Vietnamese photographer sheds light on deep-seated humiliation of body-shaming

By Nhung Nguyen   October 2, 2017 | 08:02 pm PT
Being exposed to 'both spectrums of body-shaming', he turned his experience into a series of photos he named Thin/Fat.

Body-shaming is rarely discussed in a country with the lowest rate of adult obesity in the world. But in fact, when it rears its ugly head the impacts can be just as devastating as anywhere else.

When Pham Na Tao, a Saigon-based photographer, was 18 years old, his skinny body became the target of cruel jokes from everyone around him. “My classmates and neighbors referred to me as 'a moving skeleton'," he said. “And it hurt.”

Tao rushed to find ways to make him look more “normal”, from going to the gym to eating pieces of raw pig fat or weight-gaining pills. “That was the 'advice' I was given, and I tried them all to silence the harsh critics,” Tao recalled. “Eventually I did start to gain more weight.”

From 50 kilograms (110 pounds), he achieved the ‘standard weight’ of 78kg for his height of 178cm (5.8ft).

But then Tao lost control and his weight shot up to 110kg (242 lbs).

“The hurtful words came back,” Tao said. “I was described as a pig. And people now asked: "Why can’t you be slim like you were before?'.”

Being exposed to “both spectrums of body-shaming”, the 27-year-old photographer decided to turn his experience into a series of photos which he named Thin/Fat. Two non-professional models were chosen to pose next to strong statements of abuse and personal shame Tao collected from his own experience and from friends who have suffered a similar fate.

His project does not intend to highlight what body type is right or wrong, but more the words people use towards other human beings because of their appearance.

“Either fat or thin, we are not gods who can transform ourselves into the 'perfect body' overnight. It takes time,” Tao explained. “But words and attitudes from others, they strike right away. The pain they cause is immediate and constant.”


"I get called 'fat like a pig' nearly every day."


"We usually comment on 'hot boys' and 'hot girls'. For example, 'Look at the six-pack on that model', and then turning to you, it's just gross..."


"The only way to deal with those unbearable words is to turn away."


"And I have learned to smile and think, 'You need to be strong...It's alright being fat...Then I start to cry'."


"There are times I consider killing myself, but then I think of my family."


"Be careful, she might have HIV/AIDS."


"The 'moving skeleton' has become a common description of me."


"I once tried to commit suicide as people kept telling me 'flat breasts, rib-cage for a body'."


"Then I started to destroy my body by swallowing pig fat and weight-gaining pills, following YOUR advice."


"My 'funniest' description? 'She looks like a victim of the [Vietnamese] Famine of 1945'."


"She is just a bag of bones. Don't hire her. She can't do that job."


"People joke, 'Don't stand in the wind or you might blow away in the breeze'."


"I have never experienced a romantic relationship. They joke that I am a 'two-faced' person."


"I always cover myself in thick clothes so nobody can see my body."

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