Warning: this post may offend some of my genteel readers. I apologize in advance, but I need to speak the truth about attitudes of moderation and political correctness in the Old World.
Photo courtesy of www.freedomoutpost.com
I grew up in America in the 80s. From what I can tell, this was the beginning of the Era of Political Correctness. I chronically worried that my thighs, boobs and nose were too big for my body. Probably in that order, too. I was lucky, though: I had a set of parents who were my biggest cheerleaders: you’re beautiful just the way you are! You’re smart; you can do anything you want! My nuclear family lived in a small town in Virginia, away from other Egyptians, Greeks or anyone mildly resembling ethnic. But when we visited relatives in New Jersey, boy, did I get a taste of the Old World mentality – where they break you down to (presumably) build you back up.
My aunt took one look at my 11-year-old body and said in what she thought was a hushed voice, “ooooh, Claudia. Big lemons!” She smiled knowingly and stared at my blossoming rack. My grandmother looked me over and snarled, “you’re too dark, just like your father. Why didn’t you turn out white like your mother?” I still have no idea how I was supposed to answer that.
After every family visit to the Northeast, I returned back to Virginia breathing a sigh of relief to return to the land of political correctness. Yes my hair was unruly, but who would tell me? My unibrow splattered across my forehead was a signature piece. It was mine and no one told me otherwise – except those pesky relatives in NJ. Little did I realize that fast forward 20 years and I would be married to and living in the Old World, where people have little time or regard for political correctness.
A few years ago, after recently moving to Cyprus, my husband and I sat in my mother-in-law’s kitchen with his extended family. His cousin (a loud mouthed, younger version of my maternal aunt, come to think of it) looked at my husband and said something quite fast and in Turkish. Everyone laughed but me (I didn’t understand) and my husband (he did). She turned to me and translated, “you know Claudia, he [my husband] could be a model if he wasn’t so fat.” Then she proceeded to show us with her hands where he gained weight in America. Naturally, this cousin blamed America for his weight gain (not the near-nightly Papa John’s visits he had while in grad school).
What I love about the Old World: moderation! Any form of extremes is bad for you. Too thin, too fat, playing too much, working too much. What happened to moderation in America??
I remember my husband’s niece in Cyprus being of the tender age of 11 or so. She was starting to put on some weight around her thighs and bottom, as girls in puberty typically do. After a typical Mediterranean lunch of legumes, salad, yogurt and rice, dessert was served. After a few mouthfuls, her mother told her to stop eating the dessert because she will get fat. The girl put down her fork and went outside to play in the garden with the rest of the kids. My mouth dropped and heart ached for the girl who must have been secretly self loathing right about then, right? I couldn’t believe that a mom could say that to her daughter. In public. I leaned in and said to the mom, “you really shouldn’t say that to her.” The mom deadpanned me and said, “Why? If I don’t say it to her directly someone else will behind her back. She’s gaining weight and she should know it. She can control it.”
In today’s Western world we are so concerned with saying the wrong thing to one another, so as not to offend. The new craze is “fat-shaming.” Naturally, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings and inadvertently lower someone’s sense of worth. However, from a medical perspective being overweight is unhealthy. Why don’t we call it as it is? Extra weight around your belly is dangerous to your heart. It puts one at an increased risk of heart disease.
In the Old World, we do not believe someone’s physical beauty or weight is their only or primary measure of self worth. It is a matter of physical fitness or healthiness. Excess weight is bad for you. Eating junk food is bad for you. You are gaining weight, and you should control it.
Besides, why should someone’s self worth be correlated so highly to their body image?
This is the crux of political correctness in the West. That by saying something so politically incorrect, that we will damage him to his core. But why should that be so? Why should one’s weight (or color of his skin) be his core? It’s one aspect of him, certainly, but it is not all of him.
We don’t have a problem telling people they should stop smoking cigarettes, drinking too much or shooting up drugs. It’s all bad for them. So is being overweight. But the truth is, they probably know it already for themselves.
In the Old World, political correctness doesn’t pass the muster. There is always love behind the criticism. Typically family and friends (especially family) want what is best for the person they are criticizing. I say typically because there’s always that crazy, mean-spirited family member or “friend” spewing anger. But usually we can see straight through her and everyone knows to ignore her (like my tough as nails, grandma, God rest her soul, who simply wanted whiter grandchildren.)
Work harder. Study longer. Exercise more. Watch what you eat. These are orders passed on from generation to generation. It’s not politically correct in the West to say you are fat and lazy. Hell, it’s not even nice to say it in the Old World. However, if it is said, there’s love behind the words. They are not intended to cut you to the core; they are intended to build you stronger, healthier and to be more successful as you age.
Have you had any politically incorrect phrases uttered to you that hit you to the core? Do you believe it should be your core? I’d love to hear from you.
Discover your inner Aphrodite. . .