The Dual Meaning of Fat

In American media today, calling someone “fat” is a negative and rude thing to do. Being overweight is also a body type that is shameful, and eating disorders are common struggle with both young males and females. A person suffering with obesity in America is usually stereotyped as lazy, sloppy, or not confident in their appearance. However, in Samoan culture, calling someone fat is a compliment. How could a word with such negative quotations in one culture, have a counter meaning in another?

Samoa is in the top one hundred list of  the world’s fattest nations. Samoan public health officials have expressed their concerns about the stereotypes that follow with that title. This title has affected the amount of Evangelical Christians that live in Polynesia. In the Christian religion, one’s body is their temple. Good health and healthy eating habits are seen to bring a person closer to God. This is the opposite opinion in Polynesian culture.

Being Fat in Samoa is associated with power or “mana.”Mana is a scared power that identifies with strength, wealth, and fatness. Chiefs, pastors, and people in authority are usually titled with this power. Despite that belief, Christian priests, criticize the size of Samoan priest by stereotyping them according to their size. They question, how can an overweight person be in a position of power? Anthropologist have studied the cross-cultural meaning of fatness, and how the difference of diction can have an Othering effect in different cultures. Enculturation is harmful when trying to understand other cultures.