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Cross-cultural shorts 3: fat ≠ shame

My friend I was showing me her photo album and she asked me if I thought she looked fatter in a picture from 3 years ago or now.

What a question! I was stammering, feeling awkward as I tried to work out what to say.

So I asked her, “What do you want me to say? Would you prefer to be thinner or fatter?”

Her response was, “I don’t care, it’s just fun to compare.”

I know that Tanzanians have different standards of beauty when it comes to bodies, but still this takes me by surprise. For me, size comes with judgement: increase is negative and perhaps shameful, losing weight is positive and encouraged. Less so in Tanzania.

On Facebook people will often comment on their weight and others, perhaps with shock “Jamani!” but often simply because the person looks different, not because they’re better or worse.

I have to work so hard at loving my body, as most Australian women do. I find it hard to imagine a world where someone says to me, “You’re fatter now than before”, and I don’t attach some kind of judgement to that, or don’t have to work hard to worry about it.

I love this about Tanzanian culture, and I tried to remember it the next day when Elliot described me as ‘squishy’!

Categories: Tanzania Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

1 reply

  1. It’s so interesting, isn’t it? Although there is a fair bit of the fat=bad feeling in Chile (I can’t speak for Latino culture in general, obviously), it seems to be more openly spoken of. I was comparing ‘batwings’ with my great aunts, one of whom is over 80 (and looks amazing!), and realised how strange it is that our concern over appearance is so universal and cross-generational.
    The flip side though is that sometimes, bigger is better. It’s only now becoming fashionable to have a bigger behind for ladies here & in the US, but I can confidently say that amongst Latinas, a big bum is good, and therefore someone saying your butt looks big in an item of clothing is a compliment! And my relatives will plainly tell me if they think I’ve gotten too skinny, though I may disagree.
    On a more private level, I work on liking my body for what it can do, and yes, it takes work. Bug will often grab me (any bit, really) and say “Squishy Mama!” in a delighted tone of voice. She finds my softness comforting, so I just cuddle her back and we giggle. I have friends who are horrified by this when I’ve told them, and a couple have said they no longer get dressed in front of their preschoolers due to them commenting on their bodies.
    My own mother didn’t have any qualms about us girls seeing her get changed, and I think that’s a good thing. With so much photoshop and image manipulation out there, I want Bug to see my body as an example of more mature womanhood in the same way as my mum demonstrated.

    I’m loving the Cultural Shorts, by the way. Thank you so much for sharing them!

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