Body image

Hey gordito (fatty), who is that negra flaca (skinny black girl) over there?

Coming from New Zealand with our concerns about body image and political correctness the above sentence would sound rude or even offensive to most. Here, not so much.

Due to a range of Spanish, indigenous and African ancestors, Colombian colouring ranges from fair skin with blonde hair (or even red) to dark skin with tightly curled black hair. Often colouring varies considerably within families, either because of natural gene variation or because of blended families. In this context, negro and blanco are simply descriptors, identifiers. They are even used as terms of endearment. For example, our host mother Dorthys fondly calls her brother, who has darker skin than her, negro.

Similarly gordo (fat) and flaco (skinny) don’t seem to cause offense. At the beach the other day a street performer had selected two young girls to participate in his performance. At the end of the act he happily announced to the crowd that the gorda had won and would get 1000 pesos whereas the flaca would receive a lesser amount.

This openness about physical characteristics seems to be consistent a lack of  self consciousness about body shape. On the coast, and particularly in beach towns, Colombians of both genders and all shapes and sizes frequently wear revealing clothing. Dress styles don’t appear to differ by dress size. We’ve wondered if there is less of an ideal shape here. It’s also possible it’s just too damn hot to care.

One thing we have noticed though is that, where TV at home has an over-representation of people with idealised body shapes, Colombian TV has more diversity in shape, but an almost absurd preference for people who look more European. Guess you can’t win them all.

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