I was traipsing along the Internets yesterday, throwing some skipping stones into cyberspace, and stumbled upon a blog entry by Haidong Ji that made me fall down and scrape my knees in surprise. In it, the Chinese author recalls meeting his native parents at the airport in Chicago where they greet him with this lovely phrase: “You are fatter than before.” Amazingly this is not followed by the writer shoving his parents onto the next plane back to China. Instead he smiles because coming from a person from rural China this is actually a compliment. His family grew up in an area where food was scarce, so saying someone looked fatter meant that life was treating them well. He revealed, “If somebody said that to me, I, as a modest Chinese, would simply say something to the effect of: ‘No, no, no, I am just slightly fatter than before. You should see so and so. He is really fat!’” Then I started giggling trying to think of any two American women (or men) having this conversation without it immediately being followed by hair-pulling or slapping.
If I run into someone who hasn’t seen me for a while, I always feel a bit disappointed if they don’t comment on my weight loss. There’s a bit of relief too since I don’t have to figure out how to tactfully talk about the subject, but I have worked really hard on this and it’s always nice to know someone has noticed. If someone told me I looked fatter than before I might lose control of my bowels right there, thus lightening my weight a little and hopefully making me look less fat. And if I actually had gained weight, I would expect everyone to just ignore it and not say anything even if they had to duct tape their mouths closed to do so.
It does seem contradictory on my part because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fat. Fat grrls rawk and all that. But in all honesty I would still consider it an insult to say someone looks fatter than before. I wouldn’t consider it an insult to say someone looks tanner than before or taller than before, but fat still carries negative baggage in that area for me, despite my otherwise fat positive opinions. Perhaps I am too much a product of my culture to see it as otherwise. Unless we’re suddenly struck by a famine, I suspect I’ll always feel this way.