By: Margarita Holmes
Dear Dr Holmes:
I am a Filam, residing in California but on a 6-month internship here. I love it except for one thing: My office workers think it ok to comment on my weight. Comment not once or twice but CONSTANTLY. Comment not only in private, but no matter who else is around.
Am I super insensitive when I react negatively to all this? I broached this subject with the person closest to me and she said: “Lighten up! This is the way we do things in the Philippines.”
Sometimes they even joke about it and I am angry that they do not seem to realize that I do not enjoy being the butt of all their jokes.
First they asked me how much I weighed, which already I found strange, But I convinced myself this was acceptable because we are from different cultures. But some of them went further and told me I needed to lose weight, I was shocked! We would never have the bad manners to say such things in America.
I told them I appreciated their concern but need not worry because I felt ok the way I was. Then they started on how unhealthy it was to be as “chubby” as I was. Any advice would be helpful because I am reaching the limit of my patience, but with 4 months left here, I do not want to end on a bad note.
Thank you. Anna
Thank you very much for your letter. I will side step cross cultural differences because in this case, I firmly believe it is not this issue that explains your co workers’ behavior. There are more differences within cultures than between. In addition, when it comes to family, friends, and lovers, it’s more a case of “culture, schmulture.” No matter where you’re from or where you grew up, we all want and need the same things: Love, respect, recognition, and a sense of belonging—all of which you are not getting from the place where you’re interning (and I am so, so sorry for that).
You wrote, and I quote, “I tried to broach this subject with the person closest to me and she said: ‘Lighten up! This is the way we do things in the Philippines’. I think it is fat shaming and I am getting tired of it!”
1. Yes, it IS fat shaming (even if you may be nowhere near fat)
2. Next time she or anyone else says anything about your weight and your need to lighten up, I think you need to speak up.
3. The person “closest” to you is a biotch and you need to get as far away from her as possible.
Her saying lighten up is one of the nastiest and least supportive statements anyone could say to someone in your situation.
The phrase lighten up is like the phrase “move on.” Only the ones who can say nothing else say these words. Even worse, when people say this, it is clear that lightening up (or moving on) is precisely what you should NOT do. Underneath such exhortations is the very uncomfortable realization (of the exhorters) that if people did NOT lighten up or move on, what is revealed will be terrible for the same exhorters.
No one tells someone to “lighten up” about something unless something else–deeper and usually, nasty or at the very least, shameful– is going on. Usually, that something is an over the top insult relentlessly and passive aggressively disguised as a joke and/or concern for one’s mental (or, in your case, physical) health. Like the phrase “move on,” “lighten up” is only used by people who have much to gain from your doing what they ask you to.
What they are really saying is:
Yes, I demeaned you and made you a butt of our jokes but lighten up, would you? You are spoiling the mood of the party.
“ So, DON’T lighten up, Anna. Don’t feel you have to accept – or pretend you don’t understand– whatever they say either.
While some can say the most lethal things with a light touch, alas, I am not one of them. Thus, all I can suggest is that you speak up sooner rather than later. Don’t make excuses and be direct. That way they cannot excuse themselves by saying they did not understand what you were trying to tell them.
It may not make you Ms Popularity, but so what, right? So what if you don’t play ball? So what if the biotches and shamers tell you “Ang pikon, talo” (the one who gets angry, loses) as long as you need not pretend things are ok even if they’re not.
Good luck, dearest Anna, and please tell us how it goes. –MG Holmes