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?