I work at a University and deal almost exclusively with international students. I’ve also lived in several countries and found in those countries and my international students in general find it ok to comment on the ups and downs of my weight in ways that as an American I find very uncomfortable to hear. Over the years it has never gotten easier the easy frankness they have with pointing out the weight of others. I remember China was the worst. It was an unholy nightmare for the squishy fattie such as myself. I stepped off the plane and immediately felt like a Sasquatch.
In China, I was laughed out of shoe stores, waved out of clothing stores and since I studied Chinese in school I could easily hear the comments about how fat I was on the bus on the street… my body was some kind of laughingstock… the proof of the fat and lazy American right there before their very eyes. Holy hell if I ever thought it was bad back home the US ain’t got nothing on the completely forthright questions such as, “Why are you so fat? Where did you get those clothes? They are ugly. What is wrong with your face? (I have freckles)” China took what little self esteem I had managed to gather around myself over the years and ran it right into the ground. It made me hate that country. It made me throw away years of learning a difficult language because I knew I could never go back again. Towards the end of the time I had there I was stalked by a Chinese dude who wanted to take pictures of me and when I asked him why, his response was, “Because you are so fat.” I had to leave under cover of early morning to get away from him to the airport.
But it isn’t only China; every country I’ve encountered has held something similar. My first day teaching in Turkey I was told by one of my students that he could help me with my weight problem as he was a physical therapist as a day job. In Korea I had students whisper about my fatness while I was within earshot… my weight was a social commentary, a political statement, a sign for everything wrong about my country which most people were pretty eager about pointing out.
Ladies and gentlemen these comments came while I was and still am… a size 14.
Mostly I got over these comments and learned to keep calm and carry on but every once in awhile my international students manage to bring these nuggets of commenting on my weight into my office. This morning (and what triggered this post) was a student I had not seen in about 4 months, she came in, gasped!, and said, “Oh my God you have lost a LOT of weight!” (In actuality I have not gained or lost weight but am about the same… as I always am). Today though I have a particularly curve loving dress long sweater combination which looks AWESOME on me. I replied to her, “No I have not changed weight at all.” Last year I had a student come see me, whom I had not seen in about a year and a half, He invited me to come to his house where his wife would could me Biriyani and I said, “I love Biriyani, thanks!” Then he looked me up and down and said in front of his son, “Wow you have really gained weight since I last saw you.” As his son stifled a laugh… the more Americanized son who understood how insulting that was to say to me.
But why do I feel like I have to say anything? Part of me is offended, “What you thought I was SO FAT before?” or if I lost a little weight… which as sure as the sun rises will come back… that you think I looked so terrible and when I regain will you again think of me in (insert whatever judgmental thoughts you care to here) terms? When someone tells me I have lost weight I do not feel flattered in the slightest. To me in means that they have judged my body before and found it wanting. A less beautiful version of what I “could” be.