Like Jorja Smith, My Weight Is None Of Your Business

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
Here’s something difficult to admit: the other day I scrolled through social media and came across a picture of an old friend who I assumed had put on some pounds since I last saw them. I immediately said, "Oh wow, they've gained some weight." Sound familiar? It may have been an observation with no malicious intent, but the thought represented a more significant issue: our culture fears gaining weight and is deeply critical of those who do. 
That is the literal definition of fatphobia —“an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against obesity or people with obesity.” While mainstream culture has made strides to promote body positivity in recent years — from fashion campaigns and runways filled with diverse body types to influencers who promote and advocate for body acceptance — from my personal experience, that acceptance hasn’t always extended to the general population. As a society, we don't always give people grace during traumatic or transitional periods that can affect and change our physical appearances. Even though it’s generally understood how life events can affect our mental health and emotional wellbeing, there tends to be a lack of empathy when our body image is also impacted — especially when it comes to weight gain.   
Recent conversations surrounding British R&B singer  Jorja Smith and the changes to her body since she started her career as a teenager are clear examples of society’s pervasive fatphobia. After a video of the singer performing her single "Little Things" surfaced online earlier this year, some social media users were quick to comment on and criticize the singer’s current weight, with some of the more unfavorable comments accusing the 26-year-old of not caring for herself, and even questioning whether she had secretly given birth. It should go without saying that Jorja Smith is stunningly beautiful, period. Moreover, her body size has no bearing on the singer/songwriter’s ability to perform. Categorically, Jorja Smith’s weight is none of our business. However, living in a fatphobic society means she is inevitably subject to unfounded criticism, scrutiny, and body shaming. As an objectively attractive biracial woman in the spotlight, Jorja Smith finds she is often objectified and scrutinized, something she reflected on for PORTER magazine earlier this year. “People comment on me a lot. They comment on what I look like,” she told the magazine. “I don’t search for things, but if I’m on TikTok, I’ll see comments, and they won’t be all negative but… [for example], I’ve put on some weight, which is normal because I’m not a child. Like, it’s cool. But the world doesn’t let you be cool,” she explains. “That’s not me being jaded, but I’ve definitely been affected by it,” she says.
Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images.
A lot of us can relate to Jorja Smith’s story.
Weight gain is a normal consequence of living and studies show that women gain 17.6 pounds between their 20s and 30s on average. It’s understandable considering many major life events typically occur during these decades. We graduate college, start a full-time job, pay bills, get married, have kids, bury relatives, and so forth. There are so many transitions within life and ourselves. For many of us, it's our first time managing the emotions of adulting. In the blink of an eye, we go from being told what to do to being responsible for ourselves and others. For others, happy weight is gained. We enter healthy relationships and eat our hearts out. For others, maturing and other hormonal changes cause our bodies to add weight. Whatever the circumstances, you'd assume society would be more empathetic knowing we all face similar transitions. 
Black women have been fighting against fatphobia for decades. When pioneering the body liberation and fat acceptance movements in the ‘60s, they aimed to dismantle how we depict and perceive larger women. Current activists such as Stephanie Yeboah and Jessamyn Stanley have kept their spirits alive by encouraging those who identify as fat to remain confident in their skin. Their content promotes self-love, a concept that we can all get behind.  
I deeply relate to Jorja Smith and those who put on extra pounds post-graduation or during life changes and have been slighted because of it. I grew up being the bigger girl, but in my junior year of college, I studied abroad, lost weight, and returned to the States 30 pounds lighter. I received the most attention ever. Guys I had crushes on and admired from afar began flirting with me, and it felt like I was living in a coming-of-age movie. A few years after graduation that attention slipped away because — you guessed it — I gained the weight back and then some. I was a struggling journalist making minimum wage in New York City at my full-time job while balancing gigs on the evenings and weekends to make ends meet. Since my career was the only thing I had the time and energy to focus on, I ate anything free or could afford and considered my commute my workout. As a result, I gained weight and can vividly remember my demotion in society based on social cues —I was referred to as "the big Shelby" in a conversation once.  Eventually, I got hit on less, and during family dinners, they'd insinuate that I didn't need seconds.
I was busting my butt working 16-hour days, barely had time to have a social life, and struggling with high-functioning depression, yet I was ostracized because I put on some pounds. I was going through the same post-grad issues as almost everyone else but it felt like I was punished for trying to survive — all because the pressures of life manifested in a way that altered my physical appearance. 
After years of insecurity due to other people’s perceptions of me, I stopped obsessing over my weight. Instead, I focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and growing in confidence. As a result, I dropped a few pounds and I am still on the journey to becoming a better me, on the inside. "Remember that your value is in your being, not your appearance," says Dr. Ajita Robinson, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor specializing in grief and trauma. "It may be helpful to replace negative thoughts with positive and affirming ones." 
"Use the BFF or ‘best friend rule’ — would you say the same thing to/about your best friend?” Robinson added. “Practice giving yourself the same compassion, kindness, and grace that you readily extend to others." 
"Don't let their voice become your inner dialogue. Create a mantra that affirms your worth beyond weight, like 'I'm valued for my insights and kindness,'” says Dr. Renetta Weaver, founder and CEO of Regain No More. “When faced with negativity, repeat your mantra to yourself. This creates a mental shield, deflecting comments that don't serve your wellbeing."
The moral of the story, let's all take it easy, judge less, and exercise compassion. We don't know what people are going through, or if they are going through anything at all. Regardless, it’s none of our business — it's just weight. Let’s reprogram our minds to see it as such.

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