How many offensive Tagalog words are there for fat? Tabachoy, lumba-lumba, dabiana, baboy. How about slim? What else aside from payat? Language confirms it. Filipinos are wired to be pintasero/pintasera and combined with the stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 and social media, it has given rise to body-shaming.
From those with limited celebrity wattage to showbiz royalty like Angel Locsin, the body shaming culture is ruthless. It takes just one bad photo with a muffin top for a celebrity photo to go viral and invite ridicule. What's concerning, not all targets put up a brave front like Locsin, who refuses to be defined by her Darna image.
"Social media heightened ang isang ugali, lalong-lalo na ng mga Pilipino. Ang Pilipino may kuyog mentality. Pag may nahuling magnanakaw, lahat gustong maki-bugbog. Sa social media nagba-bandwagon effect," said Nestor Castro, a cultural anthropolgist from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
Who gets bashed? Those who defy stereotypes
For centuries, Filipinos have this stereotype for beauty -- fair skin, a trim waist and a flat tummy. Anything that goes outside of it can be considered ugly. These sterotypes get perpetuated and amplified in the media, Castro told reportr.
Locsin was her generation's Darna, the super-heroine who vanquishes monsters and criminals while wearing a bright red bikini. She still gets bashed for her frame, no matter if she has proven to be a heroine to those in need in real life. No matter if those who criticize her never achieved her figure during her prime.
The vitriol continues even during the quarantine, when people have no time to exercise outdoors and are predisposed to eating unhealthily.
"Very, very seldom na may makikita ka na nagpe-praise ng may kalakihan ng katawan. Dahil sa kine-create na imahe," Castro said.
"Pinaka-vulnerable sa body-shaming activities ang celebrities kasi may pino-project sila na image. Napapanood sila sa TV, sa fashion magazines na nagco-conform sa kung ano ang tingin ng society is sexy or beautiful," he said. "Pag nag-defy na sila doon, doon na sila binabansagang lumba-lumba."
We curate our online persona to avoid bashing
Filipinos make sure they have their best lives on display on Facebook and Instagram to avoid getting criticized, Castro said.
That's why those who gained some poundage during the quarantine hide in black shirts or take selfies only from the breast up. A post is successful if it rakes in the hearts and thumbs up.
"Mas madaming oras ang tao, mas madaling mag-online. Wala silang pinagkakaabalahan. Kahit work from home, wala namana nakakabanatay," Castro said.
That's the toll of being told for generations that being fat or ugly is shameful, Castro said. Remember how comedians during the slapstick era were named after what society perceived as their flaws? Like the late Palito and Babalu.
It's called cultural emphasis, said Castro. Tagalog only has two words for something that smells good: mabango and mahalimuyak. For foul odor there's a list, especially if the stench is from the armpits -- putok, anghit.
Will the body-shaming ever end?
There are signs that Filipinos are shaking off the pintasero culture. For a time, makers of whitening lotions faced uproars on Facebook and skin whitening soon evolved to skin brightening.
"Nauuna na yung sa skin color. Mas nahuhuli yung sa body shaming kasi ang kalaban mo diyan the establishment -- mga nagbebenta ng diet at gym."
Celebrities are also challenging the status quo. In 2018, women-led organization She Talks Asia headed by popular figures Iza Calzado, Vicky Herrera, Lynn Pinugu, Sarah Myer, and Bianca Gonzales organized The Body Love Revolution, a conference that aimed to promote body positivity, particularly among women.
But it's not enough to be body positive. Although the movement has seen rise of positive women who harbor no shame regarding how they looked, body activists abroad have noted that the moment has become an avenue for more conventional beauty ideals to once again make its way to the limelight, thanks to social media's standards which reward people with likes and clicks.
With activists feeling as though the movement is now being co-opted, a new idea emerged -- the concept of body neutrality. With an aim to put marginalized bodies into the foreground, one has to only find peace in one's body and celebrate it for what it does them instead of how it makes them look like, according to creative non-fiction writer Rebekah Taussig.
Still, the journey to promoting love of one's body still has a long way to go, particularly here in the Philippines.
"Lahat naman ng cultures nagbabago. Hindi ko masasabi na mapanlait na tayo forever and ever," Castro said. "Dapat, on guard tayo sa mga gusto natin baguhin, ito ay magagawa through education, formal and non-formal, positive images."
And while local media has yet to truly discuss and confront the issue, perhaps it can always start where it matters most. It can start at home, with parents telling overweight children that cutting the fat is for their own health and not because being round is ugly, he said.