Nigerians and the Culture of Shaming

In my dyed armpits post, I mentioned that I had some thoughts about Ndani TV’s latest shows. Well, here we go: Recently, I started watching this new show on Ndani TV’s YouTube channel call, “Skinny Girl In Transit.” Basically, the show is a comedy about an overweight woman who is being guilted into weight loss and…


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In my dyed armpits post, I mentioned that I had some thoughts about Ndani TV’s latest shows. Well, here we go:

Recently, I started watching this new show on Ndani TV’s YouTube channel call, “Skinny Girl In Transit.” Basically, the show is a comedy about an overweight woman who is being guilted into weight loss and exercise in hopes that it will help to improve her romantic odds.

I’ll admit the show is pretty funny, but I can’t help but find the premise problematic on a visceral level. This is because it has an air of body shaming. The implication about that kind of story is that people who are overweight or obese are unattractive and somehow undeserving of romantic involvement because they have a particular body type or size. Needless to say, this is a very damaging sentiment to internalize.

I know it’s not a common thing for guys to admit but I’m a guy who has been in and out of “transit” my whole life. I mean that very literally. My mom used to tell me that when my brother and I were born, a nurse who took care of her in the maternity ward told her that we were the fattest babies she had ever seen. In the years since, I’ve experienced family members poking and prodding at me in hopes that it will get me to lose weight. An aunt literally slapped food out of my mouth because she said that I was eating too much. The list goes on.

The crazy thing is, when you actually do try something in hopes of some improvement, people still try to shame you for it. In the second episode, Tiwa tries her hand at what looks like WiiFit Boxing, and her mother, the same crazy woman who prompted Tiwa’s admittedly comical weight loss journey starts making fun of her for it! #CantFuckingWin!

Two weeks ago, I joked in the comments on S’s Beard post about how a relative once called me “Supernaturally fat.” The part I didn’t mention was that she said that right after I had just mentioned that I lost close to 30 pounds from a lot of running and jogging. Hearing comments like that is completely demoralizing. For the record, fat shaming actually doesn’t work at all. In fact, studies show that it can have the opposite effect for people who are trying to lose weight.

To be honest, my beef with shaming extends far beyond the realm of physique and body image. Nigerians seem to really relish the idea of pointing out other people’s flaws. Our whole culture is built around this idea of shaming people for perceived imperfections. People make it a point to curse at the poor, the vulnerable, and even the idea of the country as a whole.

There was a tradition of calling the top ten names in each grade at assembly when I was in secondary school. But it didn’t stop there. They would also call the bottom five names in hopes that it would embarrass them enough to make them improve their scores. I never thought much about it in those days because I was fortunate enough to be nowhere near the bottom five, but in retrospect, it was a sick tradition. Throughout my entire run at boarding school, I noticed that some of those names never made it off that bottom five list. If they did, it wasn’t by much or for very long and boy, they did we let them know it. We used to call the person with lowest grade “Superman.” The obvious implication was that the person had to have superhuman strength in order to be ranked dead last, effectively carrying the entire class above his/her head.

That had to suck for those kids. Especially at an age where everyone’s struggling to find themselves, it likely wasn’t a great feeling to know that they had become the object of the entire school’s ridicule. There is a kind of learned helplessness that victims of perpetual shaming become accustomed to. In that condition, such people tend to give up on the effort and motivation required to make any improvements. They don’t just feel like their situation is hopeless; they also feel like they are as hopeless as well. Once they’ve internalized that kind of message, it’s very hard to break out of that cycle.

The effects of learned helplessness in studies of weight loss and obesity are well documented as I previously mentioned, but I would argue that it’s at least plausible that learned helplessness could have played a role in explaining why some of those names never made it off the list. In fact, learned helplessness can be a very telling symptom of clinical depression, which is probably a lot more common than many of us would be willing to admit, but that is a topic for another day.

Question time: Have you ever been shamed for anything? How did you react?

P.S. I know I spent most of this post talking about fat shaming, but let’s be clear: Skinny people get shamed as well. It’s still just hurtful and still just as dangerous.


  1. Eky Shirley
    The need to be “sanctimonious” is as much a need like food, water and even air, in these parts.
    What I do not understand is who got to choose the parameters for these issues; “fat is ugly”, “skinny is beautiful”, “if you don’t have naked girls in your video, it won’t sell”. “you’re a dunce if you come bottom in the class”. Whereas the true dunces come out tops in the class sometimes and will copy their fellow classmates names, if care is not taken. It does my head in to be honest, our need to be judge, jury and accuser at the same time.
    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      My sociology professor used to say, “We make this shit up.” Standards of beauty and what passes for it are completely arbitrary. Each generation decides what’s hot and what’s not for itself. In most of the Western World for example, thin is in. People go to fat camps as kids and teens to learn how to lose weight. Whereas, in Mauritania it’s the complete opposite. Fat is where it’s at. Women in particular there go to fat camps to gain weight. In both cases, people sometimes go to ridiculous and unhealthy extremes to maintain those standards of beauty.
  2. Meh
    Hey Tola, it is tiring I tell you trying to avoid the shamers in our lovely society. I genuinely stopped going to a particular church service to avoid those who would cajole my fat into their quest to find me a husband… Smfh. For anyone out there being harassed, because really that is what it is… Don’t just hang in there, decide for yourself to be happy. There are no quick fixes to become bigger or smaller. Decide to be happy and healthy, exercise as you can, eat as you can. I will never be bootilicious by any standards, but I enjoy taking care of myself and that’s what counts.
  3. Dr. Baruu
    I tell you Tola…people just love pointing others flaws while neglecting theirs…more like selfrighteous masturbation

    We gotta do what we gotta do and keep pushing…once we set our minds on the target, we’d keep pushing

    Then we’d gladly leave the phucktards to go phuck themselves


  4. omolayo
    I have been fat shamed my whole life, although i have developed a thick skin but the self conciousness and the feeling of not being good enough still remains.
  5. T
    I’m reminded everyday about how skinny I am. How do I deal with it? I just don’t give a damn. But, it took a lot to get to this point. I’ve had people say really mean stuff and I’d just cry. It got so bad I tried all the super appetite pills I knew and ate all the food people said made people gain weight and guess what? My waist line remained the same. I gradually learned to love and accept my body. We cannot please anyone outside of ourselves. All that shaming holds no ground if we know that the only stamp of approval we need is ours. And like Ore, my hair is story for another day.
  6. Jadesola
    Mine isn’t fat-shaming but being skinny… I went to Cross River for a year and when I came back, half of my Church kept on prodding and tossing me on how thin I am and how no man wants a skinny girl. Maybe they assumed the whole of Cross River is a fattening room..
    I used to want to add weight until I heard people actually shaming someone who was like me before she gained some weight. That was my turning point… I discovered you can never ever really please anybody… Just be comfortable in your skin. Now, more attention is turning to my unrelaxed hair… Can’t wait for their talk again.
  7. G
    Skinny shamed all the time i get you have no flesh what will your husband touch lmao. Now everyone is obsessed with ass i don’t have a big booty either????. No matter how i eat i gain no or very little weight and lose it fast. I love me regardless of the endless criticisms and someone loves that small perky bootay. PS I’m 5″4 so I’m a rat hahaha
  8. Seyi
    I am not skinny because of this tiny hips I have but I am not fat. I have this round face with cheek bones that won’t reduce when my body is. And people have said I have a big ass for my short/small frame. I’m the kind they call petit. So you can imagine my annoyance when people especially a particular guy calls me fat. This guy for the whole four years I knew him in the university he yells ‘Seyi you are fat o, you are enjoying o, see how you are just getting bigger’. It got to a point that I told him to stop if he has nothing better to say and that with the way he goes on and on I should be a whale by now. (BTW, I am still wearing a jeans I got when I gained admission, in short one Ankara gown I sewed months before I gained admission still sizes me and I’ll be through with Nysc in October). While growing up my mum complained that I didn’t give out my clothes and I responded that when it’s still my size and does its work nko. This fat shaming got to a point that I started believing them. I know I am not fat, I’ll look into the mirror and say I am not far jor but when I am out I felt like one. This cognitive dissonance was so bad that two years ago I couldn’t even enjoy a party where most people there were alumnus of my secondary school. I saw how they’ve morphed into either butterflies or more glamorous ones. I saw my younger sister who I taught how to dance and her ‘toothpick’ legs up and down the dance floor, she was ‘hot commodity’. I couldn’t dance even though I loved it because I felt like I was a whale and that I must look horrible doing it that I just stood by the sides and spoke with a guy throughout. I later danced after everyone all left and I was left with family and close friends, at least they are used to me. Then last year I looked at a picture of myself and finally resolved the cognitive dissonance, used the picture as dp and wrote that those that call me fat must be blind.
    People go about saying things that they think is the truth or what they consider to be minor things without knowing what affects the person. The person might even laugh with you but when the person leaves s/he won’t be laughing. Seemingly harmless comments can be harmful especially when they are even wrong! We really should be careful what we say to people even in jest. I try to watch myself but I’ve not been 100% careful.
    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      I’m trying to get better about the way I comment on people’s bodies as well. One area that I’m working on is praising people for losing weight. Some people might have lost or gained weight because of medical conditions and by praising that, you’re effectively saying “Sick looks good on you.” It’s something that I routinely have to watch out for.
  9. Ray
    I’ve been a victim and I’m also guilty of shaming. When I was a child, my sister used to calling me ‘ugly duckling’ and talk about how all my friends were prettier than I am. She doesn’t know it but that ruined my perception of myself. I know I’m not ugly now but I find it very hard to believe when people say I’m beautiful or amazing.
    On the other hand, I have shamed my roommate over her size a few times, and I am not proud of it, especially now that I think of how shaming affected me.
    But a trend I have noticed and do not like, which I also think is a way people open up themselves to shaming is letting people know they are not comfortable with the way they are. E.g. A fat girl who goes on and on about how she is too big and attracts no men because of it, but does nothing about it, is only opening up space for people to evaluate her weight and talk about it like it’s their business.
    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      That’s a fair point, but sometimes that can be a hard judgement to make, particularly if you don’t the person that well. Sometimes when we say stuff, it’s because we want some level of validation of our feelings but that is also a double edged sword because as you rightly pointed out, it can lead to being shamed.
  10. Jhey
    skinny shaming is real! Even my dad constantly says “see your collar bones, people will think I’m not feeding you” and I’ve been told “if not for your face eh.. Nothing for you”. Given up trying to put on weight, Learning to accept it. Only with acceptance will the negative comments stop getting to you.
  11. Omali
    I’m shamed for being too bashful and non agressive. My mom questions my nationality. She say I cant be Nigerian because Nigerians fight to get the things they want.she doubt that I will marry bc I am not aggressively looking for a husband. Ha ha!
    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      That’s deep. Nigerian mothers and the ever looming pressure to get married. Every time I express apprehension about marriage, my mom rebukes it. LOL

      But on the real do you. There are definitely people who appreciate easy going people. The world has too many aggressive Nigerians. We need more people like you.

  12. Ojuolape
    Was Tola up for auction last week and I missed it?

    Oga Toolsman, why not? And if your excuse is him not being in the country, I am okay with a Skype date.
    Ok,bye now

  13. Deborah
    Unlike me ,i weigh 69 when i was jst 14 and am kind of pompus,obese and funny enough am short and black with pimples choosing my face as its dwelling place you could imagine what i went through in school even my teachers were not left out not to talk of my so called freinds though i was very brilliant and represent my sch in both art and science subject but that doesnt affect my self esteem coz today i realise that am pretty and i ave one of the most handsome guy as my fiancee (phd holder) even my then teacher we nw have the same qualification and my freinds they are still far left behind me cos i never let their negative words back them hunt my future coz i knw its God that created me not my parent nor man

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