“It often starts with the chipping away of self-esteem by thoughtless comments. Then an erosion towards body dysmorphia. And the downward spiral into anorexia.”
There are many positives about living in Asia, but for me, one of the biggest negatives as a mother is the obsession with being ‘slim’. Oh, how I hate that word, and the mindset of chasing useless and dangerous physical ideals.
I am three quarters Asian, so being slim is natural for me. But for my two daughters who have a big and muscular Caucasian father, it can be a minefield. My elder daughter Kat is a glorious goddess at 5 feet 10 inches in her stockings and has that strong Spanish built that would be envied everywhere else in the world, except in Asia, that is. Some of the comments that she had to weather during her time in Kuala Lumpur:
“Who is the mother, who is the dotter?”
“She looks older, hor?”
“Wah, why so big?”
“How to find a husband?”
The modeling agencies we went to suggested that she loses half her body weight. I walked out in disgust, dragging her behind me, her self-esteem bruised. Straight after her last exam, she was on the flight back to London, and no one has made a single comment since about her lack of slimness. In fact, she had not heard the hated word since, and that was six years ago.
My younger daughter G is made of sterner stuff. She had been called chunky and fat, and she would meet these ridiculous labels with a steely glare. “At least I am not stupid,” she would reply sweetly, with the hidden subtext, “Like you.”
G has my Asian build, so she is naturally slim. But here’s the thing: she works hard to put on muscle bulk. She trains three times a week on the football field and eats consciously. She glorifies in her ‘chunky’ body, because it is all neat muscles that she had worked hard for. Muscles that played a large part in making her the Malaysian junior national taekwondo champion when she was 10 and a very successful footballer on the British International Schools circuit. She won the Most Valued Player award for three consecutive years, and she is only 14. One of her powerful kicks could send a football from one end of the field to the other, and you could hear the thwack from the stands. She is 14, but she plays a full game of football against under-21 girls and even boys. A ‘slim’ girl would not have the strength and stamina to do that. I am glad that media pressure and the world she grew up in had not skewed her view. Strong and healthy is beauty, not skinny.
I have been skinny – or to use that over-used word ‘slim’ – during the times in my life when I was undergoing chemotherapy, when I was bereaved, when I was working so hard that I forgot to eat. These slim periods coincided with some of the unhappiest times in my life. Yet the compliments flowed in.
“Wah, so slim! Have you been on diet or doing yoga?” Greeted me when I got back into the Kuala Lumpur groove after burying my friend.
No, I have not been on diet. Nor have I done more yoga. My friend died, you brainless woman, and I am seeing psychiatric help to get over my anguish. I am not slim, but dangerously thin.
One of the things I did when I gave up work was building my body. I ran, did weights and yoga, and ate well. My focus wasn’t on getting the perfect body, but a healthy one that will see me through the second half of my life. At 46, I am the best I have ever been.
I owe it all to my chunky but perennially happy Welsh mother, who had always told me I am beautiful, and who showed me that there are other things in life that are more important than what people think about your body. It is yours, love it.
And here’s a humble request from me: please use the word ‘slim’ responsibly.