Africa is known for her abundant natural resources and beautifully curvaceous women. It is probably the only continent where women don’t spiral into depression for being called fat. On the contrary, they proudly swing their ample mounds of buttocks and confidently flaunt the rolls of fat that embrace their midriff. However in the last decade, as environmental activists focused on the effects of global warming, few realized that in addition to losing forestlines, Africa has steadily been shedding the excess fat around her waistline.
This is a noteworthy trend in a society where plumpness is a sign of well being and skinniness is the scorned indication of those who have been overcome by the stress of empty pockets or marital frustrations. The notion encouraged women to eat heartily and purposefully. Pregnant? Eat! Starting a Business? Eat! Closing a business? Eat! Your husband has a girlfriend? Well then, grab a bowl and eat until ‘ rolls of happiness’ inflate your breasts and hug your thighs. For decades, the voluptuous results of purposeful eating has been enthusiastically endorsed by the African society as the benchmark of beauty, so what would possess the African woman to take up early morning walks and various exercises in the gym to move from fat to fit.
To uncover the motivation behind this trend, I joined an early morning gym session at Pippa’s Health Centre in Accra. There, I met Afua, a Spinning instructor who explained that women are losing weight because they have recognized the importance of a healthier lifestyle. Women have come to the realization that excess weight has serious health implications like high blood pressure and heart disease. So to reverse the effects of years of over indulgence in steamed carbohydrates and fried protein, women have taken to the low impact, but full body workout that Spinning provides. They are so dedicated to their exercises that they wake up before dawn to get their daily boost at the gym before they rush to work. Their dedication is paying off. They are on less medication and ailments such as arthritis, back pains and fatigue they used to complain of have disappeared. Encouraged by the results of their efforts, they have taken a step further and changed the way they cook. They have reduced their intake of sugar, salt and oil. They eat more vegetables and fresh fruits and they do not eat after 7pm. The healthier they got, the better they looked. When other friends inquired about the secret of their rejuvenation, they pointed them to the gym and healthy eating.
The women I met at Pippa’s Health Centre are quick to explain that although they are losing weight, their aim is not to be a size 2. By exercising with other women at the gym, they have also found a supportive circle of friends who provide a positive avenue to be physically healthy and mentally balanced. Their usual pre-exercise discussions go beyond the usual banter about marriages, or french lace; rather they eagerly share new tips on how to maintain their newly found clean bill of health. Suddenly, the animated chatter that filled the studio is interrupted by Afua who instructs them to get on their bikes, shake their arms and stretch their legs. In unison, they start Spinning to the song “she get swagger’ . How apropos for the new age African woman who shed the fat to rediscover her health and her confidence.
This article was originally published on Jan 14th 2011 as Africa Losing her Assets