“I am BRAVE. I am STRONG. I am WORTHY” are the three affirmations South African beauty Awande Mabaso pronounces each morning when she looks in the mirror.
Some days these affirmations roll off her tongue with ease; on others, it takes more effort to believe them.
It was several years ago when the qualified pastry chef and chocolatier embarked on a mission to love every inch of her body. It was long overdue, and following years of yo-yo dieting, depression and an eating disorder, she finally sought help and began rewriting her story.
Awande, whose name means “let there be more,” was raised by loving parents who encouraged her to value her own opinion and to carve out her own path in this world.
Today, she has done just that. As a pastry chef, Awande takes liberty in expressing herself creatively and trains others to do the same. In addition, she is passionate about women’s rights and self-love – something she has grown to embrace after years of trauma and pain.
Awande’s trauma began very early on in life when she was sexually abused by a family friend at the age of four.
“I’m still working on that part of my journey,” Awande told The Weight She Carries. “I have discussed it in therapy. The hardest thing was keeping it silent for so long.”
Awande kept the abuse secret for 17 years, partially because the perpetrator died when she was 12.
“I got to a point where I thought it didn’t matter to mention it,” she said. “Eventually your past catches up with you and it really caught up with me. I was in a terrible and dark place in my life and couldn’t have functioning relationships with a couple of people.”
As a child, Awande internalized her pain, and the abuse led to anxiety. Following the removal of her tonsils, her appetite began to grow. And as her weight increased, extended family members began making hurtful comments about her appearance.
“I cried a lot. I felt very attacked, and I vividly remember having family just laughing as I cried more. I’m a sensitive person so I never fought back, but I remember wondering why family would be so mean.”
– Awande Mabaso
Her saving grace was her mother who always defended Awande and never said anything negative about her daughter’s body.
Still, the bullying, from her uncle in particular, took as toll on Awande. She turned to food and soon developed an eating disorder – binge eating.
“I was judged by extended family and as a result, comforted myself with food. Food made me happy and always has,” she said. “I felt the guilt but the high of eating – and especially overeating – was one that I always craved.”
Eating disorders are not often discussed in black communities because, historically, such issues have been associated with white women. People with binge eating disorder tend to overeat when they feel low, and have difficulty controlling the amount of food they consume in one sitting.
While there is less prevalence of anorexia nervosa and bulimia among black women compared to other races, binge eating disorder affects black women more than the two former disorders.
“People have this idea of the perfect African woman – not too thin and not too big. And people don’t open up about the extreme measures they take to look a certain way, whether it’s diet pills of eating disorders,” Awande said.
When time came to head off to university at the University of Johannesburg, Awande left home and settled into campus life, but soon faced another life-altering incident.
She was raped by someone she considered a friend.
“I went to his dorm on campus. This is where things got out of control and as much as I protested, he did not listen and because of his strength, I was unable to fight him off,” she said. “I cried and waited till it was over because I feared the repercussions of fighting too much.”
Awande was devastated and dealt with the pain by drinking and partying excessively. She entered into unhealthy relationships and didn’t cherish her body.
“I saw very little value in my body as it was and in who I was at the time. In some kind of weird way, I tried to get control back by finding another man to be with,” she said.
Her hectic schedule didn’t allow much time for her to deal with her emotional well-being. But when things eventually got out of hand, Awande reached out to a counsellor on campus.
“I remember being given a week off by my doctor from work. I didn’t shower or change clothes for three days straight. I couldn’t get out of bed unless I needed to go to the bathroom. I would sit and journal how I would commit suicide and even came to the best solution after comparisons with other stories I researched. Eventually, I sat on my parent’s bed, weeping and asking for help because I realized I might actually go through with killing myself.”
– Awande Mabaso
With time, Awande began replacing some of her bad habits for good ones. Her father bought her a guitar and she taught herself to play.
Encouraged by her mother, Awande eventually began seeing a therapist regularly who helped her develop coping mechanisms. It was then that she was diagnosed with severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Mild Clinical Depression.
“(I learned) that nothing I did was my fault. I have been conditioned to feel bad about myself and, as a result, developed certain behaviours,” Awande said. “I was shown how to be gentle with myself and to take accountability for myself and the reactions I have because even though I may be angry, I need to try to forgive myself and do better for myself.”
It has been a difficult journey, but Awande is determined to continue loving herself from the inside out and is driven by her strong desire to help others struggling with body image and self-acceptance. Scrolling through her Instagram page reveals just that – a woman who has learned to embrace every curve of her body and who is confident in her own skin.
It all begins with truly loving yourself, she says.
“I would say the greatest lesson is self-care. There is nothing more important than occasionally being selfish and taking care of yourself,” Awande said. “Whether it be a bath, a nap, reading, listening to music, etc. You need to calm and relax yourself and shake off the anxiety and soothe the depression. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.”
To connect with Awande, reach out to her on the following social media handles:
Vimbai E. is a writer, journalist, ghostwriter and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.