Musings on Fat-calling

At least 9 out of 10 times, when told in the Philippine/Filipino setting that you are getting/being “fat” or “big” there is no clear communication of the commenter’s intention e.g. I am letting you know because I’m concerned about your health OR I am sharing my unsolicited observation because I don’t think you’re self aware OR I’ve been through what you’re going through and I’m now about to drop some knowledge on you OR look at my ability to maintain my figure and look at you OR the worst unspoken and most often assumed implication: I think your weight makes you look ugly.

I’ve always felt strongly about this so for those hearing it from me for the first time:

  1. Weight may or may not equate to good health.
  2. Weight is a f—ing outdated way to gauge beauty.
  3. Real weight struggles may have reasons that should be respected: not all reasons are excuses.
  4. Your experience or lack thereof doesn’t make you qualified to give unsolicited advice or make other people feel like s—t.
  5. Before you comment on someone’s weight, ask yourself: Am I really helping? Also: is this really any of my damn business?

Through the years I’ve gotten less and less comments about my weight. Not because I’ve been able to fit people’s standards but more because I don’t want to take sh*t anymore. If you are one of these people still giving away these amazing sh*t comments – please stop. I swear it’s the right thing to do.

Self-Image and Little Miss Philippines

When I was a child, I believed that I was beautiful – both inside and out. I wanted to compete in a popular pageant for young girls called “Little Miss Philippines” on a noon time variety show called “Eat Bulaga.” For some reason, I knew in my heart that I would crush it but I wondered why no one really advocated for me to join. That’s when it started… Between 5 and 7 years old, I began to question if I was seen by others as beautiful.

Fast forward to high school. Again, I found myself yearning to be nominated for a chance at the school beauty pageant. I waited for four years to be asked if I was interested but nothing happened. This was when it dawned on me – I just physically did not fit traditional standards of beauty.

It was also in high school that my self-image began its journey into distortion. For the first time in my life, I was told that I could be skinnier. So, at some point, I skipped lunch for a year to lose weight. Somehow, I started associating beauty with skinny (unfortunately, media and Philippine culture do too much to reinforce this). I was miserable and yes, I did stop believing I was beautiful.

Then, through college and through my first jobs, people kept telling me: I was gaining weight, I was getting fat. Even if my boyfriend (now husband) and best friends kept telling me I looked great, guess who I listened to? Guess what I saw every time I saw my reflection or looked at a recent photo of myself? I saw myself as overweight and unattractive.

The funny thing is… whenever I look back at those older photos now, I get so confused – why were people calling me fat? Why was I so convinced that I was fat? More importantly, why did it matter so much? As an example of what I mean when I say distorted self-image, take a look at the pic collage below. From the 4th photo onward, I’ve looked at each photo in the past and thought I looked fat due to either some feedback from the time or my own corrupted view of myself and yet, when I see these pictures now, I think: my BMI may not have been perfect but how come when I looked at these in the past, all I saw was weight I had to lose?

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After giving birth, breastfeeding helped keep the weight off for a few months. Then, my milk supply ran out and soon, I became the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. Except this time, losing weight is physically and logistically not as easy.

I’ve been avoiding posting pictures of myself. If I do post something, I carefully choose what makes the cut, fearful that I’ll be judged. I have deleted comments about my weight before.

I’m trying really hard to lose weight again. And this time, I want to do it not to avoid getting hurt by what others think or say. I want to do it for health reasons and without regard for how skinny society wants me to be. Whether or not I succeed, I want to feel beautiful again. Deep inside, I know she’s still there – the little girl who loved and believed in herself enough to think she can win “Little Miss Philippines.” I have to find her. Because no one else can advocate for me better… than me.

 

A letter to my son

Your father and I found out last week that you are, with 99% accuracy, a baby boy. I think it’s fairly safe to say you are… our son.

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I can’t tell you what growing up would be like for a boy. I didn’t have brothers and was only able to see my male cousins on a few weekends and holidays in a year. I had a boy neighbor whom my sisters and I used to play with when we were younger but I can only recall how much I disliked his attitude problems and how much I feared getting chased by his family’s geese.

When I was in grade school, boys would be nice to me and talk to me about their crushes (which could coincidentally be me) or they would be mean and call me “Loser” then refer to the prettier girl as “Winner.” Yet, I don’t remember having any serious conversations with boys until I was in high school. Even then, I didn’t have a clear picture of how being a guy must be like. I mean your father has told me countless stories about his childhood and teenage years. Still, I’m no expert and will leave it to him to give you more insights on becoming a man.

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My only wish in this matter is that you grow up to be a good man. Your father and I will play a huge role in that but we will not always be by your side to watch and guide you. During those times, treat people with kindness and at the minimum, respect. My mother, your grandma, often said (in Tagalog) “If you can’t tell us (your parents) about it then it’s probably not the right thing to do.”

I was bullied a lot growing up. I developed a lot of self-image issues from being told I’m not beautiful or I’m getting too fat. Please don’t be one of those guys, well, those people in general, who don’t think before they speak. Your words could have a lasting impact on people and yes, sometimes, the truth hurts but always consider if it’s necessary to say it.

For instance, before commenting on someone’s weight, think: are you assuming that person is blind or doesn’t see his/her reflection everyday? Are you suggesting that this person should be unhappy with how s/he looks? Are you implying that s/he must not be trying to lose weight in the case that s/he does in fact want to lose weight? I know it’s quite complicated but your grandma has another wise and simple rule: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything.”

As for me, I still struggle with my self-image but don’t feel sorry for your mother. I don’t let it get the best of me like I used to and let’s just say being geographically away from insensitive people helps. I’ve gained and lost weight through the years and now, I need to have a healthy weight gain while pregnant with you. However, I want you to know, that heavy as I appear, I have never felt more beautiful as I do, now that I am carrying you.

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I love you, son.