I’m not sure how Filipinos developed this fixation with weight, but if you’ve ever been on the wrong side of the scale I think you’ll understand why this article was begging to be written.
Many people believe that asking about the weather is conversational suicide. They’ve never had to endure a Filipino greeting.
‘Hoy, tumaba ka yata!’ (Hey, you got fat!) It’s not exactly the first thing I want to hear after a decade of separation. Suddenly, ten years don’t seem long enough.
Filipino women are fixated on weight. Listen in on any tsismis and inevitably someone will mention the F word: ‘fat’. If you’re lucky, they won’t be talking about you. Lately, it seems, my fortune has been in decline.
Social Survival Tip #1: Beauty is in the belly of the beholder.
Hanging around — ahem — plus-size women deflects attention from your bulging waistline.
‘Kat’s been hanging around pregnant women lately. Buntis kaya?’ Just be careful that people dont assume youre exchanging morning sickness cures. Because you know what will come next. That’s right, the dreaded question: Does she have a boyfriend? Oh, no, not the B word, too!
Social Survival Tip #2: Get them before they get you.
‘Tita, you’ve lost weight! What’s your secret?’ This earns me brownie points while the other person feels too embarrassed to bring up my double chin. Hearing about the Miracle of the Slimming Tea is a small price to pay for peace of mind. At least until I learned of their laxative effect. Not a tasteful topic to bring up over dinner.
Unfortunately, there’s no defence against surprise attacks. Imagine my horror when I bump into an acquaintance who greets me in typical Filipino fashion while I’m minding my own business in the ladies’ room. I try to be graceful. I try to escape. But as I wash my hands, I hear a deep sigh. I look in the mirror to find her staring at me, shaking her head and muttering, ‘Ay, tumaba na siya.’
So, I hurry out and head straight for the buffet table. Food is therapy, after all.
Social Survival Tip #3: Food is in our blood.
Some people eat to survive; Filipinos eat because there’s food. And lots of it.
‘Sige, kain pa!’ is the catchcry of the Filipina hostess, especially my mother-in-law. I know when my husband has lost weight because after dinner with his parents, we come home laden with five containers of baon.
When I was growing up, I got in trouble for not eating everything on my plate. ‘Ubusin mo yan,’ Dad would scold as I miserably contemplated my portion of ampalaya. How ironic that now, when I actually want to eat everything on my plate, I’m still in trouble.
‘Hoy, tama na,’ Mum whispers in my hear. Her radar never fails to catch me as Im making a beeline for dessert. ‘Youll get f –‘
‘Wow, Mama, you’ve lost weight!’
This article was first published in the October/November 2006 issue of the Australian Filipina. It also appeared in the February 2008 issue of PINOYexpats, an e-zine for Filipino expatriates with the title, How to avoid the F word and my bio at the end of the article read thus: Kat Mayo loves the dessert buffet. Her weighing scale stopped working in 2005 and has yet to be replaced.