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Children as young as four fat-shamed in Kenya

Body-shaming incidents prevalent among children in Kenya.

  • 2 years ago
  • December 2, 2020
7 min read
A mother and two children, whose faces are blurred, play under a yellow tarp while wearing life preservers. A mother and her two children in Nairobi.

This submission recounts several incidents of body-shaming targeted at children as young as 4 observed by a teacher in Nairobi, Kenya over a week period ending Dec. 1, 2020. The description of the incident is followed by the rationalization from the peer group or caregiver. The interview subjects are local children in my neighborhood in Nairobi, whom I have on several occasions heard body-shaming their friends. These were casual conversations with them on why they do it and where they got the idea that fat children should be ridiculed. For privacy and legal reasons, we only share the age of the children.

Eight-year-old fat-shamed at playground

My friends and I play a lot of games but my favorite is ‘Follow the Leader.’ When it’s my turn, I make them hop like frogs, and dance gwara gwara or zigwembe. Sometimes I tell them to laugh like hyenas.

My least-favorite game is called ‘Police and Robbers’, but they like it a lot. I don’t. When we play that game, they make me a prison guard all the time. The prison guard is boring. I just stand there and watch. They say I can’t be a policeman because fat policemen can’t run after robbers.  They also say I can’t be a robber because fat robbers are always caught quickly. Nobody wants me on their team. So, they always make me guard.

The explanation

But If we have him on our team as a robber, he will be caught first and we will lose. The other team doesn’t want him to be a policeman because he won’t catch us. It’s because he’s kafattie and kafattie people can’t run. Only thin people run. See how Eliud runs fast, it’s because he’s thin. Fat people can’t, or they will come last. At our school during P.E, this girl Marion, she’s very fat. When we are racing, she sweats a lot and just walks instead of running. So, the teacher tells her to sit down and not run with us.

Even on TV, prison guards are fat and have big bellies. And they are always eating doughnuts and dozing, and they put keys on their belts, and sometimes the prisoners steal those keys and escape. Like in Jela 5-star, you can watch it if you think I’m lying. That’s why we always make him be a prison guard. Because he’s fat.

Twelve-year-old fat-shamed at home

Next week is my birthday, I’ll be 12. I think 12 is awesome. It’s my favorite number. Mum says I am now becoming a young woman, but I don’t want to be a woman at all. I wish I was smaller.

It was on Tuesday when we were all sitting on the staircase, and Joyce said, “People with bones come on my side, and people with meat go on the other side.” I was the only one on the side of meat. I wish I had bones and not meat. And Joyce always says that fat people are dirty. Her mom told her that there is a fat man in their office and he’s very dirty.

Also, our nanny always says that I should be careful because mwili kama hii inavutia wanaume (a body like this attracts men) and even if I’m 11, they will think I am older. When I come from the shop, she always asks if any man looked at me. But I don’t know, because I always walk very fast, and I walk looking down so that I can’t see if anyone is looking at me. I don’t want anyone to look at me. I don’t even like boys.

The explanation

I have been minding this child since she was three, and all of a sudden, she’s popped. I am protecting her. You know how men are. Visual creatures. I can’t wait for this Corona thing to end so boarding schools can be open again. If it was up to me, she would stay inside the house throughout. I told her mum, and we tried it for a few months, but we realized she was getting fatter in the house only eating, and watching TV. One of the neighbors told us we should let her play and run outside, or else she would explode inside here. That’s why we let her out. If she had a small body, it would be better. We don’t want her to suffer for being fat, especially at her age.

Four-year-old fat-shamed in the estate

I am four. Last year I was three and now, I am four. This is Lucky, he is also four. I have a scooter, but Lucky doesn’t have one. He has a football. Sometimes I let Lucky ride on my scooter, but only when my brother Kipu is not seeing. When Kipu is here, I don’t let Lucky on my scooter. It’s because Lucky is kanono (very fat) and Kipu said he will break my scooter. Fat people always break things. Didn’t you see that cartoon where their grandmother was very fat, and when she sat on the chair, it broke?

I also want kufura kama mandazi (to swell like a bun) like Lucky, so that I can break this scooter. Then my dad will buy me a new one. Lucky what do you eat to become fat?

The explanation

Spaghetti. I like eating a lot of spaghetti. But if you become fat like me, your mum will tell you that she will not buy you new clothes again, if you continue to be big. So, I will stop eating spaghetti. And you will let me play with your scooter all the time.

The cousins’ story, narrated by a nine-year-old

I have two cousins both named Mwangi. One we call Mwangi mnono (Fat Mwangi) and the other is Mwangi mkonde (Thin Mwangi) That’s how we separate them because if you just say Mwangi, no one will know which one you are calling.

Mwangi mnono is 10, and mwangi mkonde is 9, just like me. Sometimes we call Mwangi Mnono Patrick Mwangi. It’s because he’s like Patrick from SpongeBob. You see how Patrick likes to eat all the crabby patties, and eat everything, one day, he even ate Plankton. Mwangi Mnono also eats a lot. You see, even when we are walking to the pond, he always gets tired on the way and says ‘Let’s rest a little’ so sometimes we hide and leave him with grandma so that he doesn’t spoil it for us. 

When we go to Mwangi Mnono’s house, he is always the first to finish the food all the time, then he tells his mum ‘niongeze’ (please add me) but his dad says ‘no, do you want to burst? very soon you will be too big for the door, just drink water.’He says that because boys should not be fat. But girls can be fat, even my mum is fat. But it’s not good for boys to be fat. And even in the Carousel program, Laura always eats a lot, and she’s fat.If you eat a lot, your brain becomes full of food, and you can’t think well. I think Mwangi mnono’s brain has a lot of food.

The events in this story took place between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, 2020, within Donholm Estate in Nairobi.

Socio-cultural beliefs in Kenya depict obesity and being overweight in children as admirable traits. Parents are often complimented for having ‘healthy, chubby children,’ however, these children are picked on and made fun of more often than peers of healthier weights.

Fat-shaming among children, while rampant in children playgroups and within schools in Nairobi, has never made any news headline, and is not being addressed on a large scale.

Data

IOTF, 2002 results indicate that obesity is rising significantly in developing nations more so among the urban populations.

In a research conducted by several scientists at Kenyatta University in Nairobi titled: Child obesity and fitness levels among Kenyan and Canadian children from urban and rural environments: A Kids-Can Research Alliance Study, it was found that Kenyan children in urban settings appear to show signs of nutrition-physical activity transition. The means that urban Kenyan children partake in more sedentary behaviors such as taking a bus to school every day compared to rural children.

Studies conducted among the pre-school children from several African countries indicate that Kenya had a prevalence rate of 4.6 per cent.

A study conducted by Malla, among pre-adolescent in private schools in one division in Nairobi Province Kenya, indicated that the prevalence was 38.1 per cent with more girls being obese than boys.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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