Am I Fat?

“You fat,” Teacher Lanpoon told me after I took a second helping of coconut candy, a specialty treat from one of the girls who recently visited Chiang Khan.

“I’m what?” I asked, thinking that maybe she used the wrong word, but knowing she didn’t.

“Fat. Like heavy,” she offered. “F.A.T.”

“Right. Thanks?

It’s something I both admire and loathe about Thai culture. They are blunt, and blatant honesty is something to celebrate. On the other hand, though, they don’t understand that other cultures would never be this forthcoming when it comes to something like body shape.

I try to be accepting of the cultural difference, and most of the time it rolls right off my back. But there are times when I walk into a store (or market stall, usually) and the owner exclaims, “big size! Have big size!” with all the excitement that a car salesman would have if you walked in with a long list of requirements for a Porsche 911 and he just happened to have your dream car sitting on the showroom floor.

But I wasn’t looking for big sizes. I was just looking for my size, and now I’m no longer looking. As soon as I hear that remark, I walk right back out. I can’t help it. I know he/she is just being nice, but I no longer want to spend my money on a “big size.”

I’m not fat by American standards, and to be quite honest, many of the Thais are my same size or bigger, but it’s as if my foreignness simply makes me fat.

It also makes me white.
Standing at our morning flag ceremony, Teacher Mai came over to practice her English with me. She held her arm out to mine, placing them side by side. She pointed to hers and said “black,” then pointed to mine and said “white.” When I looked at the two, I saw exactly the same color.

I’m not ashamed of being white, and it’s something the Thais admire very much (which is quite apparent with the overwhelming availability of whitening supplies – body lotions, sunscreens, face cream, shampoo, makeup…), but I can’t understand how, when looking at two things literally touching, one can see a difference that isn’t there.

I certainly don’t need to be informed that I’m white, nor do I need to be told that candy will make me fat. Both of these I already know. I can’t change my skin color apart from tanning, and I’m probably not going to stop eating candy.

In fact, I had a refreshing taste of reality just last weekend while buying treats in a candy shop in Khon Kaen.

“Where you from?” asked the woman behind the counter. Upon hearing my response, she replied with shock, “But you no big! Everybody I see from America is big,” and she held her hands away from her body to demonstrate just how much bigger Americans are.

“I’m big for Thailand,” I said with a laugh.

“Oh no,” she replied. “I think you same-same. Yes, same-same as Thailand.”

Well, it’s about time someone saw things clearly!

“Thank you! I’ll take two bags of candy.”

8 Comments

  1. Jackie Hardie says:

    Loved the story Jessica…..and by no means are you fat!!! Litterally, I wonder what they would say about me….huge?

  2. Jit says:

    So the candy shop lady does have the sales ability of a true “car salesman”she knows the trends and concerns of her clients. I think it is the term “big or fat” that one that westerners objects to. Historically we Thai looked at “fat or Big’ or “owab” as good as did the west in the Renaissance, when beauty was a seen as a full rounded ladies not a tooth pick “twiggy” model.

    It was so here as Not so long ago so many people went hungry or even died of lack of food so fat meant healthy and wealthy.

    Today we are far heavier for sure with processed foods and corn meal and corn starched enhances foods enter our food chain. We now to do admire more slender ladies due to the western influences of movies and or more recently TV. I being older can remember when we tried to fatten up girls to be more desirable to be chosen as a good prospective wife.

    You ask the question “Am I fat?” So where is your full body photography? To show why you “really have cause” to be shocked someone would think your “Fat” yet alone say it!

    Another wonderful article and insight in living in Thai culture and example of preconceived feels towards a word and changing meanings of words within the English language.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi Jit,

      Thanks so much for this information. It adds a lot of clarity to why I often hear that I’m fat and beautiful (true or not) in the same conversation. Before coming to Thailand, I expected it to be a lot less developed than it is, and though current progress is widely visible, it’s easy to forget that just 10-20 years ago Thailand was a far different country.

      I think I answered my own question, but there are other pictures of me in many of my other posts!

      I hope you’ll continue to comment with such information for both me and my readers.

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