“¿Jade, por qué sos tan flaquita?” – my host family, constantemente.
I think most people have heard unsolicited comments about their bodies from people, whether it’s from strangers, family, or friends. Sometimes it doesn’t bother us. Sometimes it does.
I’ve always been skinny. I was born at a healthy 6 lb, 5 oz (over a pound bigger than my twin sister) and throughout my life, I’ve always been seen as skinny, but not quite as skinny as Jasmine. If there are categories of skinny, Jasmine was more lanky-skinny and I was more athletic-skinny. As adults, I usually weighed about ten pounds more than her, not that that’s super relevant.
Anyway, we were blessed with our father’s high metabolism, and no matter what my food intake or exercise regimen was, Adult Jade was always within 4 pounds of her typical weight. No more, no less. When I arrived in Nicaragua, I was weighed by Peace Corps doctors, and I was my typical weight on the dot.
I didn’t have a scale in training, so the first time I weighed myself after the initial weigh-in was at a farmacia in Matagalpa last December. I’d (unsurprisingly) gained about 3 pounds, so I was pretty close to the heaviest I’d ever been, but still well within what I’d consider my normal weight. (I mean, I’m the person who weighs herself before and after Thanksgiving dinner just to see how many pounds of food I can consume in one sitting. Fluctuating 3 pounds is pretty easy to do in one day.) Also, we’d been told that most women gain weight when they come to Nicaragua. The diet is high in starch and fat, and a lot of women alter their typical exercise routine in some way.
Anyway, fast forward to February. I’d done some exercise in my room in December/January (very occasionally. nothing regularly, and nothing since). Anyway, in (mid? Late?) February I put on my Beyoncé pants that I worked out in, and I looked in the mirror and felt different. My pants seemed like they fit differently. I felt less muscular. And like there were places I used to be able to grab some fat, but now I couldn’t get a handful.
I recognize that this is a ridiculous problem, and that I have (and always have had) a lot of advantages because I have this body. People assume that I’m healthy because I’m thin. I’m not seen as lazy or gluttonous, even when I eat junk and don’t exercise (as I have for most of my life). I never diet, and nobody ever suggests to me that I should do certain things or lead a healthier lifestyle.
Anyway, this day I looked in the mirror and suddenly saw a change. A change I didn’t want. But I thought maybe I was imagining it. I didn’t know how it had happened. I sent some pictures to my sisters (a picture from December and one from February) and asked if I looked skinnier. They couldn’t say for sure. I thought maybe I was imagining the weight loss. When I went to the Peace Corps doctors in April, I mentioned that I felt like I’d lost some weight. They weighed me, and I was 3 pounds less than my August weight (6 pounds less than my December weight, which they had no record of since I’d weighed myself in a random pharmacy.) The doctor called a 3 pound weight loss “insignificant,” which is true. I was still within what I’d consider a very typical weight for Adult Jade.
Fast forward to June/July. I went home on emergency leave, and Jasmine immediately commented that I looked skinnier. She took my measurements, but I couldn’t remember what they were before Peace Corps so I had no comparison to my previous body, and I had to just compare my weight to hers. She’d gained a few pounds, and I’d lost a few more (now putting me at about 8 pounds less than August, 11 pounds less than December, if I’m remembering the numbers correctly.) This also meant that, for the first time in our lives, I weighed less than Jasmine (by about 5 pounds) and I weighed less than I ever had as an adult. I bought new jeans (a size smaller than I can recall buying in the last…12-14 years.)
I got back to Nicaragua a couple weeks later (after going to town on alllll the food) and one of the first things my host family said was, “you’re so skinny! You’re too skinny!” Now, I understand that I’m skinny. I’ve always been skinny. But I’d lived with them since November and this was the first time they seemed to have noticed. And in the 3 months since I’ve been back from that first emergency leave, I’ve gotten a barrage of questions.
“Jade, why are you so skinny?” (I don’t know.)
“Did your mom ask you why you were so skinny when you went home?” (No, she said my butt was flatter but I still look healthy.)
“[A previous volunteer] engordaba mucho y ella caminaba y corría. ¿Por qué sos tan flaquita?” (Ok I know that she walked/ran like 7 miles a day when she lived here and that I am both lazier and skinnier but I don’t understand metabolism? My sister is skinny without trying, Dad was skinny without trying. It’s a thing I can’t explain.)
“You need to eat more.” (I mean, I’m trying but all I eat is beans so I just poop it out 5 minutes later.)
“Why are you so skinny?” (I still don’t know.)
“What did the doctors say? Did they say you need to eat more?” (I mean, it would probably be good if I didn’t lose more weight, but the weight I’ve gradually lost so far doesn’t concern them. I’ve only had diarrhea twice in over a year so that’s not the problem and they’re really not worried.)
“Comé bastante. Los doctores dicen que necesitás comer más.” (Ok.)
I understand that these comments come from a place of love. I appreciate that they want me to be healthy and that they want to feed me well. That said, it is frustrating to be so out of control of my diet and my body. When I’m in site, I eat what they give me. I can’t exercise in the ways that I’d like to, because that would require running at 4 a.m. (probably dangerous) to beat the heat.
I love this family, and I don’t ever want to move, but the hardest thing about my living situation is being so out of control of what and when I eat. When I finish Peace Corps, I will be thrilled to have a crock pot and an oven and to cook all the things I want.
I know that much of this blog post has felt like I’m complaining, either about losing weight or about my family’s comments on it. Now that I’ve rambled for a while, I’ll try to articulate my point. The weight loss itself isn’t that big a deal. I’m still a healthy weight, and I still weigh more than Jasmine has for much of her adult life. The constant comments and questions aren’t hurtful. I think my biggest frustration is just not knowing how to answer them. For my entire life, no matter what I did or didn’t do, my weight would stay fairly stable. Now, I’m seeing a gradual, inexplicable change, one that is opposite of what most people here experience or expect. My family doesn’t understand how I can be so skinny while eating these foods (and they have at least some understanding of nutrition, because my host sister has cut out some of the starch in an attempt to lose weight). That’s why they ask the questions. They don’t understand why I’m so flaca and they assume that I have the answers. The problem is that I don’t get it either, and I don’t like being so out of touch with what’s going on with my body.
I tried to explain this to them, that in the States I ate a lot (“and you got fatter, right?” they interjected.) No, I never got fatter. My sister eats a lot and she doesn’t engordar. My dad ate mountains of food and él no engordaba tampoco.
El metabolismo es genético, o algo así.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to Christmas. Mom, please bake all the holiday sweets and all my favorite winter foods. I’ll make you a list.