Features

Is Body Shaming Part of Our Filipino Culture?

Unfortunately, it's normal in Filipino society to comment on other people's physical appearances, good or bad.
IMAGE Shirley Waters

Any girl who grew up in a Filipino household knows a thing or two about being body shamed by family members or relatives. Whether it's being called names (taba, payatot) or getting called out for your size or shape ("ang laki laki mo na," "para ka nang toothpick"), our parents, titos and titas, and lolos and lolas have contributed to it in one way or another. It's not that they hate us or deliberately want us to feel bad about ourselves. It's just that it's sadly become part of our culture.

Filipino-American Erica Dawn Waters (aka @erica_dawn_w) is just one of the many who have endured "comments" like these until she couldn't take it anymore and told her relatives about it. Read part of her story below, which we are reposting with permission. She originally posted this on her blog, ericadawnw.com.

"Let me start off by saying I am a fiercely proud mixed-race, Filipino-American woman. Growing up, I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to live in the Philippines for six years-I learned Tagalog, immersed myself in the culture, enjoyed the endless delicacies and most importantly, developed a very close bond with my family on my mom's side. I am lucky to call both the Philippines and the United States my home.

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"If there's one thing I can attest to during my six-year stay in the Philippines, it's that Filipinos have earned their reputation of being some of the most friendly people in the world. And it's true, we are! However, no culture comes without blemishes, and the Philippines is no exception. I want to highlight one of our societal flaws that no one seems to talk about: blatant body shaming.

"Although I do not live there anymore, I try and visit as much as I can-because as any true Filipino, family-time is important to me. Every trip starts off the same way: After a 14+ hour flight, I am greeted by my cousins, aunts and uncles. Their first words to me are tumaba ka 'you got fat' as they simultaneously squeeze my 'arm fat.' My excitement for coming home instantly fades, and I immediately want to hop on the next America-bound flight-I know that this is just the beginning of a summer filled with unsolicited commentary pertaining to my body.

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"At least I have someone who goes through this with me-my beautiful, older sister. Keep in mind, my sister and I are pretty healthy gals, but whenever we set foot in our island home, we are immediately pinned as fat or chubby. Why? Because Filipino's definition of beauty can best be described as: stick-thin. My sister and I just aren't built that way.

These comments are not meant to be insulting; unfortunately it's normal in Filipino society to comment on other people's physical appearances-good or bad. So, really anyone who doesn't fit within this society's beauty standards has to deal with this nonsense.

"My sister and I have grown accustomed to this practice, so we usually brush off the comments and try our hardest not to be fazed. But as much as we didn't want to be, we were fazed, we were very fazed-to the point where we used to put our bodies through hellish and unhealthy diets to try and avoid unwanted remarks about 'how fat we are' during our next visit. Yet, no matter how much we refrained from midnight snacking or how many miles we ran, we were still categorized as 'fat' the moment we stepped off the airplane. 

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I didn't realize it at the time, but this was a textbook case of body shaming on an entire cultural level.

"One summer, my sister and I had reached our breaking point. After a much needed, cousins-only staycation, a family member asked my sister why she's 'so big' for about the 100th time that month-as if her bone structure was her fault. She snapped, and rightly so! She wasn't going to take this treatment anymore, especially not from family.

"This big blow up turned into a constructive conversation where I finally explained the negative emotional and physical effects these comments have had on my sister and me over the years. Interestingly enough, we got two very distinct responses during this chat. The first came from the older generation of our aunts and uncles who defended this behavior because it's so widely accepted.

They basically told us that because we are in the Philippines, we should conform to Filipino norms, and quit being so 'sensitive.'"

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It was a good thing that Erica's cousins, who had also felt the same way about their relatives, had her back and supported what she had to say. Read about it and the rest of the story in Erica's blog post entitled, "Let's Talk About Body Shaming in the Philippines." 

What are your thoughts on the issue? Sound off below or tweet us @candymagdotcom to join the conversation.

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About the author
Mara Agner
Assistant Lifestyle and Features Editor
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If you know me, and know me well, I am not the biggest fan of idyllic lifestyles. With a Type A personality, I act immediately upon whatever challenge that needs to be addressed. I actually enjoy keeping my mind preoccupied: doing university work in my favourite cafe then running errands around town, grocery shopping here, updating my accounts there, photocopying documents on the way down the street - all just in time before having a glass of champagne at the bar with my friends come evening.

And so, you could imagine my bewilderment when the next challenge to be faced was an extensive self-quarantine protocol. I didn’t know what to do when my greatest responsibility in this situation was to do nothing at all. My first few attempts to combat my consternation were very much rooted in distraction and imagination. My distractions involved conducting research, writing songs, calling family and friends, filming videos, and eating chocolate! My imaginations and fantasies were centred on travelling, shopping, even clubbing (which I rarely do) for when they find a cure to COVID-19. I did anything and everything that could be considered constructive in order to pass the time, mainly hoping I could just undertake the basic human necessities to survive - that is, eat and sleep the day through - until the next day comes, until the world is closer to becoming a better place, until quarantine ends, until my flight follows through, until I see my family and friends again.

Days in self-isolation and suspended flights turned to weeks and turned to months. By the third extension here in Spain where I study Fashion Business, I had to tell myself this shall be my new normal now, that I was blessed to be healthy, that I was tired of merely existing and missed what it was like to actually live - even if just within four walls. Little by little, I began to find significance in the simple occurrences of the day: the soft glare of the rising sun beaming golden streaks through my bedroom window upon waking up, the fragrance of freshly washed bed sheets that I had painstakingly hung to fit a relatively small clothes rack without crumpling them, the crunch and tanginess of warm toasted bread topped with raspberry marmalade, the buzzing sound of a phone call from home just waiting to be answered, to the caress of a fuzzy sweater to keep warm at night. I realised, “What pleasures to be enjoyed in the pause of slow living!” Through this continued pause, which I loathed at first, I began to appreciate each moment of the day rather than wish it would pass more swiftly, moments I had overlooked so often before the lockdown. I started to find that the challenge of self-isolation was never to pause both the regular routines of life as well as the positive emotions that came with these - as initially, I thought it meant to pause all happiness, so as to withstand a time of endurance in hopes for a better tomorrow, much like a form of delaying gratification. Life is just too fragile these days to delay gratification any further.

Life has paused, but it has not stopped. Believe that like any punctuation mark in a sentence, the pause will provide the right timing of things to take place. Till then, let us not waste our time waiting. Instead, we could be in the moment, seek substance in simplicity (that is, in what we already have), And enjoy the pleasure in pause. “Practice the Pause. When in doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause. And when you pause, pray.”

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