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There is an old Chinese saying that goes, "a relaxing and happy mind brings a fat figure (xin kuan ti pan)." But in modern China, being fat doesn't necessarily mean an easy life. In fact, for some, it is quite the opposite. |
Fat shaming or the dislike of and refusal to associate with people of above average weight is still common in the public sphere, according to statistics released by The First Affiliated Hospital of Jinan University in early May.
The study surveyed 500 people in Guangdong and Fujian Province, asking whether the respondents would date or hire someone who was overweight. Over 77.2 percent of the interviewees said they don't want fat people for partners, 55.8 percent said they would not recruit a fat person for their company, and more than half said they don't want a fat person for a roommate. The results caused a firestorm on Chinese social media with many Web users calling such measures discriminatory.
Is it discrimination?
"That kind of discrimination is not spoken, but can be strongly felt," said Bai Lin (pseudonym), who has been working in Beijing for years.
At 28, finding her Mr Right is one of her top priorities. With the help of her parents and friends, she has been on several dates over the past year, but none of them worked out. Most of the refusals stem from one common reason: her not-that-thin figure.
Bai is outgoing and loves sports very much. She goes to the gym and even participated the Beijing half marathon. But despite her best efforts, she is still the most full-figured among her friends. She thinks her size has been her Achille's heel in dating.
"On a blind date, men generally put emphasis on a woman's appearance, while women would pay more attention to a man's economic status," she said.
But this is also true for some men. Tang Xiaoke, a piano tuner in his 30s who works in Beijing, had a similar experience to Bai. He was also judged for his weight.
"Some girls straight-out say they cannot accept fat people," said Tang.
He recalled how difficult it was for him years ago when he was overweight and single. He was 183 centimeters tall and weighed almost 140 kilograms.
One's weight and shape not only matters in the marriage market but also in the workplace, according to Tang. He said fat shaming is still common in daily life and that people with slender figures will get more job opportunities compared to those who are plus-sized.
"My boss at the time told me that I would be promoted to manager if I lost weight," Tang said of his experience working in a piano store more than nine years ago.
He said his boss often made jokes about his weight, saying he would give him 50 yuan ($7) for every kilogram he lost, which made Tang uncomfortable.
Reasons behind fat shaming
"Instead of bias or discrimination, I would say it is a cultural thing," said Chen Wei, the general director of the Department of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition at Peking Union Medical College Hospital.
Although there were times when curvy and plump figures were highly valued in history, a relatively slender figure is now considered the beauty standard in contemporary China, and Chen thinks it can be a key motivating factor for change among certain groups of people.
Tang is one of them. Having met and married a woman who accepted him no matter how much he weighed, it was not until he was able to channel the harsh comments and use them as motivation that he was able to make a change.
Last year, he started to exercise regularly and adjusted his diet and lifestyle. Now, he is fitter and happier with his appearance.
"I have become much more confident and energetic compared with the past," he said. "Your body shows your spiritual outlook. For the sake of health, it's necessary to keep fit."
The experience of losing weight and working out makes him think differently about fat shaming. He said he now understands how some people can assume that a fat person is just too lazy to take care of themselves.
Bai has come up against similar assumptions.
"I discussed my situation with my friends, and we found that many people think you are fat because you are lazy or gluttonous or both, and you also lack self-control, which is not true," she said.
Also, the definition of "fat" is different for the two genders. For women, being skinny is considered beautiful. So, someone like Bai, who is full-figured but not overweight, would still be regarded as fat.
Zhou Chang put on some extra kilos when she got pregnant and had to do intense exercise to get rid of her baby weight. She is interested in healthy living and feels that society places too much emphasis on being paper-thin.
"I often told myself that a good figure shows your self-discipline, but in our society, the general standard for a woman's physique is just thinness. A fit, strong body is not favored," said Zhou, who is in her 20s.
She thinks society's emphasis on being thin comes from the heritage of a male-dominated culture where women are portrayed as weak, soft and needing protection from men.
"Our society puts too much value on women's physical appearance, and women buy it. So, your figure can shape the way you think about yourself and your personality. That is horrible," Zhou said.
Not everyone is adversely affected by society's perception of beauty. Nancy Yin, a patent attorney in Beijing, doesn't feel her life has been overly affected by her plus-sized figure.
"I didn't have trouble socializing or dating," she said. "I think it had something to do with my outgoing personality. As for the workplace, how others think about you mainly depends on your professional performance, rather than your figure."
Yin suffers from endocrine dyscrasia, and she has had problems with her weight since adolescence, but her figure was not a hindrance to her happiness. She is happily married and is the mother of a lovely daughter.
She stressed the importance of being positive and confident as plus-sized people rather than being shaped by the public's stereotypes.
Yin also added that it was unfair to link having a full figure with laziness or an unhealthy lifestyle.
"Some people put on weight because of hereditary or other medical conditions, which has nothing to do with their attitude toward life," she said.
"I think the society will become more and more inclusive of plus-sized people because the definition of beauty is becoming more diverse."
Chen has been working with obesity patients for almost 30 years. He stressed the difference in meaning between "overweight" in medical terms and "generally fat or not slender" in social terms and warned against them being used interchangeably.
He explained that when someone is overweight, it's essential for that person to lose weight; otherwise, they put their health at risk. But for someone who appears "overweight" but whose body mass index is within the healthy range, it's not necessary to be overly rigorous about losing the extra kilos.
He thinks people are developing a healthier attitude toward their body and not just pursuing the skinny look.
"One good trend we are pleased to witness over the past decades is that an increasing proportion of people are turning to us for better health, not for beauty," he said.
Another interesting trend he noticed is that the more well-paid and sophisticated a person is, the more investment and effort they will put into their health, which is a big contrast to the past when it was often the rich who were overweight.
However, one worrying trend Chen has found is that the people who are overweight nowadays tend to be younger compared with the past. People aged between 20 and 40 tend to be at a greater risk for obesity and other related health problems because of their lifestyle. Also, children under 12 are becoming increasingly obese due to a combination of genes, an unbalanced diet, and an unhealthy lifestyle.
"One's eating habits and lifestyle can be passed down through generations, and it's really important for overweight people to make a change so that they can be healthier, more confident and live a better life," he said. (news from the global times)