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Fat, fabulous and untethered

Beyond dispelling stereotypes often attached to plus-size women, Ostufuza highlights black women's versatility and the self-determination possible only through reclaiming oneself
Thu, Aug 12, 2021

Known for its provocative television that polarises viewer opinions on the portrayal of black people in South Africa, Moja Love has brought us yet another show which challenges the social norm. Ostufuza drags us into the world of plus-sized women who are incorrigible when it comes to showing parts of their bodies that the world has for so long told black women to hide.

Although marketed as a show with the potential to be ratchet and walking the tightrope between visibility and mockery, the viewer will be pleasantly surprised by the content of the show.

We meet four women: Constance, Neo, Katlego and Maneo. They portray the antithesis of the glamour – or at least the performance of such – that is usually associated with reality TV. It is not a gluttonous experience of extravagance, but rather a highlight of how fat black women are able to reclaim their sexiness without fetishisation.

This show highlights that fat black women can be multiple and present in the world as devoted churchgoers in one scene and twerking their abundance in "barely there" bathing suits in the next. The viewer is able to gain relatability through the cast who are mothers, entrepreneurs, retail workers, plus-size models and devout Christians.

In one scene, Neo, who is a religious baddie, states: "If we are all created in the image of God, then my God must be a fat woman."

The visual is so unusual for South African mainstream media, and the show does induce some anxiety for the viewer who understands the violence of living as a black woman in such a violent country. It is encouraging to witness the ways in which they have created safety for themselves at their social gatherings where women can walk in peace without the ever-present danger of being groped or harassed by men.

However, it does give hope that black women are capable of experiencing joy and showing up as themselves, whatever their social positioning is.

In the first episode, the cast speak on their experiences of growing up curvaceous, lending credit to the experiences of black girls who are adultified at a young age due to their posterior. This affected the ways they were treated by their classmates in school, who would refer to them as "abomama bomndeni".

The theme of freedom is pervasive throughout the show as the cast members subvert notions that "one must dress for their body type". Crop tops, figure-hugging leggings and bikinis are a political statement to these women who are attempting to bring forward body positivity conversations in their communities.

It is not all girl power and pool parties for the ladies though, as the show delves into parental abandonment and estrangement, grief, poverty and cheating partners. In one scene, the cameras follow Neo, who works as a cashier in retail and underscores tasks that may be perceived as mundane for consumers.

She also reveals the difficulty of working in retail as a fat woman due to the constant hypervisibility and customers judging her for her size. Oh, and there's obviously another storyline where the partner is constantly cheating with smaller women (how imaginative!).

The themes straddle the fence between the seriousness and trashiness of reality TV. Of course, the reality show ingredients of turf wars, drama and gossip make for an incredible cocktail of thigh-slapping entertainment. There is also an illustration that the "one size fits all" lingerie from Chinatown is a scam, and that you should always try on your lingerie before a photoshoot!

  • Ostufuza is on Moja Love (Channel 157), Saturdays at 7pm. Episodes are available on Catch Up.