09 Jun Fa’asavali le lapo’a. Because fat spouses are like dogs who need to be walked

A man-friend of my husband’s saw the two of us out going for a walk around Tuanaimato Sports Complex. He said to Darren, ‘That’s good. You need to take her for walks because she’s getting really fat.’ Fa’asavali le lapo’a.

Because yes, fat spouses are like dogs that must be taken for walks.

I was reminded of this when I saw a recent Twitter hashtag campaign called #TheySaid, a sharing of rubbish things people have said about women’s bodies. It was kicked off by Sally Bergesen, CEO of sportswear company Oiselle, when she tweeted a comment her father made to her when she was 12, namely that if she kept “eating like that” she would turn into a “butterball”. Her tweet prompted a tsunami of similar tweets from other women reporting their body shaming stories.

This got me thinking about Samoa and Samoans and how we delight in commenting on each other’s bodies. Usually not in a good way.

In my novel ‘Scarlet Lies’ the main character on a trip home to Samoa after a long time away, mentally prepares herself for the comments she knows she will get about her body. Specifically about her weight. “It’s the golden law of Samoan communication. Talking about sex or one’s romantic feelings? Taboo. But a person’s appearance, specifically their size was gleeful fair game. And usually the fatter a person is  – then the more emphatically they exclaim about other people’s fatness.”

Lots of readers messaged to tell me this was a Very Important Part of the novel. A Very Important Observation of Scarlet’s that demonstrated what an amazing writer I am (thank you very much) because “That’s SO TRUE! It happens to me all the time!” They sent in a litany of comments they’d fielded from loving family and friends, about their weight.

#SolidaritySister

When your significant other is an Ironman athlete in Samoa, you get an added level of commentary. I’ve heard it all. And then some.

Jokers who ask Darren if I’m eating all his food. Or tell me, aren’t I worried because my husband is so skinny, fit’n’fast that he might run away from me.

Ha, ha, you’re so funny. You should know that big fat girls have big fat trucks and a list of people we want to run over. Besides, I’m a fast driver and so of course my skinny husband won’t run away from me.

I am Liam Neeson in Taken, ‘I will find you and I will [catch] you…’ 

I must concede though that we Samoans are equal opportunity body-shamers. It’s not just a #girlThing.

Young boys and young fa’afafine are just as likely as young girls to be told they are lapo’a / fat, greedy, lazy, and eat too much.

We are also mocked for being too thin. In my former life as a teenager growing up in Samoa, I was the skinny, gangly girl in a class full of ‘regular-sized’ teens. I was called ‘Chicken Legs’, flat as a laupapa, and sickly.

When Darren first started training for events, getting fit and losing body fat as a result, people said he must be sick. ‘Ua e ma’i?’ Because that seems to be the only acceptable reason why a man in his 40’s in Samoa would lose weight. Someone asked if he had AIDS. Others joked about how his getting smaller would make him weak. (Oh, and that he would get crush-squashed by his wife in the bedroom. Don’t laugh. It could happen. You never know.)

Often the body-remarks come from the people who love us the most. Your aunty – who also happens to be quite large – who tells you you’re getting fat and to stop eating pisupo. Your grandfather who hugs you when you return from university overseas and says, ‘No wonder you haven’t got a husband yet. Look at you.’  Your mother who points out how pretty and successful and not-fat your cousin is.

Perhaps they think they’re being kind and caring? Maybe they truly are worried about your health and don’t want you to drop dead of a clogged arteries heart attack? Or in the case of the supposed #TooSkinny comments, maybe they know lots of people who got crushed to death by their fat wives and they’re afraid for your life?

It doesn’t seem to matter if you are happy with your fatness or thinness. One friend persisted in telling me that she didn’t believe that I could be fine with how my body looks because, “Nobody is happy when they’re fat. It’s impossible.”

But do such comments really help anyone? When your aunty tells you how fat you are, do you immediately embark on a gym challenge, eating only a sniff of kapisi vai for months on end and then posting your BEFORE and AFTER pics on Facebook so you can make everybody jealous?  Or do you smile at her politely and then eat a tray of panipopo while you think about how much you hate her?

It seems that the standard response from one Samoan to another when they’re on the receiving end of such body-shaming comments, is usually to laugh it off. Brush it away with a smile. Or a joke of acceptance, ‘yes you’re right! I do eat all the food. My poor husband needs to learn how to eat faster haha!’

But if you’re like me, then you just bite your tongue and walk away thinking of all the stuff you wish you could say. All the stuff you’re going to say NEXT time someone tries to body-shame you. Like, “Yes he’s taking my fat ass for a walk because I want to be healthier. Unlike you, driving your lazy ass past in your car and chealous faikalaring about other people and THEIR romantic walks exercise. And actually the REAL reason we went for a walk is so we could HAVE SEX IN THE BUSHES, so there.”

Some possible comebacks YOU could use next time you’re in this situation…

When your aunty, who also happens to be quite large, tells you you’re getting fat and to stop eating pisupo. You can say, “Oh but I don’t want to stop eating pisupo. I’m trying to get as fat as you!”

When someone says you’re too fat and that’s why you don’t have a husband, you could try, “Oh no, that’s not it. I don’t have a husband because I’m too busy having sex with every unmarried good-looking, intelligent man in Apia before I settle down. Single life is a buffet. Not a starvation diet.”

A friend shared her favorite response, “E lelei a’u ouke lapo’a e mafai ga lusi ae o oe ga e fagau mai auleaga e ke oki a o e auleaga.”

What I want to know though, is – why do we feel the need to comment on other people’s bodies? Why do we think we can make health and medical observations about other people? Unless you’re my doctor, why would your opinion on my weight, skinny or fat, count for anything?

A challenge for us all. Can we try to make our compliments and conversations with others, NOT involve their body?

Instead of remarks about how fat or skinny a person is, how about we just say, ‘Hi, it’s so good to see you!’

Instead of obsessing over what others are eating or not eating, their exercise or lack of it, how about we ask, ‘How are you feeling? What have you been up to?’

Because other people’s fat asses (or skinny ones), and what they eat (or don’t eat) – are actually none of our business.

And if you’ve got some favorite responses to #bodyShaming – please share them with us!

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