Mount Maunganui women ridiculed while climbing Mauao turn insult into empowerment

Three friends had just set out on an eight-week health challenge when they were ridiculed by another woman in public.

Now the women are turning the experience into a positive campaign for empowerment.

Mount Maunganui woman Mereana Vaka was walking up Mauao [Mount Maunganui] with two friends one night last week when the abusive comment was made.

A woman was running down Mauao and passed the group, called them “fat b*****s” and carried on running.

Vaka said she and her friends were “caught off guard” by the comment.

“We were shocked…it was like, ‘well okay, that just happened.”

Vaka tried to get the woman’s attention, but she did not turn around.

“I was like, ‘oh, excuse me, what did you say?’

“[She] could at least come back and say that to our face.”

Vaka said she had never experienced this kind of behaviour on Mauao before, and people were generally very encouraging to each other there.

“Very quickly, we were able to have a laugh about it…and then very quickly started to think, ‘far out, is she all good?’

“In our opinion, it was just her projecting her own insecurities on us…what made her say such a comment, and what made her think it was alright?”

Vaka said she and her friends “felt pretty lucky that we do have self-confidence”.

“We battle with our own insecurities on a day-to-day basis…but not to the point where we allow this negative comment or negative projection to bring us down.”

However, she was sad to think how this kind of comment might affect other women.

“What if this was another wahine who doesn’t necessarily have that confidence within themselves? It could completely destroy them, and they could no longer want to go up the Mount ever again.”

Vaka urged other women not to let “these types of judgements and discrimination stop you from achieving your goal”.

She has started the #EmpowerHER and #WhakamanaWĀHINE campaigns on social media to encourage women to share their hauora [health] journeys.

She said she was speaking out about the experience to “encourage and empower us as women”.

“We already have the struggles of just simply being a woman, and especially as Māori wahine where we have this battle within society.

“It was about bringing awareness to these types of negative comments or that this type of behaviour isn’t okay.

“Let’s do better at empowering each other. When you see a bigger-sized wahine walking up the Mount, encourage her.

‘Many bigger women don’t like to go up [the Mount]…thinking ‘oh man, I don’t want to go up the Mount because only fit people go up the Mount, only skinny people go up the Mount’…you’re scared of being judged.”

She said she and her friends used the comment as motivation to finish the climb.

“It gave us kind of a boost…’oh, we’re gonna show her.’

“We marched on up and conquered Mauao, conquered the challenges…we pushed through and carried on right to the top.”

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