Monday, August 08, 2005

Real Beauty

Bangkok is a city of slim young people. It can be a real task to find a person under 40 with a paunch.

I first thought that it had something to do with their diet or eating habits, like a predominance of vegetables or spices.

My first month living and working here completely dispelled those notions.

At the Chatuchak weekend market, there are stalls that sell whole deep-fried pig skin, a golden brown hide, from hind legs to snout. I’ve been told that it’s a delicacy common to Chang Mai in the north.

At almost every street corner, there are vendors selling freshly fried or grilled food off a cart. At midday or the late afternoon, locals gather around to pick from barbecued pork, squid, or sausage, deep fried fish balls, and chicken or pork with noodles.

And at work, just about everyone has some snack or two or three lying around their desk or tucked into some drawer. These aren’t celery sticks with vinaigrette, but chips, sweets, or pastries. And they would be eaten. Late in the day, workspaces would have used saucers and forks placed on the side, with a few crumbs sprinkled around.

As for the spices, the local cuisine at its most fiery just matches that of Indonesia. After six months in Jakarta, I failed to notice any widespread outbreak of anorexia.

One of Scott Garceau’s more famous X-Pat Files articles mentions that Filipinos love to eat. Well, the Thais don’t seem to love it any less.

Which brings us to the mystery of where all those calories and saturated fats go? I use the same restroom as they do, and I don’t hear anyone tossing into the toilets. Apparently, they are a not culture of bulimics.

And to top it all off, the results of a consumer survey commissioned by Unilever indicated that 47% of Thai women thought they were overweight. That only way that statistic would make sense to me was if the 53% that thought they weighed correctly were the Bangkok residents, while the 47% was remaining Thai population.

That statistic does show up in the local expression of Unilever’s worldwide campaign for real beauty.

Originally, I thought that this was the ideal promoted by Unilever, until I was informed that the tagline read as two options: Flat? or Flattering?

Even then, their other posters did reflect what seems to be average size, or lack of, of the typical Bangkok female.

My female friends who in Manila would normally fit into medium clothes sizes are handed large or even extra large outfits.

Even the men are not exempt. In the clothing stores that cater to young Thai males, pants in sizes over 32 inches are unusual. The uniforms of the local police are quite fitted, as are the military dress of the ROTC cadets.

Perhaps it’s all the European visitors.

Or perhaps I should just leave well enough alone and just recognize that some designs are not meant to be deconstructed, but just accepted.

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