One of the biggest enigmas for me about Argentina, and surprises when I was fresh of the plane, is the ideal of beauty and body weight. When I traveled to other Latin countries, it seemed clear that body shape wasn’t the strict roadmap to beauty it was in the U.S. – ignoring for a second our raging obesity epidemic – and that alternative bodies – real women have curves? – were a bit more accepted, even celebrated. I remember going with a group of exuberant young Costa Rican girl to the beach one weekend, and marveling at how comfortable they clearly all felt in their bodies, how confidently they moved, despite inhabiting very different shapes and sizes. I was also, as an awkward teenager traumatized from years of witnessing public school teasing, slightly horrified by their casual nicknames for each other: la flaquita (the skinny one), la gordita (the little fatty), and so on. More recently, in Brazil, I still couldn’t get over the fact that the teeny-weeny bikini phenomenon applies just as much to the Giselle Bündchens of the word as to the voluptuously Rubenesque . No one’s bottom gets covered, and everyone moves with such ease and pride. Where was that crippling American body shame? The cringing at sexuality? That healthy self-hatred that keeps us awkward, unsure, and apologetic in our movements? But Argentina is an enigma because (like with many other things), the country vacillates indecisively between the two extremes. The ideal woman there, like in the U.S., seems to be lithe and thin. But they do walk differently, and certainly have that Latin born-with-it ability to dance – on the whole they seem more comfortable in their skins. Of course there’s obesity. But from what I can tell, much like in the U.S., it’s often a matter of social class – different access to types of foods, and different values. Anyway, how the Alto Palermo girls do it in the land of carne, pizza, empanadas, medialunas, and more soda, beer and wine than water is a mystery to me. But a hint might be that I’ve often heard it said that Argentina has one of the highest rates of eating disorders in the world. It’s not too uncommon to see bony, hollow-eyed women on the street. My first roommate in BA, a 22 year old psychology student (ironically) was blond, blue-eyed, extremely thin, and extremely unpleasant – maybe she was hungry. As far as I could tell she subsisted on an exclusive diet of banana milkshakes, coffee, and the occasional milanesa de pollo. She would only prepare a meal if her boyfriend was coming over, and the fridge would only be filled when her mother visited to clean the apartment and make sure her daughter hadn’t succumbed to starvation. She did like dulce de leche. Once I found what I thought was a dried-out pot of dulce de leche hidden away under the cabinet in the bathroom. It was only many months later, and long after I had moved out, that I realized it was her waxing kit, that she would plug in to melt the wax so she could rip the hair off her body. Another thing I’ve heard is that Argentines stay thin because they consist on mate and cigarettes – which makes sense, since they’re both appetite suppressants, but she did neither. She just didn’t eat. A family friend of hers once commented on it to me in a very concerned, dramatic sort of way, but no one seemed to think that it was necessary to do anything, say anything, change anything. And I regularly encountered this type of behavior in other young women. Eating a few bites, then getting up to wash the plate and leave the table before more temptation could set in. I almost feel like I sometimes overate in Argentina because loving food and being willing to show my enjoyment of it was so different from the norm that it became almost a source of personal pride. It’s ironic because eating well AND eating healthy is so easy. Just stop by one of the ubiquitous verdulerias on the way home, fill bags of fresh produce for 20 pesos, and get creative with a feast.  And what about the men? The first time I heard a young Argentine guy explain earnestly that he was on a diet, I laughed out loud. I thought it was a joke, because he wasn’t fat at all – maybe a little flab, here and there, maybe a tiny belly, but nothing serious. He got kind of offended and I realized my mistake. But now even my boyfriend, who doesn’t even have that flab, and balances his voracious eating habits with soccer and a job where he carries heavy stuff, has started to increasingly worry about getting fat, and preventatively eat healthier. Which  I’m all for, but it just goes to show that this weight obsession isn’t just the woman’s turf here. Where do I think it all comes from? I don’t know, many different places. A strong desire to highlight their European side and relive the glory days when Argentina was beginning to be a world power. A Latin taste of having more pride, and more comfort, in their bodies. And a culture centered on appearances, because in such an unstable and unpredictable social, political, and economic climate as Argentina has been for the last half-century or so, the appearance of order and cleanliness means everything. Americans love the rustic, family owned pizzeria full of peeling walls and authentic charm. But Argentines love the bright, spanking new place that opened last week, with shining white floors and mirrored walls and state of the art pizza-cooking technology. Do I dare muse that in fitting with the typical psychological profile of disordered eating, Argentines control in their bodies what they can’t in their lives, on a national scale?



One response to “Bootylicious

  1. great post! I never experienced so much pressure to be thin as in Argentina. It has been difficult because Argentine ideas of nutrition and an ideal body are so different from what I believe. It seems so weird to me that people feel totally comfortable commenting on each other’s weights! I had English students tell me I looked thinner. That seemed so innapropriate to me, but totally normal for them. My Argie novio is obsessed with his weight too, even though he is in great shape – he spends 8 – 10 hours a week in the gym and wont eat bread or soda ever! (but still eats dulce de leche … I dont get it.)
    love your blog!

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