“Oh, tumaba ka ah!”
(Oh, you got fat!)
Growing up, these are the most common words I would hear whenever I visited a family reunion. Just before walking in, I would take a deep breath to prepare myself for this comment, but no preparation was ever enough. And it is the same case for many others.
Perhaps it is simply an exclamation made in surprise because they haven’t seen you in so long. Maybe it’s a valid remark made by some relative in the medical field who is just worrisome about obesity. But they never sound like they’re from a place of concern. To those on the receiving end of that statement, it is gut-wrenching—filled with malice. Simply put, it is fat shaming.
Statements pointing out my weight echoed throughout my adolescence. It made me lose confidence in myself. Many told me to “stay thin” and “don’t gain weight” starting from when I was only 12 years old. At that time, I was counting calories and doing sports, even when it left me constantly injured—all because I had gained a few pounds as I hit puberty. What could I say at the time? Thigh gaps were the trend, and I wanted it. But everything comes with a price and my mental state went downhill from there.
A year later, I had a 26-inch waistline and I was a US size two. Yet, I still wanted to be thinner. I had days where I wouldn’t eat. I would look at my friends with faster metabolism and tell myself that that was my goal. But 17 came along and my waistline reached 29 inches. I was going boxing almost every day for the summer, working out until I physically and mentally couldn’t. My motivation was simple: someone said I had gotten fat and that I should be as thin as my friends.
While some people told me I had a great figure, that they were jealous of my curves, the bad comments constantly rang in my ears; nothing outweighed them.
To me, I was never skinny enough. I was never beautiful enough. I was never enough.
This cycle went on for years. Between choosing not to eat, forcing myself to purge out the food I ingested, and staring at photos where I had a small food baby to the point where the way I saw myself had been warped, it was absolute torture. I hated how these standards of beauty defined me. I hated what I had done to myself. Most of all, I hated myself.
Eventually, I realized that no matter what I did, those comments would come my way. Whether I had gained weight or not, whether I had toned abs or lost weight, it didn’t matter. It’s the same thing—the toxic Filipino mentality.
Many joke around that it’s a tito or tita thing, that you should just say it back to them, or that these people are the ones that you actively try to avoid at reunions. But for some people, it’s a reality. The comments that they throw at you are the ones that could bring out the monster in you. This monster is the one that could make or break you, and oftentimes it is the latter.
Over time, you realize that you can outgrow these comments and the monster. Take it from me—I gained weight and these comments now go in one ear and out the other. But this wouldn’t be as bearable without a strong support system around me.
It takes a lot of effort and self-acceptance to get here. Sometimes, all it takes is one look in the mirror to realize that you love yourself and that you’re a strong, confident human being. But sometimes, it takes years of looking in the mirror and telling yourself those exact things before you get even a glimpse of a better place with yourself.
And sometimes, even when you have gotten to a good place with yourself, you sometimes catch yourself staring at images of yourself and nitpicking at the little food baby you had gotten after lunch. But when you’re in that good place, you can more easily pull yourself out of that and snap yourself back to reality.
I love myself.
To the family members or friends that call us out for gaining a few pounds, please stop. These comments never help, and they never motivate us to “just stay thin.” For the most part, you are helping create a monster in all of us—one that would destroy us instead of making us feel better.
There is no such thing as “too fat” when we are, in fact, healthy. There is no such thing as “just staying thin” when our metabolism doesn’t allow it and we don’t have much time in our packed, stressful days to “just exercise”.
Don’t be the reason for our downfall.
To our readers who may face these comments and find it difficult to recover from them, I understand that this is much overstated, but it is important you know that self-acceptance and self-love are the things that you should work toward apart from working on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you are strong and confident. Most of all, listen to your friends and family who tell you that you are beautiful and that you are loved and believe them—because you are.