Things I wish the Filipino Community Would Understand When They Body-Shame Me

Things I wish the Filipino Community Would Understand When They Body-Shame Me

Nakaka-relate ka ba? That feeling when someone throws a familiar Filipino phrase your way, one that you know all too well, one that stings a little deeper than intended. Whether it be from your Filipino parents or relatives who make little comments about your body that sometimes aren’t intended to make you feel hurt, they still do anyway. Or it's from your friends making jokes that low-key hurt, but you don’t want to ruin the mood by telling them that it did.  We’ve all been there. These sayings are potentially harmful because they perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards and lower our self-esteem.

We’ve all heard it: “Uy, Tumaba ka” (Hey, you got bigger), “Para kang ting-ting” (You’re like a stick!), “Maganda ka sana kaso mataba ka” (You’re pretty but you’re fat) , or “Sino magkakagusto sayo?” (Who will like you?) While these remarks might seem like harmless teasing, or kamustahan from other Filipinos, they can have a lasting impact on our self-esteem and body image. 

As a Filipina young adult struggling with body image, I have always dreaded going to family events, especially when there’s food involved. One way or another, a family member would chide my body when I was innocently eating, and that would change my mood for the rest of the day. I hated talking about my body as it has always made me feel insecure to the point that I would refuse to go out with my friends for fear of being looked at or judged. While I know that sometimes our Filipino families don’t mean it in a condescending way when they comment on our body as they “only want what’s good for us”, it’s still unsolicited because hearing those words throughout my life can be tiring. And believe me, it’s not like I haven’t tried changing my body. But due to circumstances like disordered eating, depression and other illnesses, it is hard to change that. 

My “Unsolicited” Advice to Body-Shaming Family Members

I’d like to think that we can rewrite this narrative and create a more body-positive environment in our Filipino households. It may not be easy, but it is a process. It is important to exercise open and healthy communication with our family members. Have a conversation with them about how we feel about their comments. Gently explain the impact it has on our self-esteem and how we struggle with it. However, if they aren’t ready for that conversation, it is important to set boundaries. It is also alright if we aren’t ready to talk about it, as it is our body. Politely but firmly express that we won’t tolerate any harmful comments about our bodies. 

As a community, it is also important to always be careful about what we say about a person, especially when it’s about their bodies. We don’t know what they might be going through physically or mentally; a comment might remind them of an illness or issue they are struggling with. 

Instead of commenting about our bodies, compliment us about our interests, values, or hobbies. Let us push ourselves to unpack what we admire about each other. Let us know that you see our beauty beyond our physical appearance. Especially where in Filipino society, the beauty standards are largely influenced by Western media that isn’t reflective of what Filipinos naturally look like. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and media about whitening our beautiful tan skin and pursuing “ideal” body types. It's deeply embedded in our culture that having Filipino features isn’t considered attractive. But the truth is, we have our unique ways that make us beautiful beyond colonial expectations and it should never be restricted to our physical appearance. 

Our self-worth is not defined by how our bodies look. Our bodies are incredible, and it allows us to move, experience the world, and connect with others. But they are just one aspect of what we are. It doesn’t define our value as human beings. When someone criticizes our appearance and body shames us, they’re attacking an aspect of ourselves that has little bearing on our true value. It’s like judging a book by its cover – shallow. Embracing the idea that our worth goes beyond appearance empowers us to reject such comparisons and comments, encouraging us to have a positive self-image and helping us love ourselves toward healing. I can only wish that we embrace the beauty of being our true Pinay selves and create a more positive and empowering environment for ourselves and future generations.

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