Last week I went to a graduation where I saw several Costa Rican friends that I hadn’t seen in a few months. One friend dramatically exclaimed, “Oh my goodness! Have you lost weight? You look so good. The last time I saw you, you were much fatter!” Um, thanks… I think.
This is one cultural difference that I have yet to get comfortable with. In Latin America, a physical description of a person’s body is just that… a physical description of a person’s body. This is in contrast with American culture where a physical description of one’s body can be the same as a judgement of character, a determination of worth, or an obvious truth which must be carefully danced around to avoid being “politically incorrect”. It is a touchy subject, a taboo.
In America, a person is very much judged on their presentation. If someone looks professional they are treated differently than if they dress like a student. However, we are proud of our individuality and religiously defend our right to express ourselves through our appearance. These two features of our society pull at women like a child playing with silly putty. Women feel a strong pull in the one direction to live up to a particular standard of beauty and another pull in the other direction to be a unique individual. It’s a difficult balancing act.
In Costa Rica, I have observed that women are proud of their curves. It does not matter what your body shape, every woman can dress sexy if she wants to. I feel none of the body consciousness that I feel in America. I actually don’t feel like I look all that bad compared with other women. But in America, the pressure to be something you aren’t is intense and unrelenting. It’s nice to be in a place where the female body is accepted and even celebrated in all it’s shapes and variety.
In Costa Rica, it does not matter how much money you have. Every woman can dress professionally if she wants to. I remember when we first arrived here we would drive through very poor neighborhoods with dilapidated shacks as houses. I watched in awe as the doors would open and professional looking business men and women would emerge to start their work day with a walk to the bus stop. Clearly these people took a lot of effort to rise above their circumstances and try to make something better of themselves. I was impressed.
Here, people dress how they want to dress, and speak frankly about their bodies. I really do find their disregard for political trip-wires to be quite refreshing. People say what they want to say and no one takes offense.
People refer to each other by their ethnicity, skin color, physical features and eating habits. Within one family you could have the nicknames Chino (for someone who looks Asian), Negr0/a (for a family member with darker skin), Gordo/a (for a chubby loved one), or Chancho (piggy). And the Costa Ricans love to add “-ito” or “-ita” which is the diminutive for adjectives making Gordita into a term of endearment. So one might call their wife “my little fatty” like we would call a baby a “butterball”.
The honesty can be refreshing… until someone calls ME a little fatty. Then I don’t like it at all. I really never know how to respond when someone comments on my weight so directly. I usually just smile and say “Thank You”. I know they mean no malice.
Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/people/71164184@N00″>Sumith Meher</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-SA</a>
Photo credit: <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Bigplankton”>Bigplankton</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/”>Public Domain Mark 1.0</a>