Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Learning to Love

If you are hoping for a juicy post about my quest to share love with others, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. This is about self-love and my journey, both physical and mental, to reach it.

My time in Asia was a roller-coaster in more ways than one. Moving through foreign cultures is never easy but I motion that for women it is just a tad bit harder. There is so much weight (pun intended) given to a woman's waste line in Asian cultures and though I am not an authority on these matters throughout the rest of the world, Asia is particularly difficult to navigate with an unconventional figure.

During my time in Mongolia I gained weight. In Cambodia I lost much of it but still not everything that I had gained. And throughout this, living in countries where I towered over most other women and outweighed them, too, was difficult. It ate at my self-esteem and heavied my heart.

Personal comparisons aside, these inner sadnesses were met with real reinforcement. I was met regularly with comments about how "fat" I was during my service in the Peace Corps; flippant comments from laughing lips of Mongolian friends. In Cambodia, I intercepted comments like "you are fat" from my students even on days I was feeling lean and fit. Still I don't quite know what to make of it when the girls in the dorm would squeeze the flesh on my hips and cry "healthy! healthy!" Of course it's a great thing to be healthy- especially somewhere like Cambodia- but the snide and snorting tone they said it with ate at me. I know I cannot hold onto these things, that they are born of cross-cultural norms and joking friendships. But I still find them difficult to let go of.

And now I'm home. I remember walking through Value Village the day after I arrived in Atlanta, marveling at how the clothes actually fit me and how gargantuan I didn't feel. There were even people there bigger than me! Many of them, in fact. And so I began the relearning process again.

Since returning home I have nurtured myself on seaweed salad and tofu, trying desperately to feed my body in ways I couldn't in meat-and-rice dominated Asia. I have gone to the gym frequently and have been pleasantly surprised while shopping. I have found a man who loves the vistas in the mountains and valleys of my body and am trying to accept that as true. But the voices of Asian fat-shaming are not altogether gone. I find it hard to banish the perpetually underlying image of outdoor markets in which nothing ever fits. Pictures of the tiny jeans that my Cambodian students wore float under each row of GAP pants or H&M tanks. I suppose the best thing I can do now is march forward with seaweed salad in one hand and my pride in the other, trusting that "healthy" is the best thing to be.

1 comment:

owltree said...

Hey lovely lady!

This is a big deal, you should be really proud of yourself for being conscious of the way your friends' attitude affects your body image! It's rough, even just growing up in CA where there are TONS of tiny asian and latina girls I had some serious body image troubles. It's hard not to compare, but you have to remember the context, such as your ancestry, height, access to nourishment as an infant etc. You are beautiful, and you take great care of yourself. Keep it up! I'm so proud of you!!