Thursday, November 25, 2010

Did You Get Fat?

Japanese people are typically thin. We're noted one of the healthiest and longest living nations in the world. So you'd think people would be happy with the way they look, but no, we're just as obsessed with diets and appearances as people in The States. When I was growing up, most of the models in fashion magazines were Westerners because that was thought to be more beautiful. That trend has changed over the years, but many of the popular models are what we call "Halves," which means they are half breed of Westerner and Japanese. If you have ever seen a Japanese "Manga" or Anime, the characters' eyes are large, and hair color often not black. Cosmetic surgeries to make an extra fold in your upper eye lids are popular and even colored contact lenses are a fad amongst young people. If you watch any info-mercial, it's all products that will make you look thinner and younger.

Japanese people are also often thought to be polite. This is generally true, EXCEPT on two occasions. One is in a crowd (like subways) and two is about people's weight. I didn't really notice this second characteristic until I was married. I would bring my husband-- who is not lean, but pretty average US man sized--and my mother would tell him how he looked (which was often that he gained weight) within the first 5 minutes of seeing him. Even if he had lost weight, she would add a comment like, "good! a little more to go, yes?" I was horrified and had to pull her aside to tell her that he was very self conscious and that it was not OK with me for her to comment on his weight that way. She seemed surprised by that fact but respected my wish. But then, on one trip, my politest, sweetest friend said "did you get a little bigger?" to him which almost caused him to punch her in the mouth even though she was pregnant (the most unfortunate thing in this case was that she speaks flawless English, so I couldn't mask or soften the comment through translation). My husband, who had been so open to everything Japanese, gave me a look at this point as if to say, "what's with your people?" After that, I realized when I describe someone to my mother, she often says, "oh, the chubby one?" and I have to pause to think if we're talking about the same person and often when my parents are talking about friends and relatives, they begin by saying whether this person got fat or thin.

Then I started noticing that fat people are great in Japan, as long as they are funny and on TV. And by "fat", they are about average or would be categorized as "slightly overweight" in The States. And most of their jokes are about being fat, and other comedians would also do endless amount of fat jokes in front of them, which seems so mean by American standard.

And yet, Sumo wrestlers are respected and hold a certain high status in our society. They are not to be made fun of, but admired for their size.

Seriously, what is with my people on this?


  1. This is totally an Asian thing. The Philippines is similar...they actually have a store called "Tubby".

  2. Ah, yes - Philip has told me about this before. It sounds a little bit like being in my family (Italians aren't that weight-obsessed, but my relatives are). My mom and aunt comment on my weight within roughly 30 seconds of seeing me.

    You'd think with a culture that's as food centric as the Italians', they'd not care about it so much.


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