!. Have you not met those who will stop you while you’re eating and actually tell you to better stop eating whatever it is and stick to fruits instead. Mtchewww. I get that some of these people are trying to help but abeg, that is not the way to go about it.

    • Nkem Ndem

      Nkem Ndem

      March 21, 2018 at 9:18 am

      @Tolu, I am telling you. The i-know-it-all advisers are the worst! LOL. i have to mentally stop myself from rolling my eyes or even spitting on them.

  4. Ebere Owah

    March 16, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    Very funny, sorry no pun intended. I was actually very disturbed when I went to buy an electronic and the boy selling was calling me mummy mummy. Shoo, see me see wahala what do you mean mummy when I don’t even have children of my own. It is well. Anyway at some point in time whether we like it or not we will be called ma. But sincerely most times it is a sign of respect rather than a sign of one being old. Nice piece though

  5. Puzzles

    March 16, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Nkem, this article is personal o!

    I feel you. I don’t have issues on the weight department but it makes me feel somehow when i’m addressed as “Ma” because it reminds me that i’m not getting any younger and the husband and kids have not arrived.

    Anyway, i don’t think most say it to offend anyone. You know how some Nigerians dey carry respect for head. They probably say it because they feel you expect them to, especially if they are rendering service to you.

  6. Chanel

    March 16, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    It’s not only you darling!!!Happens to the best of us!!!!I have been on a diet since I could remember!!!!Went for a party with some friends.One brought a date!!!Thats how I asked a question and the girl called me Ma!!!!i wanted to slap her!!!Do I look that old because I put on some few pounds…I was so pained and I have been going harder on my diet and exercise since!!!!But our society can be funny anyway….My gateman calls me Ma now…It’s high time I tell him to call me aunty or sth because they’ve added 10 years to my age!!!??? NONSENSE!!!!!!!!

    • Nkem Ndem

      Nkem Ndem

      March 21, 2018 at 9:19 am

      LOL. @Chanel we are in it together. I feel you pain. Chai!

  7. Akara Pancake

    March 16, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    I wouldnt take it personal. People use the words “ma”, “chairman” “oga” to show respect or seniority towards other peoples.

    Besides look at it this way, in Latin cultures, the term “ma” or “mami” is actually a term of endearment used for a beautiful looking woman. In certain traditional parts of the South in the US, any lady from her mid 20s onwards may be answered to with the words “maam”

    Not having a go at you, but I think the underlying cause of your worry stems your own personal insecurities or hang-ups about your age or body frame. We are more sensitive to certain things if we feel insecure about them in the first place. You are only as old or as overweight/underweight as you feel. Besides on another note, it appears that your body type is “endomorph”.

    What are the characteristics of an endomorph

    Soft and round body
    Gains muscle and fat very easily
    Is generally short
    “Stocky” build
    Round physique
    Finds it hard to lose fat
    Slow metabolism
    Muscles not so well defined

    When it comes to training endomorphs find it very easy to gain weight. However most endomorphs are physically strong. Kim Kardashian and Beyonce are examples. To keep weight off, it is adviseable for endomorphs to keep their daily carb intake to about 20-30% of their diet and eat low glycemic carbs like sweet potato, brown rice, oatmeal, legumes, vegetables. Also try to eat the highest portion of this carbs in the morning or during the day, or least 4 hours before you go to bed. The rest of your diet should be high protein (35-40%), and moderate fats.

    For workouts, lift as heavy as you can, and keep your cardio to about 20-30 mins of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).

    Good luck

    • Nkem Ndem

      Nkem Ndem

      March 21, 2018 at 9:29 am

      @Akara Pancake, being called Mami or Ma the South American way would not be as awful I suppose. I think its more about the tone and the inflection of the “Ma” here in Lagos. But yes, I recognize an underlying insecurity age or body frame, and that is okay too. We all have them, that is what makes us human. Thanks for the fitness tips and new info on endomorphs (makes me feel like a kind of insect btw lol) hopefully I will get serious and actually get back to size 8…or maybe just 10.lol.

  8. Dr.N

    March 16, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    I sometimes look behind me to find who they are referring to when people address me as Ma and I have 4 kids. Lol
    Mental age is 16 I guess

  9. Mamamia

    March 16, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    I have learnt not to take it personal, I think the Ma assertion is usually attached to money/wealth, if I think you look good and probably lavish money in my store or buisness you suddenly turn to ma, it really doesn’t matter how skinny or heavy you look, your money gains you respect, I have come to understand this and have decided not to be bothered, plus there are some women who find it rude if called by their first name and not ma. But me, my name will do if you still call me ma join, I still de kankpe.

  10. Honestina

    March 16, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    I’ve been called madam for about 5yrs now. At first it bothered me but I decided to make lemonade out of those annoying lemons..
    I later realised it was a sign of respect for my physique. Now, I carry myself well and thanks to the “madamy look”, I get by a lot of stuff easily eg jumping long queues.

  11. Joy

    March 16, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    It’s no big deal. I am very busy and can’t be bothered. Will rather make good use of my years on earth and make it count.. A real woman must be confident. If you like use ma for me when I am 18, shows you see greatness in me. Sometimes things rub on us the wrong way because we already feel bad about our looks. If I look into the mirror before leaving home and everything was on point, if someone out there tells me I look very bad, will be quick to assign some mental issue to the person and mental does not mean completely out of one’s senses but there are people who look proper but have psychological or mental issues. Eg if you feel very bad when another woman looks good and decent you have mental issues. Another thing, exposure goes a long way, people use ma am and sir for young people abroad, just to show courtesy. We treat most sales girls badly here but in many countries abroad, people use ma’am for the skinny girl at the point of immigration, waitress or in burger King why? sign of respect and wisdom. If a police officer stops you in the US better use sir or maam. It does not matter if you are twice his or her age.

  12. Neil S

    March 16, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    First, I don’t want a female enemy because one woman thinks I am disrespectful so with bigger weight comes bigger respect. Very many women like to show superiority and ‘ma’ is the result from showing it so why are you feeling sometype of way again.

    For the male BNers, this article just highlighted a new neg and even Nkem doesn’t know she is giving expo on how to neg. *if you know you know*

  13. #JustBeingHonest

    March 16, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    Nkem, you’ve got very serious self-esteem issues. Read @Mamamia’s comment, it should help u comprehend the term “ma” in the Nigerian (especially Lagos) context. Nkem, i mean this as no form of insult neither am i trying to be rude; but you need to talk to someone.

  14. Adaoma

    March 16, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    I hate that ‘Ma’ from Nigerian Instagram vendors. To me, it comes across as condescending and insincere. I once asked one not to call me ma and she went ahead to call me that. Maybe I was being petty, but I decided not to buy from her because she didn’t respect my wishes. Welcome back Nkem.

    • Nkem Ndem

      Nkem Ndem

      March 21, 2018 at 9:32 am

      LOL. Its okay to be petty sometimes biko. I would have done same. Lol. Thanks.

  15. back-to-lurker

    March 17, 2018 at 4:13 am

    I have embraced whatever situation I see myself.
    Plus you do not want the opposite, a patronising ‘my dear’, or ‘small girl’. neither do you want to share space with people who at their oldest are 15 years younger than you and still go Nkemmmuuuu!!!!!!. Trust me.

    In Buharis harsh naija,.People use ma as a means to get some form of rewards. Thank you mummy (probably has helped self to your change…is about to give you a tale so you can support something). or you pay with a card, thanks for purchase/visiting ma. Your bag is lovely ma. If you graciously accept compliment, (without skipping a beat) please dash me ma

    others its just upbringing or as a figure of speech. They use it when being rude or even when distracted. Its just a part of them. Abeg shift ma, na 4 ppl dey seat here.

    Others use it to give an advice.. well don BN ma, as you now post topics on deliberately controversial people, loyal visitors reply in kind, BN doesn’t publish or where published, proceed to delete.. A BIG step back on freedom of speech and down right disrespectful to visitors. Congrats on new strategy ma we will go back to silently reading and eventually move to a more interactive site. ma and sir

    Nkem (if tptb publish and then don’t delete this), you are beautiful and gifted, keep your head up

    • Nkem Ndem

      Nkem Ndem

      March 21, 2018 at 9:33 am

      Thanks @back-to-lurker

  16. Deleke

    March 17, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    ‘Sir’ nko?

    • Omis

      March 18, 2018 at 5:20 am

      Did you even read this article?

    • Nkem Ndem

      Nkem Ndem

      March 21, 2018 at 9:34 am

      @Deleke here’s an extract : “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…”

  17. funshaw

    June 29, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Nkem… I love your write ups. You address real life issues. I’m a guy and I use ma for married ladies and some older folks as our society demands. If that’s your pix on the page… You are beautiful.

  18. ejayz1312

    July 3, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    which is more derogatory? saying ma or not been addressed properly.
    well i look a little younger than my age ,so each time i hang around a woman my age with kids or even younger,they are well addressed .But me they just assume i am one small girl and sometimes even disrespectful about it.
    the struggle is real,i have just learnt to ignore the title or the disrespect.

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