Categorized | People

Spain and the Average Physique

Posted on 29 January 2012 by American expat!

thin spanish woman
I enjoy the sentiment here that people are born looking a certain way, and that the particular certain way doesn’t define who a person is, so natural appearances aren’t messed with too badly (other than from certain socio-economics groups like our aging Spanish ladies). That goes for things we Americans methodically correct as a rite of passage, for example crooked teeth. Lots of crooked teeth here with no closed lipped smiles to hide what Americans would call imperfections. Even if you wish that guy with the tobacco stained, gappy set of chompers would adopt such a smile.

Body Acceptance

Body acceptance of others is the norm, and to an extent one’s own body. I don’t mean that there are fat acceptance groups or hyper vigilance to be politically correct about fat people (or anything else for that matter). What I mean is, if someone is fat, they may be referred to as fat, but it isn’t with disgust or contempt or scorn. It’s just a defining characteristic they have and it’s an easy reference. No one watches them eat and whispers Does he really need the extra slice of jamon on his bocadillo?? It isn’t anyone’s business but his own, and no one treats it otherwise.

That being said, the standard body size is far smaller than that of a typical US citizen. I mean in height and weight and everything else. For women, the median dress size here is about a US 4,  which means there are also a lot of naturally thin women who are much smaller, like a size 00-2. These are women who do not think twice about what they are eating. They drink beer, they eat a chocolate croissant for mid-morning breakfast, they drink regular coke and they eat dinner well past 10pm and it usually includes something fried. But they also may skip a meals because they get too busy or perhaps just forget to eat. So while there is a level of body acceptance, there aren’t a lot of fat people here.

Daily Diet

There are a lot of differences in daily diet that I think may contribute to a naturally smaller size. The Spanish do not ever ingest high fructose corn syrup, they don’t eat much dairy other than a bit of soft cheese or very infrequently some grated hard cheese, they never eat butter in or on anything (olive oil is used instead), they eat fish daily, red meat and pork and chicken almost daily. I’d go on, but the hype about the “Mediterranean Diet” has already come and gone so you know the components.

Now, I don’t know if any of this has anything to do with their natural set point in body weight, because on the other hand, they also put oil on everything and eat crème brûlée and patatas braves: fried potatoes usually served  with some mayonnaise-y type sauce which sounds gross but isn’t bad (in fact the whole concept of Mayonnaise came from the island Menorca, here in Catalunya so it isn’t a strange adoption like that of the Dutch who do put straight mayonnaise on fries, which you already knew because you saw Pulp Fiction).


And while the entire male world runs or cycles daily well into their 70s, the women generally aren’t very sporty. Spanish women may or may not go to the gym, but if they do, it isn’t with the fervor that the dieting (or the eating disordered) put into it. As far as I can tell, they go to socialize or to have something to do during the two hour lunch break everyone has. And they walk or ride bicycles or take public transportation, which involves a lot more walking than you think.


Despite the diet and exercise differences, I think a lot of it is in our genes. We of Anglo-Saxon decent (most of middle American and all of Northern Europe) are not just much taller than our Mediterranean brothers, but bigger breasted, assed, bellied and with substantially more back fat as well. Just give us an extra slice or two of pizza a week for a couple months, and we expand 3 pant sizes, while Alberto just has more energy during the day. We must have had some cold winters to naturally select that kind of fat storing efficiency. If we want to keep ourselves in check now that we are no longer hunting and gathering and storing extra fat blankets for lean winters, we have to be vigilant.  We could adopt the “Mediterranean Diet”, but considering what happens when you spend a week in Italy, I don’t think that is going to work for us. (That’s a joke, but regardless, I’m not willing to commit to such an experiment.)

Gender Differences

Interestingly, I hear Spanish men discussing their diets all the time. As in “I’m going on a diet” and “I need to get some more exercise because my abs are no longer so defined you can scrub your clothes on them”. In the US, a layer of fat on a man goes unnoticed by him and is easily described (inaccurately) as muscle by others by using the adjective big, as in “that’s a big dude”, as in “that’s a strong dude” instead  of “that’s a chunky dude”. Men here are inscrutable about a handful of gut and will work hard to rid themselves of it.

Leanness  is king. Which means that yes, the smaller and less muscled look for men (what hipsters in the US affectionately refer to as European, or Gay?)  is completely acceptable. Instead of fearing a scrawny body and striving for the kind of overinflated biceps that every US high school boy spends hours sweating in his garage while listening to Rush trying to achieve, skinniness is A-OK. In fact it’s an asset: you’re a skinny kid? Get on a bicycle! Cycling here is so popular that a fit but really skinny guy is universally envied for his climbing skills, potential or actual,while bicycling in the mountains. Because cycling is the way out. It’s the equivalent to our poor kid turned basketball star/rags to riches story. (just read up on Alberto Contador, 2x Tour de France winner. Yes, he is Spanish. Warning, translated site is not fantastic but you get the gist of it.)

Note: The pro cycling world is perhaps an unfair example, as any fly on the wall will tell you that the preoccupation with eating and not eating rivals that of any group of unnaturally slim models: Food restrictions, diet pills, off season binges and of course the deliberate avoidance of speaking of any and all strange eating patterns marks the cycling world in general.

So the average Spanish guy isn’t going to weigh his food and abstain from alcohol (ever!), though he may take it easy on the pasta and skip the dessert if his gut is starting to protrude over his belt a whole 10 millimeters. And he is going to admire rather than make fun of the physique of the tiny dudes on bicycles, even if he never wants to be that size himself.

If you are now envious of the Mediterranean natural size zero women and lean men with washboard abs, both of whom who eat bread dipped in olive oil everyday with their beer, let me help you feel better: They look older. That type of thinness over age 30 ages you a lot. And god help them if they smoke. (Or smoke while tanning, which I see a lot of women here doing. Trust me, they look 45 by age 35. So wear sunscreen and don’t smoke, for the love of Pete.)

And if you visit, or even come here to live, don’t worry about having a bowl of those olives and a glass of wine or two. These local delights are delicious treats like nowhere else on earth. And if you start feeling guilty, remember that there’s nothing like a little extra padding to make naturally age-thinned faces and necks look younger.

And no one is going to judge you for a couple of extra pounds either way.

10 Comments For This Post

  1. Jassmila Says:

    We look older? Lady, I’ve been reading your blog for a few hours, and all I can say is that you seem pretty bigoted to me. If you dislike spain, and the spaniards that much, why don’t you go back to a place in where everything is perfect and you are happy? Why insult a culture that’s not yours? Why do people do that? Can’t you just be happy and let the other persons do what they want in the way they want… Reading you is really annoying. But don’t worry, I know all americans are not like that, so I wont make generalizations. Good day to you.

  2. American expat! Says:

    Hi Jassmila,
    Let’s see, in this post, I identified Spaniards as being accepting of other people, fit without being fanatical, having a healthy diet, being relaxed about eating, having good genes, and noted that Spanish men able to talk about wanting to lose weight if they need or want to without feeling effeminate for doing so. Oh, and I noted the food here is delicious.

    I basically accused Americans of being judgmental, fat (and defiant about it, re: fat acceptance groups) while at the same time being full of contempt towards fat people, lazy, having a shitty diet, and alluded that American men are delusional about their weight while calling thin men gay because they are thin.

    If anything I insulted my own culture when held up against yours. Throw me a bone, girl, and let us have one consolation point – that our sunscreen slathered fat faces look younger than your thin ones.

  3. Sara Says:

    Thank you so much for writing this, it was very helpful to understand the general differences in physical builds. I am going to Spain in July, and wanted to purchase clothes there, but after reading this, I am a apprehensive. I would like to buy there and wear them daily ( I am going alone and don’t want to stand out as too much of a tourist) , but am worried that I will not find clothes my size. I am currently a size 10 American, what would you say is the largest size they normally carry in Spain? Thank you again for your post!

  4. American expat! Says:

    US 10 is equivalent to Euro size 44. You won’t have a problem finding this size. You’ll find up to 48 in most shops.

  5. Ana Says:


    Please indicate what part of Spain you are talking about as not everything is the” Mediterranean” – have you heard of the Atlantic or inner Spain? This topic goes around and around without considering the facts a priory. To give you an example, I have been told I cannot be ” white” as everyone in Spain is dark skinned?, however my family in both sides are blond with blue / grey eyes aback in generations as well as many many people living here. They also DID NOT eat olive oil or olives , just fat and butter as in some areas is impossible to grow olive trees My family kept skinny with no signs of cellulite and or fat.. without even trying or doing any exercise! . The key thing here is education in what to eat and how to select it ( quality is a must) as a safety blanket to good health which is part of the Spanish culture as an inherited habit ( in some areas). Unfortunately cannons are changing and people is abusing too much of the bad things thus turning the wheel against them . I shall add that the obsession for looking younger is put aside by most Spanish women once they have obtained certain balance in their life and or have children , hence the fact they let all go. – surely we have better things to do than comparing ourselves to 13 year old VOGUE poster girls.

  6. Maggie Patrick Says:

    I read your opinion about Spain 5 months ago before I went there. And after visiting that wonderful country for my honeymoon and summer vacation with my husband, we are both in our early 20’s, I am really disappointed about your opinion of Spain in a few things. We traveled all across the land for 3 months, by rental car & their fast modern trains.

    1. I rarely saw anybody with bad teeth at all. I am a southern gal from Alabama and at least here in the south 2/3 of the people past their 27th birthday are missing one or two front tooth.

    2. I am 5’7″ and my husband is 5’10” and both are in very good shape for USA standards. But when we were next to Spaniards, female and male, were the shortest. Most Spanish men were over 6′ tall. And now I understand why they have some of their players at the NBA and why, since we love tennis, Nadal, Ferrero, Feliciano Lopez, Carlos Moya are around 6’2″ and the shortest is Ferrer at 5’9″.

    3. As a woman I am always worry about what I eat and if a dress will fit my “slim” body. As you noticed I wrote “slim” but next to most Spanish women I was a few pounds over since in Spain most women are very slim looking like models. Even older ladies keep their bodies in great shape. A pity since in my beautiful USA been fat and not been able to see your feet when we stand up is like OK. That said, I wish I could eat Spanish food each day of my life. To me Spain has the best food, all healthy, in the world and that is one of the reasons their are much healthier and live longer than us in USA of North America and I didn’t write America since I met some people from Argentina who been from South America are also in the American continent.

    4. My husband has dark brown hair and very dark brown eyes and I am brown hair and green eyes. Yet in Spain I look more Spanish than my husband. In Spain they thought that he was, and he is white, from Latin America. So a white Latin American yet he is a good’le country boy like me. The great thing about traveling is what we learn on our own instead of what other biases things people write.

    As I mentioned we traveled all across Spain since I have always love the Spanish language and culture since I was a little girl and fell in love with the movie EL Cid. WE flew to Barcelona and stayed there for one week. Never did we see a single person with dark hair, skin or eyes. All Spaniards, men, women & children, that we saw & met there, and that city is a large metropolis, had brown hair like me but plenty had lighter hair and very blond too. Their eyes were mostly green like mine, to light honey brown to blue. And their skin was as white as mine.

    Then we rented a car and drove all across northern Spain all the way to Galicia and it was all the same yet in Galicia 7 out of 10 Spanish people had blue eyes and much whiter skin. I felt I was in the UK, Germany or Sweden. Even when we drove and took trains down to Castille, Valencia or Andalucia we didn’t see any brown skin person and the only exception were low paid immigrants from Latin America or Romania. I did see olive skin people in those places which reminded me of George Clooney or Cindy Crawford.

    Now back in Alabama I wish I was living in Spain and enjoying their wonderful, peaceful & safe (since there is rarely any violence there and we never had to worry about anybody attacking or shooting at us), healthy, friendly lifestyle and how free they live. Heck I even went topless the few times we went to the beach since that is so normal and most breast I noticed quite discreetly 🙂 were quite beautiful and their rear were small like mine.

    So yes I am very sad for what you wrote since I had a pre conceived notion totally different but so glad I discovered the truthful Spain.

    Finally while we were in Spain we discovered this amazing Spanish tv show, from Spain of course, and were happy to find it in the USA via Netflix: Gran Hotel that will give you a real idea of what Spaniards really look like since most folks walking on the streets are just as good looking.

  7. American expat! Says:

    MAGGIE – I am confused as to what was misleading, other than the bad teeth you expected to see but did not? And why did that make you sad?

    Anyway, nevermind because your post is fake. An American from Alabama would never use the terms you do and your English is not native. So nice try, Spaniard. I’ll keep it up anyway because it is amusing.

  8. Mr Moto Says:

    Ha ha! That “MAGGIE” post is such a plant ! I SERIOUSLY DOUBT anyone born and raised in Alabama would “worry about someone shooting” at them. And there is no way in hell someone from Alabama would be able to name even ONE tennis player, let alone give a crap about Spanish tennis players. hahahahahahaaaaaaa

  9. American expat! Says:

    Yeah I know. The person’s email address (that isn’t public but I can see) traces to a man too. So our ‘Maggie’ isn’t even a girl.

  10. Bmwoman Says:

    I was enjoying reading your blogs including this post so much I feel like defending you against this “Maggie”. I am living in spain and although I do not agree with everything you said, I know it is not eight or wrong just different experiences, and i am really annoyed by this Maggie from Alabama, particularly “her” point 2: Yes we can all have different experiences and perceives, but one thing that can be safely generalized is the fact that spaniards are not famous for being tall, no! And all those tall spanish tennis players are not norm but exceptions!

    So please keep writing, and ignore fake sentimentalities like hers (or perhaps his)!

    Bu the way, what American will say: us in USA of NORTH America? Very curious indeed!

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