Big girls, you are beautiful
As cliché as the title may sound, you may even find yourself chuckling because it may remind you of the song written by UK recording artist, Mika. Today I want to share my experiences growing up as a “big girl” in a Filipino home.
Growing up with four brothers and an older sister, all of whom were visibly thinner than I was as a child, it never really crossed my mind at that time that I was different from them. We all ate the same food, played sports together and all excelled in school. With the influences of a predominantly male household, you can say I grew up like “one of the guys” and never really got in touch with my feminine side. I never wore make up; I wasn’t at all into fashion or obsessed about boys – although I admit I did have a few crushes.
In junior high, I had developed sooner in comparison to my classmates, so I was at most, 5 to 10 lbs. more than them. I wouldn’t say that I was obese because I was physically fit and even played for the senior volleyball team, even though I, myself, was a junior. Looking back, I would say I was “big boned” at most.
In high school, my focus shifted towards academics, so I didn’t pursue sports and I was beginning to see the physical changes with my body. I figured at the time that it was simply puberty and never gave it a second thought. Life in general was great!
I attended schools where my classmates were predominantly Caucasian, so I did not grow up with a barkada of tight-nit Filipinos. My friends would occasionally make a comment that they felt “fat”, but I passed it along as them either being “melodramatic” (as most teenagers tend to be) or I totally ignored it (since it wasn’t for their appearances that I chose to be friends with them in the first place).
It wasn’t up until my last year in high school that I started to become more conscious of my image. With graduation and the prom coming up, I began to think of ways to lose weight so that I could look “great” for prom! I tried exercising and dieting, and although I didn’t feel I lost “enough,” I figured the temporary results were OK and I even ended up winning “best dressed” that night!
Upon graduating from high school however, things began to spiral down. I was worrying about my life, pursuing a post secondary education versus working full time. My priorities were changing and I was forced to make life-altering decisions that I wasn’t ready for. I was becoming obsessed with the way others perceived me and wondered why I didn’t have a boyfriend yet. I found myself comparing my life to those of others and began to pity myself. The temporary weight loss began to take a turn and I had gained even more weight from all of the stress.
All of a sudden, memories from my childhood began to creep up and they weren’t the happy ones either. I began questioning why I was thinking this way and realized that there were issues in my past that I must have suppressed that needed to be addressed. They were issues about my weight.
I began to blame my parents and growing up Filipino. I realized that throughout my school years I was not exposed to the discrimination that I was receiving from my own kababayans. I felt betrayed and began to recall the comments about my weight and it made me question how cruel Filipinos could be. Were they all like this? Is this how Filipinos are? At the time I had nothing to compare it to because I figured that if my parents were allowing it to happen then it was “normal” and it was “part of the culture” and somehow I did not fit this “standard”.
“Aba, pinabayaan ka ng magulang mo sa kusina ano?” would be the greeting I would receive from acquaintances of my parents. Which loosely translated in English would be “Your parents must have left you in the kitchen.” Being a young child at the time, although I understood what they were saying, I never actually understood the message behind it until now.
I recall constantly getting compared with my older sister, who was thinner than I was. I even remember receiving a birthday card from my Tita in the Philippines with a message that she hoped I wasn’t eating too much cake and ice cream so that I could be sexy like my Ate. Ouch! Talk about sending a wrong message to a young adolescent girl on her birthday.
“Oh you’re pretty, but you need to lose some weight.”
“You need to lose weight so you can get a boyfriend.”
Comments like these were only making my views on Filipinos grow negatively. The same goes for people who are thin too, though. I recall a Filipina classmate of mine who told me that her cousin was also being taunted by her own family because she was too thin. I started to become bitter about my culture and was even ashamed. Why are big guys referred to as “teddy bears” and big girls are called “fat”? What does losing weight have anything to do with being prettier?
Even now I still hear “Aba, para na kayong kambal” (You look like twins), when referring to my mother and me. I admit, it still hurts to hear that, but I often just smirk, knowing that the person who made the comment has nothing better to say so the result is stating something that is already obvious. I know I’m healthy. I don’t suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or any other health related diseases.
Realistically, imagine yourself as the person who is making those comments. Did it not ever occur to you that the person you are saying it to is already aware of their body image? Do you not realize that by stating the obvious you are the one that looks foolish and ignorant? It’s like telling a giraffe that he’s tall. Wow – that was a no-brainer!
I am not saying that all Filipinos are cruel and ignorant when it comes to discriminating against a person based on their physical appearance, but I am also not denying that I still hear those comments being made. My point is that people need to be aware of the impact those comments have on young girls and that not all of them will be strong enough to make the right decisions.
After several years of soul searching I realized that although my experiences were negative, I had a choice of whether I was going to continue to harbour the bitterness towards my culture or to change that negative energy into a positive one in hopes of inspiring a young Filipina who has had similar issues about her weight. I consider myself lucky for not being the type of person who obsesses over her weight. I realize I may not have the physical appearance of a “typical” Asian (whatever that is), but I am healthy – mind, body and soul.
Everyone is entitled to say what they want to, but based on my personal experiences, if we make ourselves more aware and sensitive to the impact it has or will have on our youth today, then we as a community can grow and become better human beings. You know what they say – if you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say it at all!
Shedlmor is an Executive Member of ANAK Inc. She graduated in legal studies in 2004 and currently works as a Team Leader in the Group Disability Dept. at Great-West Life. She is actively involved with the planning of various corporate events at work and participates as a volunteer with several other charitable and community functions.
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