News Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) OurHealth Women's Health

Learning the hard way to love her body

Written by Cynthia Maseko

As South Africans’ waistlines continue to grow, one Mpumalanga woman tells OurHealth about how weight problems have followed her through life like a shadow – and so did low self-esteem.

Malaza admits that she turned to dangerous diet pills in an attempt to shed kilos

Malaza admits that she turned to dangerous diet pills in an attempt to shed kilos

As a child, Fezile Malaza listened to her stepfather call her mother an isidudla, or “fat.” She vowed never to bear the same name but was increasingly insecure about her own extra kilos.

Her insecurity about her own weight only grew after her husband cheated on her with a skinny woman when they were still dating.

“I started questioning and disliking the way I looked,” she tells OurHealth. “I forgave his infidelity but I immediately started to feel and relive… my mother’s past life.”

A dangerous addiction

Her low self-esteem soon led Malaza, who lives outside Aldie, to dangerous diet pills.

“Being overweight has always stressed me and I never liked what I saw on a mirror because my body was so big,” adds Malaza, who describes the low self-esteem that accompanied her weight as a shadow that has always followed her. “I began buying pills that I wasn’t supposed to use because a doctor told me that I was putting my life and health at risk.”

Seven years later, the weight still had not come off but Malaza’s health had taken a dive. Living with HIV, Malaza also saw a dangerous drop in her CD4 count, which she attributes to the pills.

“I have lived with HIV for several years without antiretrovirals (ARVs), but because of my addiction and consequences of ignoring the risk of diet supplements now I am on a process of getting used to the side effects of the ARVs,” she said.

“My advice to other women is to listen to health professionals advises because if they are saying there are risk and consequences it’s usually 100 percent true,” Malaza told OurHealth.

A changing frame of mind

Malaza has given up on diet pills and she is slowly trying to change her frame of mind – and lose weight the safe way.

“The different between me and other overweight women was they see themselves as big and beautiful,” she adds. “I guess that’s because they never suffered from low self-esteem like me and that’s why they enjoy being different.”

“I am glad that I have learn my lesson and I’m still alive, and slowly I am sure I will see my big body (without) the negativity in which I see it now,” Malaza says. “My plan now is to go straight to gym.”

South Africa is the fattest country in sub-Saharan Africa, and ranks among the world’s top 20 fattest countries. Seven out of 10 South African women weigh more than what is considered healthy. This figure is slightly lower in men, of whom about three out of 10 are overweight or obese.

About the author

Cynthia Maseko

Cynthia Maseko joined OurHealth in 2013 as a citizen journalist working in Mpumalanga. She is passionate about women’s health issues and joined Treatment Action Campaign branch as a volunteer after completing her matric. As an activist she has been involved with Equal Treatment, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and also with Marie Stopes Clinic’s project Blue Star dealing with the promotion of safe abortions and HIV education.