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Fat Shaming and Body Positivity

On Friday as my boss was putting out sweet bread for everyone to eat, she looked at me and said, “Teacher…” with this sly, I’m-going-to-tell-you-something-that-will-make-you-uncomfortable smile on her face, while shifting her weight from one foot to the other.   I looked at her and started to shake my head.   I knew the words that were about to come out of her mouth, and I thought, don’t do it.  Don’t say it.

But she continued: “I’m telling you this because we’re so close… you’ve gotten fatter since you went to America.”  I stared at her, eyebrows raised, jaw dropped.  “I know that you haven’t been there in a year, so maybe everyone wanted to feed you and welcome you home, but you were losing weight when you left, and now you’ve gained it all back.”

Ouch.  Whatabitch.

There were so many things that I wanted to do and say in that moment.  So many profanities, so much sarcasm, and a slew of middle fingers ran through my head.  I either wanted to take that sweet loaf of bread and shove it all in my mouth like a crazy person or smash it in her face.

Instead I said, “Yeah, we are definitely not that close.  Never say that to me again.  Ever.  I know that in this culture it’s ‘OK’ to tell everyone that they’re fat, but in my culture it’s one of the meanest things that you can say.  I went back home knowing that I would gain some weight because I get to eat these delicious foods only once a year, and I don’t feel bad about it because I’m losing it as we speak, and it was awesome.  And I would never ever tell you that you’re fat because it’s not nice and it doesn’t make you feel good.”  She said that I could tell her that she’s getting fatter (as she taps her small stomach), and I told her again that I would never do that because it’s so horribly rude.  I pointed out that I like to compliment her on her clothes or her hair because it makes her feel nice and gives her confidence; however, if I were to say that she was looking fat she would feel down and self-conscious all day – and there’s no point in doing that except to make the other person feel like shit.  She said yes, OK OK, and then someone walked in the room and I walked to the bathroom.

And then I cried in there for a minute.  Despite all I know about positive body imagine, self-love, different cultures and how I view myself, I just needed a second to let myself feel sad, hurt and offended.

This is not even close to the first time something like this has happened to me or others in Asia.  Obviously things like this happen all over the world every day in all cultures, but because I’ve been living and traveling here for a few years, the bluntness I’ve experienced is still foreign and shocking to me.

At my first school in Seoul I was playing with the kids and sat in one of the cubbies on a bookshelf.  Two of my co-teachers were giggling and told me that they were surprised I didn’t break the whole thing because I was so heavy.

At a lot of clothing stores the workers follow you around, and when you ask to go into a fitting room they often giggle, shake their heads, cross their arms in an X shape and say no.  One worker followed me around as I was looking at sweaters, and when I would hold one up he would say, “Not fit.  You too big” and would take the sweater from my hand and put it back.  After the second or third time this happened I yelled at him to go away, stand somewhere else and let me shop in peace.

In Vietnam where custom made dresses are cheap, my friend walked in and the shop owner said, “You are definitely not getting a dress.  I don’t have enough fabric in the shop for you.”

A few of us recently went to a restaurant, and we told them that there would be six people eating.  They wanted us to sit at a round table meant for four people because the restaurant was a little full, but then he looked at us, stuck his arms out, puffed up his cheeks, laughed and said, “oh, very big” and pushed two tables together.

At one of the main bus terminals in Seoul there was a billboard inside with a drawing of a giant white lady with her fat pouring over her seat, and she was sitting next to a very tiny, annoyed looking Asian woman who took up a third of her seat.

When a friend of mine, after being in Asia for a few years, got off a plane and was walking around the airport in America, she suddenly burst into tears.  For years she had been called ‘pig teacher,’ and she realized that after seeing so many people of different shapes and sizes she wasn’t, after all, a freak.

Another friend who was really into MMA fighting for a while got very thin and ripped.  You could see all of the muscles and bones in her body, and was only eating a little bit of kale for some meals.  Once she started to get back to her regular and healthy routine of eating and feeling better, her friends and co-workers called her ‘panda’ and kept commenting on how she was getting fat.

My Korean friend, after not seeing her University friends in a few years, met up with some of them, and the first thing that they said to her was, “Oh, you got fat!”

The stories are endless.

On one hand I know that I’m living in a very different culture than my own, and I need to adapt to their ways of life because I’m a guest here; however, the lines between accepting and adapting to their culture and being true to myself are not always clear.  I’ve noticed that the way I dress here compared to America is different – I’m more shy and covered up here.  In America I would wear sleeveless tops, but most of the time I can’t bring myself to do it here.  Not only do people stare because I’m a foreigner, but sometimes people will get all judgy and make the fat gestures behind my back.  Like I said, all of this is obviously not exclusive to Asia; however, in America I can smack someone in the face for pulling some shit like that and everyone will understand why.  But, you know, I can’t go around hitting people all the time for being offensive.

So, where do we go from here?  How do we stand up for ourselves and let things roll off our back at the same time?  I have worked hard since adolescence to not play the comparison/wishing game (my thighs touch and hers don’t; I wish I was as thin as her, etc).  I try to focus on praising my body for all the amazing things that it allows me to do.  Hating on my body only produces negative thoughts, is not productive, and it often leads to under-eating and then binging.  Do I have fat days?  Of course, just like everyone else in the world; however, constant negativity and insecurity like this can project onto others, creating a shitty cycle for everyone.  (Do I believe that my boss really loves her body and feels great about herself and is just being mean?  No.  And I know that she definitely has body issues and is surrounded by people and a culture that reminds her that she isn’t perfect all the time.  Does she project onto others?  Definitely.  Is she the only one to do this?  No.  We all know people (or sometimes are those people) who do this.)

Change your thoughts.  Surround yourself with supportive and encouraging people.  Read positive material.  One blog I look up to is written by Jes at The Militant Baker.  Her body positivity and personal experiences are inspiring and extremely relatable.  I also read magazines (such as Glamour, Marie Claire and Curve) that do not fat shame, but rather celebrate all shapes and sizes and show you how to dress your body so you feel your best.

Spread love and positivity, stand up for yourself, don’t shoot insults back at others even when they hurt you, and lead a happy life by example.  Once you start showing yourself more love and encourage others to do so in their own lives, the effects can be universal.

Here’s a powerful and inspiring video from Dove called Dove Real Body Sketches.  This went viral a few months ago, and this is the full version.  Listen to their words and look at their reactions.  How much do you see yourselves in these women?

What are your thoughts?  How do you deal with your own body issues?  What can we do to promote body love around the world so that it breaks cultural barriers?  I’d really love to hear from you.

Go forth and be fabulous, people!


I have circumnavigated the globe, I have lived overseas, and now I'm back in America about to marry my beautiful fiance, Renee. Follow our adventures in travel, getting healthier with Plexus and starting a brand new life.

15 thoughts on “Fat Shaming and Body Positivity

  1. Thank you for writing this!!!

    Here’s my story…about a year or so ago an Asian man and his family (and I apologize for not knowing exactly where he is from) were swimming where I work, and not following the rules in regards to water safety and children. They were being beyond rude and disrespectful to the lifeguard, so they called for me, the closing director. As I approached the man and his family to explain the rules and talk with them, he interrupted me several times and told me “you to fat to work here, only skinny people should”, “you are not a manager, you too fat”, “go work out”. It infuriated me!!!! Who is he to tell me I’m too fat, I need to work out?!??! I am wonderful, amazing, caring, and see the best in everyone…and this man completely broke that in me for that night. I cried as I sat at my desk and wrote the incident report up. No one has the right to make you feel that way.

    After reading your post this morning Codi, I realize it was more of a cultural thought, not necessarily a 100% personal attack (even though it felt 150% personal!). It’s a way of thinking, away you are raised…but it doesn’t make it right. It takes people like you writing about it, people like me sharing stories, and everyone working together to help raise each other up and compliment and recognize the GOOD in everyone. Your body is just a temporary home for your soul…and you are a child of the universe, be gentle with yourself and others.

    Sending much love (and a rainy Silver Bay day to sit in Spengler and talk about life) to you dear Codi. Miss you and sending my love across the seas…

    Arion 🙂

    1. That’s so terrible!!! And although it’s a cultural difference, it’s also rude and personal, and no one, no matter what culture they’re from, wants to hear that they’re too fat to work somewhere or that they need to go workout. Thank you for sharing your story and for always being a very beautiful and positive influence in people’s lives. ❤

  2. Thanks for writing this. You’ve summed up a lot of the struggles I’ve had as an overweight foreigner in South Korea. In fact, the first day at my job, one student asked “Do you have a baby inside?”, and it took everything for me to not burst into tears.
    Thanks again.

    1. Yes, I’ve definitely had to correct some kids. I REALLY try to not take it personally when I kid says something about me being fat, but I let them know that it is definitely not OK to use fat, pig or even skinny or thin. Because it’s none of their business to comment on someone else’s body. We must teach them these words and they want to use them, but once the book makes me teach them I have a talk with them first.
      Keep up the good work and love.

  3. See, and then there are countries where most people would admire you since in some cultures being overweight is associated with beauty and wealth.
    It’s really terrible what happened and I think I would have burst out in tears right away. Actually it is good to know about this now, before I travel to Asia one day, so I can prepare myself mentally for those insults.

    1. It took a lot of me reading other people’s experiences before coming to Asia and traveling, and then experiencing it, for it to slide off my back easier. When you go to Southeast Asia and you’re at the markets, the people will keep saying “big size, big size!” The first time I whipped around and said, “excuse me?!” and she smiled, held up a pair of pants and said, “that style no fit you, this one for big size!” with a huge smile on her face and wanted me to try them on. She just wanted to make a sale, wanted me to have the right size, and only knew enough English to say that.

      When it’s scenarios like that, I understand now. But when I’m approached like I was by my boss as in, “we’re such good friends….” that’s when it really hurts, and I have spent some time crying in a bathroom.

  4. We beat ourselves up enough through out life – we don’t need help from others. Thus one of the reasons you and Keegan were never allowed to say unkind things to each other – at least in my presence. That whole “before you say something think ‘is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” thing. This ‘put down’ happens to be about weight and size. If someone wants to deride you they will come up with anything that is different from them. And if you are putting yourself down it will be because of something you are or aren’t – a certain size or shape/ glasses or no glasses/ straight hair or curly hair/ spiritual – or not. And the list goes on. Because we are all different!!! That’s one of the incredible things about this world!!! We laugh at and get frustrated with trying to make everything “politically correct”. Not all cultures feel this is necessary or right. I think some of it goes a bit too far BUT if it helps keep from making someone else feel like crap then I am all for it!
    I’m totally with you on the language barrier thing. Sometimes it just makes the ridiculous funny. But to totally know what they are saying is rude and hurtful and just plain mean. Feel sorry for what she has in her. Know that you are an amazing, creative, adventurous young woman. You are my daughter. You are the best. Love Mom

  5. Yeah, people who are overweight know it. There is no need to point it out. One person called me butch once, and I was so offended I cried in a pillow. Now I am ok with it. I am not butch I am athletic, but my biggest fear was to be called a manly butch. Being called fat is a blessing cause it offers you the opportunity to face your insecurities and clear them. Then you will not attract people that point it out to you.

    1. When people who know nothing about the gay community start using the only language they do know, it makes you want to bang your head into a wall several times. “Which one is the man? You must be the butch/bull dyke.” Really? A pretty big point in a lesbian relationship is that THERE IS NO MAN. So no one’s trying to be one — the opposite is true in a gay relationship. Sheesh.

      And you’re right. People who point these things out make you face your fears, and you have the opportunity to deal with them. And then you know you don’t need that person or people like these in your life. 🙂

  6. I read this a while ago, but didn’t have time to reply at the moment and forgot until now. First of all, I love The Militant Baker! She is awesome. Second, you are also awesome. Putting up with that kind of thing is really rough.

    One of my best friends is Korean, and her family were constantly being assholes to her and telling her that she needed to lose weight, blah blah blah, her thighs were so big, blah blah blah, and it was so destructive. I’ve always been… a little protective of my friends, and there were several times I said something when they said things in front of me (and I was not nice), and she said that they eased up after that. But still. Ugh.

    It is especially hard because it IS a different culture, and they simply don’t see what they’re doing as inappropriate. Regardless, I’m quite impressed that you told your boss that it wasn’t okay. I have a terrible time with confrontation and will usually just run away and cry hahaha.

    1. I’m still confused as to why it’s a “normal” and “acceptable” thing to do in this culture because people’s feelings still get hurt! It’s not like if I tell one of my teachers that she’s getting fat that she won’t take any offense to it at all. Her feelings will be hurt, even if she just laughs it off (haven’t we all done that, regardless if we’re crying or screaming inside?).
      And good for you for commenting to her parents.

      1. I’m not sure either. It’s just odd that it’s okay to say things about weight to others like I hear so much about (and have seen) in the Asian cultures. I do think that bluntness in general is much more acceptable… not even just with weight. My Chinese friend’s mom will say things like, “You look like an Indian,” when she gets tan, which is apparently a huge insult, and it just blows my mind.

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