One thing that always amazes me once you get outside of Western culture is how incredibly blunt or off some comments can feel sometimes. Yes, in the West we are so politically correct that it is counter productive and quite frankly ridiculous in my opinion. But yet, where does one draw the line? Well, the answer is you can’t because what one person finds insulting another doesn’t.
I have come across this on numerous occasions, and often it is about physical appearance and weight. I was reminded of this again recently when a Filipino woman who works for one of my friends came by my house to pick up something for her. We hadn’t seen each other for several months and while she was quite happy to see me, and vice versa, the first thing she said to me was “Madam what happened to you? You gained weight! You used to be so sexy! “.
Now, I can only laugh about this and the extra comment about being sexy or having been is always interesting to me. Maybe thin equates with sexy in Eastern culture, I am not sure.
For some cultures, I wonder if this could be a way of females bonding in a sisterly way. I figure in some cases if people are bold enough to go there and they have known you for some time, they want to be closer to you? Maybe it’s just my wishful thinking. Or, they already feel close enough that they can tell you? Or, they are just honest with what they feel? As my two-year old son would say, “What is that?”
In Istanbul, I was never so sure of the intent. And it was often confusing because if one person told me I looked good or lost weight, within a few hours another would tell me I gained weight. They all cancelled out any theories I had about cultural norms on this subject.
I’m not sure how it is in Arab culture, or Indian culture. However, I have been bluntly told my some male Indian colleagues if I’ve gained or lost weight. There is nothing harassing or anything behind it. It is all very matter of fact as if you were talking about a scratch on your car.
The Filipinos I know or encounter often do not have any issues telling me this. I can’t help but wonder if it is more of an Eastern thing because once on a trip to Viet Nam, a local male was pointing out “fat” girls to me while we were waiting in the car for my husband. I was completely floored because I could not tell the difference between his definitions of fat and thin at all. They looked the same to me - tiny! I know people often find Americans big – and they are – but I remember thinking I must be huge by comparison if this is their example of fat!
At least the good thing is while a Filipino may feel you are gaining weight, they will tell you when you look good, too. So you know the intent is not malicious. In similar fashion once when I was at a salon in our complex one of the girls who used to work there was very excited to learn that I knew the “Sexy pregnant lady” in our complex. Yes, that’s my neighbor and she is tall and gorgeous, built like Heidi Klum. After she delivers those babies she’s got the same elasticity as Heidi too. It was very sweet though because she is beautiful and while a lot of people get caught up in how much weight someone gains while they are pregnant, while easy to see her beauty, they were not afraid to compliment her on it.
I hear comments from time to time regardless of any weight gain or not. For the first few years living abroad, it bugged me. Now I am quite used to it, and probably at this age don’t care too much about it. However, I am still fascinated by it.
My personal philosophy: It’s still what is on the inside that counts. Regardless of where I live if someone has gained or lost weight I don’t care as long as they are healthy and happy.
So, “What happened to me and why am I not sexy”? I guess baggy jeans, t-shirts, no make up and a bad cold do not constitute sexy in the Philippines.