“Pero, cómo has engordada!” – Every Latina grandmother ever
Ay, abuelita, it’s not like you’re telling us something we don’t already know. Maybe we have put on a few pounds. Maybe we’re okay with it or maybe we’re not. Either way, we were hoping to enjoy our Thanksgiving turkey, frijoles, flan, and that sweet, sweet food coma afterwards in relative bliss this year. Guess not, huh?
Gordita. Flaquita. It’s as if everyone in the family has an opinion on your waist-to-hip ratio and the annual holiday pachangas are just another opportunity for them to drop their well-meaning (yes, the really are well-meaning) observations. What is it about Latino families (and women, in particular) that encourages this body appraisal whenever we get together? This type of thing doesn’t typically happen at, say, your job. Why is it okay coming from the ones we love the most?
Believe it or not, it’s ultimately because they care.
“The older generation [of Latinos] associates food with love,” says Gilza Fort Martinez, LMFT of Resolution Counseling & Coaching Center, “so when you are ‘too skinny,’ a relative phrase to begin with, or ‘too fat,’ it reflects on their caretaking abilities or lack thereof.”
“For Latino families, food equals love, comfort, support,” says Fort Martinez. “It is about abundance and hospitality. Also, depending on the family's history with scarcity, food is important from the idea of ‘not wasting’ it, and the emphasis on ‘cleaning your plate.’”
When we think about it in terms of it being a reflection of their caretaking abilities and the ties with past scarcity struggles, it starts to make crazy amounts of sense. Babies are applauded for their voracious appetites and adorably chubby thighs because it means mami is doing a good job and “mi gorda” is used as a loving term of endearment. Losing too much weight, or being “flaquita,”would imply that our mamis and abuelas have failed us somewhere along the way. When we’re skinny, we are visual proof to the entire family that they couldn’t adequately provide for us.
Why the judge-y eyebrow raises and public social commentary when we’ve gone up a size, then?
Turns out, it might actually be a compliment letting you know you look healthy and well fed. It’s possible — because we’ve been acculturated in an American society that associates beauty with thinness — that we’re projecting or reading too much into their comments and looks. According to Fort Martinez, “the younger Latinas (or the ones born here) tend to associate more with U.S. values. The older they are when they arrive [to the U.S.], the more they’re already enmeshed with traditional family values. In either case, it’s the desire to fit in that can lead to body image distortions and negative ways to manage that.”
As you’re getting ready to head over to your grandmother's or uncle’s house for the holidays, take a long, hard, look in the mirror first. No seriously, do it. Tell yourself how beautiful, intelligent, and loving you are. Compliment your reflection on her gorgeous and lustrous hair and the sexy curves of her thighs. Give yourself the love and acceptance you deserve, because ultimately the only person that has to feel good about your weight and body is you.