The biggest secret fear I had about moving to Italy was that I would feel like a Big Fat American. That fear was realized at my very first doctor’s appointment. I officially need to lose weight.
The worse part? My poor husband had to be the one to tell me because my Italian is not strong enough to go to medical appointments on my own. By moving to Italy without speaking Italian fluently, I put my husband in the position of having to look me in the face and translate “you have to lose weight.”
Ladies can you imagine?!?! Men can you?
Italy vs America, Cultural Differences Around Weight
To add insult to injury, the doctor’s instructions came without my stepping foot on the scale. The doctor knew by looking at me I’m above average. Over the years I thought I had learned to be comfortable with my body. Italy is going to challenge me on that.
Anyone else hiding a little Quaratine15? During COVID lockdowns too much red wine, Robiola, and pasta. Before that in Portland it was too many IPAs.
Italian women are among the thinnest in Europe and average 5’4″. A hair under 5’9″ I’m bigger than most Italian women. In heels, I’m bigger than the average Italian man. Even though technically I’m still in a healthy weight class, the doctor is right. I’d have less chronic pain issues if I weighted less.
While I don’t speak Italian fluently yet, I know what Ciccione means. I do not want to be a Cicciona.
Cicciona Means Fat or Chubby Woman in Italian
Cicciona means chubby or fat woman in Italian. It should be said, no one called me Ciocciona. It’s an offensive term in Italian. I just don’t want to become Cicciona. Especially not one in Italy.
Culturally Italians are more comfortable commenting on other people’s weight than Americans are. In America weight is a taboo subject. Kids are taught “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
In America, I would have been put on a scale and pronounced healthy. I am in my weight class. In Italy, where preventative medicine is excellent, not so much.
To be honest, maybe that’s not the worst thing. 36% of Americans are obese while only about 19% of Italians are. Italians also live longer than Americans by five years on average.
It’s a lot more comfortable to push the upper limits of my weight class in America because there are more people who look like me. Is that a good thing though?
For me, body image is one of the painful parts of moving to a new country. As an expat, I’ve been kicked out of my comfort zone in every area of life all at once, including health care.
Being an expat forced me to look beyond what I’ve seen as a tourist to understand what’s driving cultural differences between America and Italy on weight and health care.
Side note, losing weight in Italy is NOT easy. For me it boils down to three reasons. One, cheese. Two, wine. Three, eating is a sign of respect in Italy.
I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear there are a lot of cultural differences between America and Italy when it comes to food. It is however uncomfortable stumbling over some of the more subtle ones that have nothing to do with the food itself.
I recently googled my way to another American Expat in Italy blog where Misty from Surviving in Italy likened leaving the table to announcing you’ve eaten a child. The struggle is real and thanks to Misty rather hilarious to me now that I live in Italy.
I might be at little Cicciona right now, but at least in Italy I’m not living in fear for my health anymore. That’s an enormous weight off my shoulders. Hopefully, soon it will also be weight off my backside. Three pounds down since I saw the doctor last!
Wish me luck on this part of my journey please. Something tells me with all the amazing pizza in Italy I’m going to need it.