Street vendors turn to body shaming as a form of recreation
Lilian Mafukidze (23) says vendors swamping the streets of Bulawayo drinking illicit alcohol are now in the habbit of shaming women as a form of recreation, oblivious of the psychological harm they will be causing. The crowds normally comprise of vendors, taxi touts, money changers and loitering unemployed people.
The practice is prevalent at bus termini, open markets and entrances to popular supermarkets. Women passing by these areas are given names according to size and shape of their bodies or the clothes they will be wearing. In some situations, the women are indecently handled as the crowds cheer on.
“In February this year I was in town. After I had finished my errands, I went to the taxi rank to get transport for going back home. There were the usual crowds at the taxi rank and as I was about to get into the taxi, I suddenly felt someone caressing my behind. I jumped back and screamed at the tout who had touched me. I expected him to apologise for his behaviour but instead, he laughed at me and said I had such a ‘big butt’ and he just wanted to feel if it was not an in-plant,” says Lilian.
Lilian says as she continued to exchange harsh words with the tout, his colleagues and other vendors joined in to laugh at her and make rude comments about her body structure. She says women vendors who were part of the crowd did not take action to protect her but joined the spectacle.
“I was born with a big body and it is who I am. I cannot change it. For someone to just grab me and says they want find out if it is real is highly demeaning and offensive. I have never been so humiliated in my life. I was just hopeless because there was no one to help me from all that madness. I was left in tears and had to force my way into the taxi to save myself from rowdy crowed that was gathering,” says Lilian.
Lilian reveals that this is not the first time that she had been subjected to body shaming orwitnessed some other girls being called names. Girls with big bodies are called names such as sdudla mafehlefehle, sdudla ma thousand (the fat one) or heavy duty. Girls who are slim are called names such as stiki somatshisi (the one like a match stick). She says each time such comments are passed, there will be mobs of people joining in to laugh at the targeted woman.
“Most of the time when I hear such things, I just continue to move on and pretend that I have not heard what they said. However I would be seething with rage. What do they want me to do? I used to cry about it but these days I just keep quiet unless they physically confront me,” says Lilian.
Lilian says that body shaming is worsened by the proliferation of cheap and illicit alcohol. She says most perpetrators would be intoxicated and it would be futile to argue with them.
Lilian is not the only one who has been subject to body shaming in the crowded streets of Bulawayo. Lindsay Ngwenya (24) lives in Kingsdale, north of Bulawayo city centre. Lindsay says her big body always attracts the attention of street crowds.
“There are some areas of the town that I have stopped visiting even if there is something that I need. Areas like Egodini. The area is congested because it is close to the main bus terminus and there are shopping malls around. I stopped going there for some time now because some people used to pass nasty comments about my body,” says Lindsay.
Lindsay adds that she is now forced to wear loose clothes that hide her body but this has done little to stop the crowds from passing comments about her body.
“Each time I hear nasty comments about my body, I feel hurt. I did not chose to be like this. I am actually proud about myself but some people just want to entertain themselves by laughing at me. It is inhuman and should stop. At times I just force myself to wear loose fitting clothes just to hide my body,” says Lindsay.
Lindsay says there are some comments that uplifts one’s self esteem and there are some comments that are so hurtful that some women may consider suicide or self-harm.
“As a young woman I feel great when someone I know appreciates my beauty. However, in the streets it is offending. People make loud comments about my body and at times they whistle to draw the attention of the crowds on my body. That is not good,” says Lindsay.
Lindsay says at times when she tries to defend herself from the crowds, she is labelled a cheap ‘prostitute’ with a fake rear. She says her body is natural and she has never gone for body enhancing operations.
Kershia Mvundura (35) the Programme Officer for the Creative Centre for Communication and Development says body shaming in Zimbabwe is rampant and is not only confined to the streets of Bulawayo.
“When a woman’s picture appears in the media (print, electronic or social media platforms), people make comments that ridicule the body. Even in the country’s Parliament, we have witnessed some senior political figures using body shaming to silence their opponents. We need to highlight the psychological impact of body shaming and advocate for regulations that protect women from this form of abuse,” says Kershia.