Potato chips are my great weakness, especially barbeque flavor. If there is a bag of chips in the house, they begin to call out to me at about 9:00 at night. I can behave and eat the right things all day right up to that point and then I cave in. Ask anyone in my house, they know I can eat a whole bag of potato chips by myself. I’ve struggled much of my life trying to balance putting the right amount of food into my body.
About three years ago I started exercising more and watching my food intake more intentionally. Over the course of a couple of years I lost about 35 pounds and took up running. Peoples’ reactions to the change fall clearly along cultural lines.
Western reaction – “Great”
“Wow, Ryan, you look really healthy. You must be proud of yourself.”
“Ryan, what’s your secret?”
It is usually assumed that I intended to lose weight and am living a healthier lifestyle.
Malawian reaction – “Are you OK?”
This week at the Africa Evangelical Church’s Annual meeting I have been meeting some pastors that I’ve not seen in a while. I’m getting a different set of reactions. I’ve been pulled to the side a few times and am asked questions like:
“Pastor, you are looking thin, are you well?”
“You don’t look as happy these days as you were.” (while making hand gestures in a circular motion around the midsection indicating a larger body) “Are you OK?”
In a context where weight loss and looking thin are often signs of sickness being fat can be seen very positively. It is a sign of health and that you are doing OK financially. A common compliment to someone who has recently traveled or returned from vacation is, “You’re looking fat!” We would probably say, “You look rested.”
Interestingly, the Malawian view of being fat and healthy is similar to the Old Testament view of things.
Ps 92:14 They [the righteous] shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;
Pr 13:4 The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.
Pr 28:25 He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat.
Even though I understand it as a compliment, I’m not sure my western ears will ever adjust to quickly appreciate the compliment, “You’re looking fat today!”