Fat and beautiful

Caveat:  I am not a medical professional and what I am writing about is what I have heard/researched over the years.

I have titled this post “fat and beautiful” because that is what many Zambians say when one has put on weight.  Some of the reason they think fat is beautiful are:

1.  One is considered healthy (AIDS patients are usually skinny, but conversely those on ARVs also become ‘fat’)

2.  One looks younger.

3.  One gives the impression of being successful.

4.  Men generally prefer fat women.

There may be other reasons why Zambians equate fat with beauty, I don’t know.

Was I in for a shock when I moved to the States!  People actually seemed to prefer slim people!  On my first week working there, I made a faux pas when Cathy returned from vacation:

Cathy:  I ate too much and have put on too much weight.

Bertha:  No, you have not.  You are still the same.

Cathy:  You think so?  I am not fat?

Me:  You have put on a bit of weight since I last saw you, but you look beautiful.  You now have feminine curves.

Cathy (looking very sad):  Really?  I have got big hips?  I have to stop eating and lose this weight.

Bertha:  No, Zambian Lady is not telling the truth!   Cathy, you have not put on weight!

I was confused – it was obvious that Cathy had put on a few pounds, had become curvy (high points in Zambia) and was looking very nice so I did not understand her sad look.  It took me a couple of days to realize that being fat/bigger was considered not attractive or healthy so I went back to Cathy and had a follow up conversation:

Me:  You know what, Cathy?  You have not put on weight at all.  It’s the dress you were wearing that made you look slightly bigger.  You still look good and slim.

Cathy (her face lighting up):  I am not fat?  You really had me worried!

I wondered why people were so against someone gaining a bit of weight so I researched and started paying attention to what people would say.  These are some of the reasons I got:

a)  It is unhealthy to be big (some friends later mentioned how being bigger has affected their health)

b)  Fat people are lazy – they would be smaller if they exercised.

c)  Big people smell.

d)  Big people are poor.

e)  Big people are gluttons.

I also came to learn that bigger people do not want to be called ‘fat’ in the US but use other terms, e.g. curvy.

To me, the culture and economy of a people plays a big deal on how a fat person is perceived.   Whether one is fat or not is also subjective – one may be considered slim in one place but fat in a place with generally thin people.

The medical personnel have told us we have to be within our BMI which helps only to some extent, though I have heard other experts say it is not reliable.

Back to the statement:  fat and beautiful.  What do you think?






12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. earthriderjudyberman
    Jan 22, 2015 @ 02:33:58

    Whether you look at the models in paintings of the Renaissance era, or photos of Marilyn Monroe, you realize that how women are perceived has changed over time. I prefer the curvy – like Marilyn Monroe – to some of the stick figures that we see on the runway or in the movies. That said, I look at photos of myself from about 10 years ago and I know I was way too overweight … and unhealthy. That changed, when I started eating a Mediterranean diet. Feel and look much better now. 😉


  2. jedib
    Jan 21, 2015 @ 09:17:45

    I love your stories of cultural encounters! Ideals of beauty are of course contingent on culture, but they also change over time. My great granddad, who was born in the first decade of the 20th century, used to approvingly comment on women with big behinds. Not only once did he tell me or my female friends: “Your butt really has gotten bigger.” Which he meant as a compliment, but we teenagers, who aspired to being skinny, of course did not understand it that way.


    • Zambian Lady
      Jan 21, 2015 @ 09:35:14

      Great grandpa must have been Zambian in his former life! Big bottoms and big legs are more appreciated in Zambia than big bossoms. You are right – perceptions of beauty keep on evolving.


  3. gfchopstix
    Jan 11, 2015 @ 02:06:26

    ‘Fat’ in my opinion is very much a cultural matter. Depends on where you are from, your upbringing, and often ‘brainwashing’ culture as to how you view being ‘fat’. As long as a person is healthy, and not obese, or deathly thin, does it really matter what their body-shape is? There is far too much pressure in the media 😦 With photo apps abounding everywhere, it is far too easy to alter a natural, imperfect image and make it unrealistic. Sadly, this is what the majority of people are aiming for. I couldn’t find the quote I was looking for, but years ago, I recall reading that CIndy Crawford commented that she knew that she really didn’t look like the photos of her in magazines, and that she was quite fine with the fact that she didn’t.


  4. anotherday2paradise
    Jan 10, 2015 @ 20:56:17

    I find that it’s safer not to comment on a person’s size. 😀 I’ll never be fat and beautiful, but I can live with that.


  5. Sharon Greene
    Jan 10, 2015 @ 19:58:27

    I think all shapes and sizes can be attractive. We”ve gotten brainwashed to believe that only the super slim can be attractive. So most women end up with body image problems because we will never look like the Photoshopped images in magazines. Obviously you don’t want to be so fat that it jeopardizes your health, but curvy can be super attractive too.


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