Saturday, November 27, 2010

Body Image – Puertorican Style

(This is a revised version of my post by the same name from June 16, 2008)

I moved to Wisconsin in 1989. I was young and skinny. Now, I am a little less young and a lot less skinny.

I remember, growing up, how women in my family were all concerned with weight. How I would hear, "Oh, be careful; with your genes, you are prone to become fat!", and all kind of comments of the like. I was little, but before long, when I started to approach puberty, and the hormones dictated that now fat was to be stored in certain parts of my body, the comments were then directed at me.

Welcome to womanhood! My body was to rearrange itself time and again.

I am surprised that no more women I knew from that generation did not develop some kind of eating disorder. In high school, I remember my friends and me trying all sorts of crazy diets, pills, and the like. They did not work, however. Most of my classmates had the same issue. They were all looking for what would be the “perfect body”. I wanted a larger butt and a smaller waist. Another wanted a smaller butt. One considered herself toothpick-like skinny, hence unattractive, while the other thought she could use losing weight. We were probably on the verge of an eating or personality disorder, as most of us saw a larger or distorted figure when we looked in the mirror.

My mother was always slightly self-conscious about her figure. She did not have, according to her, the figure most Puertoricans would consider "perfect". And, by God, she had to transfer her insecurities to me. She did not want me to gain weight, as my body would not look "good enough" because of my body shape. My shape, apparently, did not conform what somebody thought was the ideal figure either. The ideal Puertorican figure. But this was not unique to my mother. Most women there have the same issue. Not only are they ruthless while judging their own bodies, but they are relentless in finding imperfections in the bodies of everyone else. It gets tiring, believe me!

It took many years to realize that my body is beautiful in its unique way. No, I did not have the ample buttocks or hips Puertorican people find most attractive. The word “chumba” (which means “flat rear”) was used often when referring to my rear end. I do have, however, according to them, pretty legs, the kind THEY like!

It wasn't until I moved here that my self-esteem regarding my body improved considerably. It had already improved as I slowly was letting go of all those “hang ups”, but the next kick came here. I got to this part of the world and I discovered that the “ideal” of feminine beauty and the expectations were very different from where I come from. Also, I learned that I moved to a place ranked high when it comes to the number of obese people. Health wise, that is alarming. However, this fact put things into perspective for me. A former employer and his wife both insisted I was very skinny. They were a little older. But one day, his previous administrative assistant came in to pick up some papers, and when she left, I said to him, "Now I understand why you people bug me so much about being so skinny..." Frankly, I meant no disrespect for the woman. Simply, it was what crossed my head, how everything is a matter of perception. I was NEVER called skinny in Puerto Rico...well, probably the last time, I was in 7th grade, and I already felt a little chubby because of my mother's obsession with weight. So my neighbors laughed when they saw me with a full leotard because I was going to exercise to lose weight...they laughed so hard! But after hitting puberty, no one ever listed "skinny" in their list of adjectives about me...until landing in Wisconsin.

Now, over 21 years later, I am, we could say, satisfied with my body. Could I be in better shape? Perhaps. Could use losing a few post-pregnancy over 5 years later? Come on!

But yes, I could use losing them and also exercise more, more for health reasons than appearance. I have been exercising more recently. Still, not as often and hard as I feel I should. Again, it is all because of health these days.

With the holidays coming, it is good to remember moderation. Obesity is at plague levels in this country. Specially among children. So helping our fellow human beings in having healthier eating habits and more active lives is a gift in itself.

Healthy body and mind does not mean that you need to have a certain shape or type of body. Beauty, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder. So I guess it is up to us to believe that we are all beautiful in our own individual way. No need to conform to others’ idea of beauty and perfection. This, in itself, radiates from within; confidence makes everyone more beautiful!

Happy holidays!


Mayra Castillo said...

I like this amiga. Did I ever called you anything? I don't think so. I always picture you as a beautiful girl with great legs and lots of followers... if we can call them that, as if we had tweeter back then, how many followers would you had? Besos amiga. Mayra

La Jibara said...

Ha! I don't know, maybe a couple!