A recent shopping trip with my mom and my cousin, Lipstick, made me realize that my maternal family is obsessed with body image. They likely do not even realize it is an obsession because they are surrounded by people who are also obsessed with it. What made me come to this realization was when my cousin Lipstick and I were trying on dresses at the Woodbury Kate Spade store.
Lipstick complained that she looked fat. And my mom unhesitatingly agreed. Meanwhile, I’m realizing that the conversation is so familiar because it was something I’ve heard almost my entire life. It’s just now I realize how toxic my upbringing was. Because I now see how a group of people has convinced Lipstick into truly believing that she is fat at 5’7 about 130lbs.
My heart aches for her. And I tell her. But Lipstick replies that her parents’ and relatives’ comments don’t bother her too much because she knows they mean well. I think truly meaning well translates to your actions matching your words, or else meaning well is a convenient excuse.
Because during shopping, whenever we pass by a mirror, she avoids it, along with the comment, “Ugg…I don’t want to look at myself right now.” Additionally, she told my mom, Mark, and me that some nights she’s so hungry she cries but she still denies herself food in order to not gain more weight.
I feel for her. And I wish I could tell her that even if she became our relatives’ definition of “thin,” their criticism won’t stop. Because our cousin Wind was always taunted by everyone in my family for being too thin and looking malnourished. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even call him by his name and call him 瘦猴 (skinny monkey).
Like I get it, Wind is skinny, so much so that he got picked up by the police in China because they thought he looked like a heroin addict. Twice. But what my maternal relatives do not realize is that Wind may have an underlying medical issue that needs to be checked out. Or maybe he is on drugs/medication and we don’t know of. But I don’t see how making jokes about his weight and telling stories about the jokes other people made fun of his weight is well-meaning and translates into wanting the best for him.
Lipstick would then say, that’s different. No, it’s not. I think my relatives are all giving each other unsolicited advice, and by doing so, they are also going to receive get a lot of it back in return. When someone “jokes” too hard it then turns into screaming matches where everyone starts to truly insult each other. It’s a dysfunctional pattern I’ve witnessed over and over again.
Currently, I no longer want to be a part of a dynamic where nearly every other sentence is a backhanded compliment, veiled barb, criticism disguised as concern, or told I’m out of my mind for thinking a certain way. I’ve gone no contact with most of them because my mental health is more important to me than the exterior appearance of family harmony.
As for my body image, I’m still struggling and trying to find balance. Friends have asked me that if I’m not letting my weight define me then why am I keeping track of the number of calories I eat daily. I explain to them that for me how many calories I eat has a strong correlation with my feelings of the day. On days that I’m feeling hopeless or dejected, I overeat and most of the foods I eat will be carbs. On days that I’m feeling anxious, I significantly undereat, sometimes not more than 300 calories. When I’m feeling confident in my abilities (especially in my writing), I eat optimally for my height and exercise level which is around 1500 calories depending on the day.
Tracking my daily caloric intake is one of the tools I use to help me keep track of my mental health. Other tools include going to bed before 11:30 pm 6 nights a week, singing happy songs, and exercising 5 days a week. These tools have helped me not dwell on my late father’s passing and my past failures.
Currently, I look at my reflection every day and tell myself, “Be thankful that you are fully mobile.” Because I no longer take mobility for granted because I know it can be taken away from me almost instantly as it was from my late father.
Going forward, I want to do my part in helping to change the way young women view their own bodies. I didn’t understand it in the past, but all those romance novels I read where the heroine was almost always tall, thin, fair-skinned with big breasts have contributed to the body image struggles that I faced for most of my life.
This is why I feel so strongly that in my books, the important characters will have different body types, shapes, and sizes.