She is probably the face, and the body of the Kenyan woman: Well endowed, Plus Size, beautiful, radiant and affable.
When Kalekye Mumo walks into a room, she commands your respect and attention. There is something about her that is difficult to put a finger on, but it is there because she draws you.
We met on an unforgivingly hot day. She strolled in majestically, clad in a beautiful yellow satin blouse and black trousers. Her ever radiant smile put me at ease, and our conversation flowed easily.
Weight is one of those sensitive issues that I was not quite sure how to go about. But once we started talking, it was pretty clear that Kalekye had a thing or two to educate me about.
I was pretty amazed at how open she is about her life. The first question I fired got me a response that quickly put me in my place.”Is weight an issue for you?” I asked.
“Why is it an issue in the first place? Who says it is an issue?” she riposted.
Her argument was pretty clear, you are who you are. Hereditary features and body frame will determine how you look physically. Being slender is not the SI unit for being healthy. Eating right and exercise is a lifestyle choice and not a quick fix to a Size Zero outfit. Phew!
Kalekye, (pronounced Kaleche) like most of us, was a chubby child. She shed the weight as she grew, but due to the usual vegetable phobia as a child, she developed healthy eating habits when she was still young and when she was three she was diagnosed with a hip condition.
Her hip joint did not produce sufficient synovial fluid and this made movement painful. She underwent surgery to correct the condition, but it recurred when she was approaching teenage.
At that time, she was in Standard Four, and was as playful as any child, but because of the hip condition, her play time was restricted.
Her love for sports was moved from playing in the field to cheering in the stands. And that is when the weight piled on again.
By the time she joined high school, again, like any typical Kenyan girl, she lost weight. But that was just another season. The weight soon came back after the loss of her grandmother. That must have been a traumatic experience, for, when she speaks about the old lady’s death, I could feel the emotion, and the pain of the loss in her voice.
She was her grandmother’s primary caregiver by the time of her passing, and eating became her catharsis – and like many times before, Kalekye gained weight once more.
Like for many Plus Size women, Kalekye’s weight has been as temperamental as an adolescent’s emotions: In check today, in disarray tomorrow. The yo-yo of her weight has been a challenge. “My problem wasn’t that I ate too much. I just never worked out at all,” she admits.
By the time she joined university, she had made peace with who she was and adopted a mantra: Meet me, not my weight.
But by then, weight was not much of a problem, but there was another minor irritation, so to speak. She had developed a skin condition called psoriasis which appears as patches on her body.
“Then, spaghetti strap tops were the ‘in’ thing and I was more worried about what my arms looked, not how big they were.”
But just like she did with her weight, she soon accepted her skin as a part of who she was. Her life began to change three years ago when she had a series of digestion related conditions and she was diagnosed with IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which was further aggravated by her pre-existing skin condition.
“There was a point in my life that I could not eat animal proteins…I was a vegetarian for a year.”
The pain and discomfort she experienced were the catalyst for her to change her lifestyle. It has been two years since she ate any wheat products, animal proteins, or food with highly acidic foods.
From her voice and her eyes, you can hear and see the determination and the resilience of a woman who is big-hearted, caring, carefree and cautious, all at the same time.
“I was at a concert the other day and there was some nice looking dessert. I thought I’d have a bite…I was in bed all day the next day and I was in so much pain that I said never again.”
That lesson, even though unpalatable, has paid off, and she looks stunning despite having a condition that can make many women hate their own bodies.
Other than her diet, she gives credit to her workouts. Her regime is focused on cardio and muscle strength. The first year of her training regime was focused on getting her body from not feeling pain when she simply walked, to gaining strength and building muscle.
Even as she opens up, she is a private person and prefers working out in less-crowded gyms so she can get a dedicated trainer to help her fully.
Initially, getting a gym was not easy and she knew’ she needed a place where she would get moral support to help her get back on her feet. She shared her frustration with a friend who happened to have what she needed.
It did not take long before she and five other ladies and their new instructor began a workout regime at a spacious, but enclosed rooftop in a neighbourhood near where she resides. “We all bought the weights we needed and the exercise mats.”
And that was just the beginning.
Within the first year, the conflicting work schedules of the six young ladies came between their workouts, but Kalekye’s determination was ignited and there was no turning back.
She got a new instructor who introduced her to the gym where she currently trains at. “I am fitter than all of them,” she chuckles, but admits that the other five ladies were slimmer and were just giving her moral support.
Kalekye’s explosive personality during the interview is infectious. And it clearly shows in her social life which has remained as vibrant as ever.
Her friends support her dietary changes. Whenever she visits them, they know her preferences and ensure her comfort. “They always tell me, ‘Kalekye, don’t worry we have white meat, we have nduma’…they are so supportive.”
When we hear about weight loss, we are all obsessed with the kilogrammes and stare at ourselves in the mirror, eyeballing the fat away.
But Kalekye chose not to do that! She chose to focus on enjoying her new lifestyle, and does not lament over the cost of living healthily.
That is not to say that she has not gone through some valleys. She has been supported and teased over her weight even by those close to her. ‘”What’s up with your neck? They are like ten…what is going on?’”she recollects taunting from one of her siblings. “And I’d laugh and tell him so what?!…close your eyes.”
Her father has been a great support. “He said he was concerned not because ‘I think you look bad, it’s just your health… because you are getting older it could be bad.’ My dad has always talked to me about my size.”
And like with every other woman, other than the external taunting, Kalekye’s self-esteem also ate into her and greatly affected her when she begun the pursuit of her dream to become a radio presenter.
She was concerned about being in the limelight. She felt misplaced where she was working since her female colleagues were all slender and looked at her spitefully, with awe, their every gaze spelling out what they could express verbally. “Oh my, you are so huge.”
But Kelekye did not despair. “I had to make a resolve and that was assuring myself that I am what I am.”
It is during moments like these that Kalekye adopts an interesting way of picking herself up. She can’t see well without spectacles, so in times of despair, she looks at herself in the mirror – without her glasses, and she tells herself that she is hot, hot, hot.
“We all have our low moments and you need to find a way to pick yourself up,” she reflects, and laughs ecstatically as she narrates the Mirror Mirror-Slim Kalekye story.
On the dating front, she gets “pleasantly surprised” when men heap praises on her for her confidence.
Currently, she is not dating, but she wants people to know that she is not looking for a man to boost her self-esteem. “I know who I am and he needs to love me for who I am on the inside.”
As it is, Kalekye is a woman’s woman; an ambassador for Plus Size women. She has a word for the Kenyan fashion stores. “We can’t find decent clothes. We can’t all be thin and there is nothing wrong with being Plus Size.” She wants to work with willing clothing stores to help them stock the right clothes, and she is also ready to help conduct trainings with plus size women – everywhere – to assist them so they can “feel nice about themselves.”
When it comes to weight loss-related creams, pills and massages, she does not mince her words. “The only natural way which was intended for losing weight is eating right and working out,”she says, and adds.”The land is free…walk!”
With Kalekye, it is pretty clear that weight loss isn’t a fad or a goal in life. The answer lies in a complete lifestyle change.
But it only comes together with discipline and determination. And there is no better way to tell her story than in her own words. “Your own insecurities are your worst enemy. When you have such issues, people see them and they will respond to you the way you view yourself.”
Just before we parted ways, I asked her if she minds being called Big Mama. She quickly reminded me that Shaffie, her co-host stopped calling her that. But primarily she finds it rude. “Meet me…not my weight.”
STYLING: SYLVIA NJOKI; PHOTOGRAPHS: BONIFACE MWANGI AND PETER CACAH OF PHOTO VILLAGE: HAIR AND MAKE-UP: SHIRO WANYOIKE; SHOT ON LOCATION ATTHE JACARANDA HOTEL’S GYM AND SPA AND ATTHE NEWLY RE OPENED POOL AREA.