Thursday, August 2, 2012

Body Image

I've been inspired to write about something that's been on my mind this whole year.
Throughout my time in Indonesia, my body image, my weight, the appearance of my figure, my clothes, the length of my skirt, how much makeup I do or do not wear--all of these things are under constant appraisal or scrutiny. Indonesian society is very direct about body weight; if you are a thin person this will be remarked out loud in front of you and you will be encouraged to eat--almost forced to eat. If you are a fatty mcfatfat, people (I mean everyone, even met-two-seconds-ago acquaintances) will tell you you're know, in case you forgot...?
But weight is also a sign of status; if you are successful and wealthy, some chub is expected and even a thing to boast about. Villagers are known to be very thin because they have physical labor jobs and cannot afford to eat a lot of food; they also eat more vegetables and less meat.

Around my birthday I was rather pudgy, and then I made the decision to stop eating even seafood--to start having a legitimately vegetarian diet. Since then I've also started exercising with my new host mother and I have dance lessons more often. All of these things have led me to lose weight, so that now I'm closer to my pre-Indo weight. None of this is important except that its been a good showcase of indonesian culture: people that I've not seen for a couple of weeks ALL comment on my weight loss with a frown. They ask me why I'm skinny now--as if that signifies bad fortune or unhappiness. For me, being fit signals happiness; for them chub is still ingrained to be thought of as a sign of success and happiness. This is a cultural difference that I've noticed between me and them. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that all Americans think like I do: being fit signals happiness and success. There is most definitely still a perception that operates along those lines of thinking--be it a minority. In a country with so much excess, being fit--being able to afford a gym membership, time to go to the gym, healthy food--seems more telling of wealth rather than a pot belly. It has been funny and interesting to interact with this cultural value. Another host mom knows that I dance Jaipong, and she always tells me I need to fatten up to he sexy enough to do the dance. It is funny. :)

The attached picture is a model of a traditionally-dressed Papuan man; Papuan culture is considered the most primitive. They don't wear much clothing; he is wearing what's called a penis gourd. This picture was taken at a huge souvenir store. Unfortunately, the store was out of penis gourds. But I got a picture!