Inspired by what went unexplained in this BuzzFeed Video:
As an Asian American daughter I have grown up with criticisms towards my body from every one of my 10+ relatives, especially from my parents. The comments mostly involved weight. I was too curvy compared to my cousins who represented the typical Asian American body image.
The comments started when I was in elementary school, but grew more critical as I hit puberty.
“Kaylie, you’ve gained weight. Why aren’t you exercising more?”
“Kaylie, why are you so dark? Being tan is for Americans not us.”
Comments would be made behind my back at family reunions and later retold by my mom in the car ride home. The worst were the rare ones made by my dad as we watched TV together. Those, always hit particularly close to home. I would shift uncomfortably and simply answer with a respectful, dạ (okay). Before college, every single one of those comments shredded my confidence bit by bit.
To add onto my confusion were comments towards food consumption that contained the opposite advice.
“Kaylie, I made you dessert, eat some”
“Kaylie, why are you eating so little? Eat more!”
I couldn’t understand why I was criticized for being fat, yet encouraged to eat more food. These comments had the same effect as the more direct remarks and were regarded as a Catch-22.
At one point I reached a peak of amassed insecurity. I was stressed with homework and college applications and did not need disparagement. I snapped.
“Stop it! I understand that you want me to lose weight, but do you have to tell me every day?”
I grew angry and broke down, feeling the pressure of hundreds of judgments that I could no longer endure. I was surrounded by the American media portrayal of beautiful and “worthy” women and could not escape even at home. I felt inadequate, overwhelmed, never beautiful… For those of you who grew up in a culture of age hierarchies you may realize that this was a very disrespectful move on my part. As a younger, more inexperienced member of the family I was supposed to continue nodding along even if I didn’t agree. My mom was shocked into silence and began to cry as well. She was stunned I was so hurt.
“Do you know why I say those things to you?”
No, I did not. Nor did I care to learn. My mom left and dinner was shrouded in a suffocating silence of guilt and resentment. Later that night, my mom explained.
She clarified the intent behind the criticisms made by my relatives and herself. Implied within every “problematic” statement about my body was the beliefs of immigrants who fought daily to be where they were today. Implied within every remark was a legitimate concern for my body that stemmed from love. There was a desire for me to be healthy and most importantly, a wish for me to appear my best. If I was at my best outwardly, society would have less reason to ever belittle an Asian daughter.
My mom’s “depreciatory” observations stemmed from a personal experience of stigmatization. It is her hope that by looking my best, society would look past my “small eyes and yellow skin” and see what she already knows, a deserving woman.
Today, my relatives still make the same side comments about my body. My mom has lessened her remarks now that she understood how they affected me. However, I no longer allow the statements to affect me like they once did. I’m not going to lie. The criticisms still create a twitch (or a leap) of insecurity and remain problematic. Nevertheless, by realizing the intent behind the commentaries I have grown to be more confident in my body and myself. Body image is still something I wrestle with but I’ve grown more accepting of who I am and am not afraid to start a discussion on body perceptions.
My relatives wish for a confident woman who will tear down barriers, I will show them that woman.