Of Rice and (Chow) Mein Redux*

In 2005 I wrote an entry in my blog about how people in Manila (and in the Philippines in general) think it is socially acceptable to tell people that they are fat. I’ve weathered a lot of fat comments since then, but today was different. Today I blew a fuse.

About an hour ago I went down to a convenience store to buy an egg. The owner was manning the place–a friendly, but a tad nosy old lady–and when she saw me she grabbed my bare arms and exclaimed in Tagalog, “Oh my god, your arms are soooo big! You are so fat, no?” Okay, I don’t really know this woman. I know she’s the owner and that she lives in the house behind the store and that she’s somewhat related to my landlady and that’s it. I only see her when I run out of things and need to buy things immediately. She comments about my weight ALL THE FREAKING TIME and I usually can shrug it off and pay for the things I need, but today she grabbed me, and that for me was crossing the line.

So I calmly told her off. I explained that I do not not like it when people point out that I’m fat or thin. Fat or thin, I emphasized, it doesn’t matter because she has no right to talk to me about my weight. She apologized and said that she only wanted to praise me for being fat. Errrr… I don’t think that was her point, honestly, but I replied and said that good or bad, I just don’t think it’s appropriate for people to make comments about other people’s weight. And then she mentioned someone from my building, a person who is thin and extremely weight conscious, and explained that that person always asks her if she looks fat or thin today. You know what, if someone wants to talk about their weight and their looks, then go ahead. Knock yourself out. That doesn’t mean, though, that other people would like to do the same thing. And that person asked for comments–I didn’t. She added insult to injury by asking me how old I was (again, what has this got to do with anything?).

I didn’t think I got through to her because I know how ingrained this type of thinking is in our culture. Even friends do it sometimes and they don’t even think about it when they open their mouths. It’s just so frustrating when this happens! WHO CARES, right? So what if you are fat or thin? They don’t ask if you are doing well–they just want to tell you that you look fat. What if the person has an eating disorder? What if she’s depressed? What if he has a thyroid problem. People should realize that it is incredibly insensitive and irresponsible to make comments like this. You don’t know this person. Just keep your thoughts to yourself. You want to praise him or her? Is it hard to just say, “you look good today.” instead of saying “You are so fat!” when you don’t know how that person is going to interpret that statement.

I said what I needed to say and proceeded to pay for my egg (I just wanted a freaking egg for my noodle soup!), but she wanted to put in one more comment before we ended the conversation and said, “You are different from everyone I know. So different. I don’t know anyone who thinks like you.” I don’t know what that statement means to her, but I’ll just take it as a good sign–I am me and I am not like anyone else. I am being true to the promise I made myself at the end of 2012: I teach people how to treat me, so if I hear or feel any type of abuse, I will let them know so I don’t have to sit and suffer in silence. I am going to take good care of myself in every level and that’s the end of that.

PS. I’m adding the note I made in my 2005 entry: *My apologies to Steinbeck. Like his characters I feel like an “outsider” (a Filipina with culture amnesia) struggling to understand my own unique place in this insane world.

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