Americans new to Buddhism usually soon inquire: Was the Buddha fat?
The answer is no.
The historic person known as Gotama Buddha ate only one meal a day, and he walked everywhere he went. How could he be fat? The early scriptures describe him as tall, lean and handsome — so handsome that some people were unable to pay attention to his teachings due to gazing at his physical beauty.
Where, then, did we get the ugly, fat laughing statue? The one that invites you to rub his belly for good luck?
Veneration of a fat laughing Chinese deity of ancient times, named Hotei or Budai, has gotten mixed together with the idea of the Buddha. An alternate tale of a similar obese Buddhist monk, named Phra Sangkajai, comes out of ancient Thailand. For a fascinating detailed look at the history of these images see this Wikipedia article.*
The Buddha did not show riotous laughter like these statues, but he remained quietly, serenely happy. By following his teachings, we can too.
Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni, 15 April 2013