The Difficulties of a Plus-Size Life Style Abroad

tara-lynnSubmitted by: Chris Ciolli

Being a plus size women in Spain is difficult. Besides the fact that at 5’5, I am taller than most Spanish women I know (including my mother-in-law), at an American size 16, I am also much larger. While at home in the states I’ve always felt fortunate to have a very muscular, balanced, hourglass figure, here in Barcelona I simply feel huge, like some kind of ill-tempered American giant. Too bad I can’t really terrorize the city and squash people who are counting my calories for me like bugs…

And I’m not imagining or exaggerating people’s judgmental attitudes either. Here are some choice quotes that demonstrate the prevailing attitudes about weight and size where I live:

“But you don’t eat that much and you eat so healthy”—one of my rail-thin Spanish girlfriends who regularly eats only two meals a day –Because I must eat excessive amounts of lard spread on deep-fried toast to have gotten to be this size.

“Do you eat a lot of pastries, chips and sweets?” My (former) aerobics instructor—Because you know me, fat girl, I subsist on chocolate croissants and Cheetos (Ironically enough, I can’t remember the last time I had Cheetos, it’s been months, if not a year).

“Have you seen a doctor about your inability to lose the weight?” another Spanish girlfriend—Because I must have a medical condition if I eat right and exercise and my body refuses to shrink past a certain size.

“But you move around so much” My Spanish mother-in-law—Because you know, women my size don’t move around?

“Is your mother fat?” –My husband’s grandmother—implying that it must be a family thing, this weight problem of mine.

The overwhelming consensus seems to be that if someone isn’t emaciated, it’s apparently because she scarfs down excessive amounts of junk-food and never lifts a finger to exercise or do anything but eat. No matter that I’m strong and fit and get through my aerobics class better than the skinny girls. Forget that I eat a lean-protein, wholegrain diet where most of my calories come from fruits and vegetables. No matter that I walk an average of 2 miles a day, and go up and down dozens of flights of stairs every weekday. No significance whatsoever is given to my trim waistline and good shape, both by-products of my healthy lifestyle.

Do people here in Spain somehow imagine my looks come without effort? No, I’m not willing to starve to get back into my “skinny” jeans from college (a size 12, that most Spanish would still consider overweight), so yes, that’s on me, but I’m resentful of the general focus on a certain size, or very small range of sizes, as acceptable. When my husband, who is tall and slim, but was recently diagnosed with high triglycerides, decided to adopt my healthy eating habits, the response of our friends and even Jesus’ father when we talked about our dietary restrictions was absolutely offensive. “Jesus isn’t fat” –okay, so the “like you” was implied, but not very subtly.

Of course Jesus isn’t fat and good for him that he can inhale cookies, and cakes, and French fries and maintain his weight. But here’s the thing, what kind of logic is it that identifies a food as unhealthy, but apt for consumption by skinny people? If a food is unhealthy, it should be eaten only occasionally, no matter the person’s weight or size. I don’t care if you’re an American size 0, no one should survive on Twizzlers, Pringles and Diet Coke, it’s not good for you.

Being a bigger woman in Spain is made worse by the sizing, wherein a supermodel would wear a size 32 or 34, and a size 16 women like myself would wear a 46. Of course many stores don’t carry my size, and a lot of times what’s available in my size was obviously designed for a very conservative grandma (Spanish grandmas are apparently allowed to be plump) not a feisty and fashionable 20-something like myself.

Don’t even get me started on buying underwear here, particularly bras. Apparently those of us who are doubles or triples in the chest area don’t deserve attractive lingerie, or any colors beyond basic beige, white and black.

After a few years dealing with my plus-size lifestyle in Barcelona, I started hiding. I wore Spanx and restrictive undergarments under voluminous black clothing, designed to hide my curves and appeared in photos like a woman in mourning for her long-lost figure. When people started asking me who died, I finally snapped out of it. Let people raise their eyebrows when I walk into a room. Let them judge me when I accept that second glass of wine, or finish off a big plate of paella. I can’t change their concept of what is or isn’t attractive, but I will not be invisible for anyone.

They can make their assumptions about Americans and weight. I won’t argue with them about my size, or defend my curves. I won’t confide in them that in my country, I’m right around average, perhaps I could be thinner, but no one is pointing me out as the fattest girl in the room. I won’t tell them that in fact, some men even prefer my figure. Or that my doctor, far from constantly hounding me to lose weight, is more concerned about me yo-yo dieting for events and special occasions: because, plus size or not, I am extremely healthy.

Instead I will stand tall, hold my head up and strut my stuff with the certainty that everywhere I go, I am a beautiful woman.

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