The Struggle of Growing Up An Overweight Latina Whose Family Thought It Was Cute To Call ‘Gordita’

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Ay, que gordita!”

These words always stung worse than the cheek pinching that inevitably followed. Even though I heard them time and time again, I never became numb to the pain they caused. Growing up Latina, I became accustomed to the idea that my weight was fair game to all of my relatives.

Most of the time, the remarks came without disapproval.

CREDIT: Naomi Villagomez Roochnik / Naomi Villagomez Roochnik [L] and her brother.
In fact, my relatives gushed over my chub, beaming and patting me like a prized pig. Still, regardless of the intent, the end result still hurt the same as getting teased. I dreaded having to greet my tias, their fingers waggling and ready to squeeze whatever flesh they could lay their hands on. They were the biggest culprits, but I had plenty of tíos that took equal pleasure in pointing out the folds and rolls of my body. Their comments, however, sounded more like matter-of-fact observations, which struck me as even weirder. They would size me up and assess me as they would some porky specimen on display. Even more annoyingly, while I had to endure a running commentary on my lonjas, my brother, who could have passed for a member of Menudo, got complimented on his boy band looks. Hermano guapito, hermana gordita.

One of the worst things about being a gordita was that there was no escape. The kids ridiculed me mercilessly at school, and then I couldn’t even find relief with my own family members. Although my self-esteem was in the toilet, I tried not to broach the subject to my mom. I didn’t tell her about the bullying at school and I never complained to her about how my relatives made me feel. It was already humiliating enough. Vocalizing my hurt over the experiences meant having to relive them twice, adding yet another witness to my shame. There was also the fact that I also always knew what would follow: my mother’s frustration. In her efforts to take me out of my pain, she would try to find a scapegoat that still somehow always ended up making me feel that my weight was my fault. “It’s all that basura they give you at the school!” she would growl, which only made me feel like a failure for eating it. Instead of just letting me cry, she would desperately try to find a solution for me to lose weight. I know it was her way of wanting to protect me, but it never seemed to help.

For a long time, I smiled and kissed my relatives on the cheek and allowed them to poke and prod and marvel at my rolls. But one day, a tia visiting from Peru came to visit, and absolutely lost it when she saw me. It was like she had never seen a fat kid before. Calling me gordita wasn’t enough. This woman, a walking thesaurus, spat out about half a dozen Spanish synonyms for “fat.” “Que gordita! Mira, que liiiiinda! Niñita gruesita! Tan pulposa!” Yep, she actually used the word “pulposa,” which I didn’t even understand at the time, all I knew was that it sounded like “pulpo” (octopus), a giant, slimy, fat blob monster with tentacles.

Once she went to bed, I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. I pulled my mom aside and told her that I really didn’t like it when my relatives called me that word. “What word, hijita?”

I hung my head in shame, my eyes filling with tears. “You know…that word. Gorda.” Her expression changed from confusion to a gentle understanding. “Then I’ll make sure they never say it again,” she whispered. Perhaps it was that the teasing was coming from her own family that prompted my mom to take action against them instead of guilting me into eating less. Perhaps she felt embarrassed by them. Whatever the reason, I finally felt validated.

The next morning, my tía apologized to me the moment she saw me.

CREDIT: Naomi Villagomez Roochnik / Naomi Villagomez Roochnik [R] and her brother.
“I had no idea I was hurting your feelings,” she said. “Please forgive me.” This just compounded my embarrassment (having to “admit” to my fatness and vulnerability) so I waved it off. I almost wondered if my mom had made her apologize to me (my mom can be terrifying when she wants to be, which is like…80% of the time?). Still, I felt relieved that I would no longer have to stomach her comments. After that, I noticed all of my relatives started making fewer and fewer remarks about my weight. I actually caught my mom in the act one time, yanking a prima out of the room and glaring at her and hissing about what not to say.

I still get comments from time to time about my weight from my relatives (only this time, it’s that I’m a “flaquita”) and since I’m a grown-ass woman, my mom doesn’t fight my battles for me anymore– I’ll simply roll my eyes and change the subject. I know my mom could have done a better job of comforting me when it came to my insecurities growing up, but at the very least she defended me from my own family members. I’m lucky, I have a lot of Latina friends who would have been scoffed at or scolded by their mothers if they had tried to share what I shared with mine. I hope with time, our familias feel less inclined to blurt out unwarranted comments on the bodies of their female relatives. Even with the rise of the Body Positivity movement and general society beginning to accept gorditas for the fly, badass beauties that they are, so many of our younger hermanas and primas are still bombarded by hurtful words and laughter from classmates. Families should be the ones bolstering their hearts and souls, not adding to their sorrow. I’m so grateful that my mother did.


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