the laid.back Buddhist has MOVED...back!

Wednesday, October 31


Stripping off my sweats, I’m in the girls’ locker room at the gym for yoga class. As I turn around to grab my shorts, I happen to glance over to my right.

Wow. She is way too thin.

Hipbones jutting out and with a concave belly, her legs are smaller in diameter than some guys’ arms. She’s sliding into a swim suit and I’m trying not to wince.

I wanted to cross over the wooden bench, to place gentle hands on her bony shoulders, and to say:

“Look, you are beautiful. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL. But you’ll be a thousand times better with more curves. Eat more, please.”

However, instead I resigned myself to inwardly cringing and stealing furtive, worried glances at her direction…

Because, you see, I never know what to do when I see a girl that thin, why should I assume that she has anorexia? In some cases, a girl just may have high metabolism (something much more commonly found in guys). Looking back on the moment, I think that perhaps I should’ve said some encouraging words of concern.

I understand the struggles with one's own body.

Last Thanksgiving break, I was in the locker room at a hot springs bath an hour from Taipei, Taiwan. In my bra/underwear and in the process of sliding into my jeans, I heard a middle-aged woman say to another beside her:

“Wah, she’s so fat!”
My fingers froze in mid-air while holding my belt.

Intensely still, I stared into my locker as I looped, in deliberate slow motion, the belt around my waist. As the only other person in the locker room and seeing out of the corner of my eye, the second woman’s glances in my direction, I knew precisely of whom they were talking about.


Little did they know that even though I may look “ABC” (slang for American-Born Chinese), I am quite fluent in Mandarin Chinese…and with good ears, to boot. Meeting my dad outside a few minutes later, I tried to relate the incident to him in a joke, to carelessly brush it off with a flippant laugh.

But the words got caught in my throat.

I had barely croaked out the word FAT when tears started streaming down my cheeks. I knew I wasn’t unhealthily obese and that I have a tall frame to help hide any extra pounds, but those words of a complete stranger behind my (and half-naked, at that!) back really, really stung.

They hurt the most because I saw some truth in them as well.

Last year's Thanksgiving Break, I was hovering around 148 lbs, and by “Asian standards”…that’s considered overweight.

And currently?

I’m at 135 lbs, which is 3 lbs shy of the goal I set for myself back in May of this year. Over the course of these past 6 months, I’ve shed those 10 lbs slowly, in a conscious effort to make sure it stays off.

So, I gradually add to my exercise regimen only activities I know I’ll be able to keep up for a lifetime. Plus, as a girl of HUGE appetite, I like to eat A LOT. I love food with an adoring fervor and will make savoring noises involuntarily.

Oooh, and did I mention I have a separate stomach for desserts as well?

Well, I do. ;)

Tis the only explanation for why I always have room for my favorite sweets!

And as much as I know how important balance and moderation is in a diet, it’s tough whenever I’m away from home to eat right because (1) there are so many convenient and unhealthy options and (2) my mom isn’t there to make sure I don’t stray too far.

But bit by bit, I’ve learned how to take care of my body on my own.

Body image is a ginormously sensitive subject and always will be. Just like how I'm never fully comfortable in front of the camera (though it has gotten better over the years).

I'm still learning how to love my body for all its imperfections.

To appreciate being comfortable in one's own skin.

To simply being utterly skintastic!

Photography: Tyn Cathedral by GeniuZ

(happy halloween!)

18 Musing(s):

abbagirl said...

fantastic observations. i'm sorry those old biddies made you cry! it just illustrates how important it is to not judge by appearances; you can't assume anything about anyone, and appearances are deceiving. it just shows how ill their breeding is to talk smack and judge you on so many different levels, all 'cause you look a.b.c. that's just wrong.

and i'm sorry they got to you. that sucks! remember you're a cutie -- and don't let these idiots get you down! i do empathize. going back to the "homeland" is strange like that. i went back to vietnam earlier this year, and relatives commented on how "fat" i was, too. and i was -- compared with them. but it's really disconcerting to be judged like that. i wanted to say, "well, at least i ain't poor and starving like some people" and look pointedly in their direction. but unfortunately, my speaking abilities in viet aren't that good. ;)

it really is tough being a girl in society today, though -- not just over there in the East, but also here. and i think you succinctly summarize how important it is for girls not to get caught up in this ultra-obsession to look a certain way. this post really hits home wtih me; needless to say, i struggle with this crap more than i care to admit. . . .

but eh these are just my two cents. :)

Kate said...

Wow - good on you for being proactive.

It's amazing how hard women are on other women, when we should be supporting one another to change the stereotypes.

I'm fairly tall myself (5'8"ish), and curvy. I remember once getting the comment, while weighing in during a physical, of "Well, you're tall." Truth be told, I wasn't unhappy with the weight number - until I walked away and thought about what they said.

Sticks and stones, and all is forgotten now, but just a sad comment on our society.

Thanks for writing so truthfully - you and your blog are beautiful. :)

black_mamba said...

ouch.....i used to be so weight obssesed a few years back, glad i'm over it. so good to hear you're starting to appreciate your body.

BTW, you look absolutely fab..........

brandy said...

I liked that you were able to catch yourself and realize that maybe the skinny girl in the change room doesn't have an eating disorder. I mean, maybe she does but I liked that you were able to correct yourself from just automatically thinking that's what it was.

As for the ladies who bothered you, that's tough. It's funny how the words of strangers can hurt so much more than those said by someone close. Although, some stuff (like their comment) should never be said. Hello, it's called manners?!

(And I think you look fab too!)

YC said...

If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you look good! :)

You know how 'aunties' are - they are loud, they shoot from the hip. What matters most is that you're in good health and in great mood!

Kyla Bea said...

Keep your head up Jo - people who are like that is they're like that about everything, their friends, family, and themselves. It's toxic talk.

My mom always says "Stay away from the turkeys! They'll only get you down!". The path you're on is a great one, enjoy!

david said...

Each person's view is different because some like chubby people and others skinny. Is based on preference and the latest trend. We are just stuck in a time period where more people value skinny people much more highly =).

xtina said...

Props to you for not shooting the woman a murderous glance.
That brought back (actively repressed) memories of my prior experiences with middle-aged Asian women. *winces*

I like how you acted towards the girl. Sure you may not have said anything, but at least you didn't just stare. As for words of concern, what would you've said exactly?

Aside from oneself, women are and will always be the most critical of other women.

That is something I will never understand.

shiera said...

I could completely relate to that situation! When I arrived here in Japan last year, I weighed about 57kgs (I'm only 5'1")... I didn't consider my self fat before leaving Philippines.

But as I opened my eyes wider, I realized that I was bigger than most of the Japanese guys! From then on, I cut back my rice consumption (I usually eat at least 2 cups every meal). I'm also thankful that I live a bit far from the train station coz I have to go there by bicycle... my only form of exercise. ^-^

Katherine said...

Where is that woman?? I have a few choice words for her >:O. I'm impressed at your self-discipline, Jo, and wish I could make myself be as healthy as you. That being said, you've always been beautiful. Always...and something I admire in you (apart from the self-discipline thing) is how healthy your body image is. Whenever my friends decided they need to lose weight, I become concerned. You, however (though, as I said, you have always been beautiful), went about it in such a healthy way that I didn't have to worry. Thanks :).

cbenc12 said...

OOohh those ppl are so bad! But I see both of ur pics in ur blog, u look absolutely pretty, really!I wish I will be as pretty as u..
Anyway, I m de skinny type.. not coz I didnt eat much... but I have high metabolism.. I wanna gain some curve too..

The Lisa Show said...

Asian standards are ridiculous, I have to say. You are not fat. And even you already know that. Which makes everything I've said so far utterly useless. Hi. I heart you and I think you rock.

libby said...

this post really hit home for me. i was definitely definitely overweight and shed it all after a year of hard work and determination and self-control. i am still very sensitive about this issue and i think i always will be. but i needed to read this. thanks!

Muse said...

fat my ass! i might have been tempted to turn around and say "but at least i'm young" - but then i have to respect my elders..ehhh

Yep, even when there's no truth to them words just hurt = i'd rather be hit with sticks and stones. Anyhow i'm totally jealous of your shape so i hope you are over that!

Joanne said...

Abbagirl: Aww, thank you! =) It’s the same rule I strive to live by (though it’s often easy to forget why we shouldn’t assume). Usually I catch myself or am fortunate enough to have friends honest enough to directly point it out to me. Hah, it’s probably tough being a girl no matter what time period…double-standards seem to have always been present. It’s a continual process to remember that my self-image is exactly that,mine. That’s why I feel so inspired by all the empowered and beautifully happy older women in our society today. It’s comforting to know that the older we get, we only become surer of ourselves and more comfortable in our own skin.

Kate: Thanks for saying “proactive,” that’s a high (and favorite) compliment in my books! No longer fazed when people think I’m mixed, I’ve always been acutely aware of how different from “typical” I looked (wavy hair, tall, rounder in all places)…it was a long time coming before I started standing straighter and wearing clothes that weren’t 2x too large for me. I still love wearing comfortably loose clothes, jeans, sweats…but now I’m also comfortable with wearing more fitted clothes and even ones that show skin! Being proud of being in your skin really is a state of mind.

Black Mamba: I’m glad, too. Thank you!!! Though, I think I’ll always pay close attention to my body and weight…for me, it’s a way to show love and appreciation for my body when I take notice of it, good and bad.

Brandy: Haha, thanks. Not gonna lie, I def. used to be one to assume an eating disorder, but I’ve since learned why I shouldn’t (particularly since with bulimia sometimes you can’t physically tell that she has a eating disorder). And since my chatting with this woman at my health club’s sauna back home where she disclosed that her high metabolism often makes people assume that she’s anorexic, I’ve learned to NOT make “eating disorder” my first default thought.

YC: Ahaha, that reminds me of some wise Buddhist or Taoist saying. But it’s true, a significant part of the power of healing love is due to one’s mental state. Haha, yeah I do know how they are…my favorite grandaunt is one such woman, and I do love her to bits for all her straight-shooting, telling-it-like-it-is personality.

KB: Thanks, Kyla! =) It is like you said a form of toxic. Interestingly, sometimes negativity gives my optimism a boost because to cheer myself up and not feel like crap, it makes me think about all the good things I can be thankful for, haha.

David: Yeah, it’s definitely a subjective perception. Although, I feel that “super-skinny” is a perceived ideal…and not the reality. I mean, for me…sure really buff guys look nice on-screen BUT bulging muscles three inches from my face can also turn me off. I like toned muscles as much as the next girl, but there is a balance to be aware of…and of course, I agree, that balance is going to be different for everyone!

Vy: Hah, thanks. I know what I wanted to say, but when the time comes to say such words, it’s difficult to know how to exactly phrase it when you don’t know how the person might take it. I’d still say how beautiful she is...just a simple acknowledgement can do wonders for a person’s self-esteem. Then I’d probably ask an indirect question about her metabolism or something, gauge her reaction/response and take it from there…

Shiera: HAHA, Japanese guys can be uber-thin. I think it might be a genetic as well as a cultural thing, actually. Ooo, biking is great exercise (not mention better for our environment, too!). I’m trying to cut back my meat in-take because hah, I can’t cut back rice. Although, my mom doesn’t cook white rice but her own mixture of brown rice, pearl barley, buckwheat, and whatever else that’s not white. Which is why when our family goes out to eat (or when traveling on vacation), we devour white rice like no tomorrow, lols!!!!!

Kath: How do you know just what to say? I don’t know how to respond except with awww,I love you!!!!!

Ben: Haha, thank you. I’m envious of your high metabolism! Even though I can see how it might be unwanted. Sort of like how people with straight hair wish for curly hair and curly-haired people wish for straight hair, lols.

Lisa: Hahahahaha, you’re awesome!! Yup, Asian or not, standard are simply a compilation of rules…and of course, rules are made to be bent, twisted, broken and defied! ;)

Libby: Wow, GOOD FOR YOU. It does take all of those characteristics to make the change to be healthier, what a great success story! The sensitivity of certain issues, like body image, probably won’t ever go away; however, I like to think that our insecurities and anxieties regarding the issue can be managed. And of course, with the reminders from others to support us! =)

Muse: LOLs!! Filial piety and respecting my elders was a HUGE part of my upbringing, but that is brilliant response, I like. ;) Truth or not, realizing that those words hurt my feelings did force me face my own insecurity and lack of self-confidence towards my body. Hahaha, aww…thank you, too, for the compliment. =)

YC said...

Joanne, I wanted to be a Buddhist monk once.

I have a way with them aunties. They love me.

Jen said...

I think you would have been completely in the right to tell off the nasty women saying things about you - but I also think it's cool you let the issue with the skinny girl go. Because I'm like that girl, and it has nothing to do with eating disorders. I've always been underweight, and although I follow a diet to gain weight (pasta, and all that), I have a really hard time keeping the weight on. I think the whole debate about women's bodies should be moved away from simply "fat" or "skinny" and towards individual health. Everyone's different. From what I can see, you're perfectly fine :)

Joanne said...

YC: Wow, that's really cool...what made you change your mind? Haha, actually my real aunts and "aunties" as in my parents' friends do usually like me....but this from a complete stranger really caught me off-guard.

Jen: Yup! I didn't used to not assume, but have since learned after meeting girls who shared their experiences and frustration of being automatically assumed to have an eating disorder when it's SO true that everyone's body is and works differently. Thanks =)

Winston Churchill