On my first trip to Argentina I didn't know whether to be fascinated or horrified by how thin the women were. It was amazing. To be honest it wasn't only the women, men were slim as well. Large bellies were not the norm.
I was from California, a place where people work out and watch what they eat. It wasn't like I was from a state where there was a lot of obesity. San Francisco has more gyms per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. The thinness in Buenos Aires was something else.
The first years in Buenos Aires were an eye opener. Argentina vied with Japan for the highest rate of anorexia. It wasn't just girls, it was women as well. That was unusual. I remember once reading how a 50 year old woman had died of anorexia. Women wanted to be fashion model slim.
Buying clothes was almost impossible. Where in the U.S. they ramped the sizes up. A size 8 was the new size 4, here it was the opposite. Sizes were made smaller so women thought they had to lose more weight. Body image was insane.
I remember once showing a copy of my Self magaine to one of my English students. He thought the models all looked fat rather than healthy. My female students said they would never look like the models in my Shape or Fitness magazines. The image here was to starve yourself to death.
In 2005 I made my first trip to Santiago del Chile. I remember looking in the window of a store and admiring their clothes. I went inside to see if they might have my size. The saleswoman asked me what size my "daughter" was. My perception of clothing had become so warped, I had gone inside a children's and teens store. In Chile they did not have the same problem with body types.
Then it changed. Drastically. All one has to do is look on the streets. Young girls who once had very slim figures, now have love handles hanging over their jeans along with bellies. You rarely see the super slim teenagers that before were very much part of the Buenos Aires scene.
Women are now generally overweight. Men too. Large bellies on men and boys are standard. It is amazing. The population is said to be more than 50% obese. The last WHO study says 74% of Argentines have a BMI over 25 and puts Argentina # 12 in the fattest countries. (The USA is #8 and 79% have a BMI over 25) I find it mildly humorous when Argentines talk about how fat Americans are. They might look in the mirror.
When I first started dancing here the men would tell me that I was beautiful but gordita o rellenita. Now they tell me I am flaca. I am still the same weight I was 12 years ago. I still wear the same size. I have not changed. They have.
The flat bellies have pooched out over the skirts, love handles have appeared. Large bellies replaced once flat stomachs. It is amazing the difference. Some people like to say that now they are more comfortable with themselves. Either extreme is not healthy.
What changed? Food. The way people eat. When I first came, people drank water or wine. We would go to dinner and people would order a bottle of wine and bottles of water. Big marketing campaigns of soft drinks and beer have changed that. More often than not you see liters of beer and Coke on the tables. Both of those bring lots of empty calories.
People walked more. There has been a grand explosion of cars. People do not walk like they used to. More junk food. The alfajore, cookie, and juice companies have been bought by international companies. Where before they were made with better quality ingredients they now have more preservatives and fillers in them.
The proliferation of bad junk food. The Argentine brands are disappearing and in their place are the international brands made with bad fats and sugars. The kioscos (convenience stores) are loaded with diet horrors and I don't mean slurpies. Standard before was an empanada or a slice of pizza with a bottle of water. Now you see people grabbing several candy bars or worse these horrible cereal bars and a coke.
I used to love to watch in the summer all the families. Most people did not have air conditioning. So at 3 in the morning people would be out on the streets with their kids going for ice cream. It was a marvel for me to see. Now you see kids on the street corners with liters of beer, and few families.
Two things changed. More people have air conditioning. Of course this is a good thing. The other is insecurity. People are afraid to go out with their kids at 3 or 4 in the morning and walk around. Less walking. Less exercise. At least the ice cream is still good. Expensive..but good.
It is a shame. People do not always realize what a toll the added weight and the bad food habits are for their health. It is an educational process. Not everyone is prepared to accept it. My friends will ask me from time to time how I manage to stay slim. I tell them I go to the gym 3 - 4 times a week and how I eat. More often than not they tell me it is too much work. I suppose it is easier to die...because eventually all that bad food will kill you.