This post is in no means fishing for compliments or consolation. I am only looking to express my thoughts on the subject of my physical appearance in the words spoken by other people as I know I am not the only individual experiencing this.
My puberty journey began or, in other words, drastically heightened at nine years old. I initially stood at 4’9″ and by the end of the summer, I was 5’3″, a size 00, and a B cup. I think this is when I began to develop self-esteem issues about my body. I developed stretch marks on my knees and thighs and was given a bottle of cocoa butter by my mother that I applied occasionally in hopes they would magically disappear. My mother also waxed off my bushy lightly overgrown uni-brow and that was my first lesson of body hair grooming.
When I started the fifth grade, it seemed strange to me why my friends were fascinated at how tall I was or how my breasts had grown since they had last seen me. It was really noticeable to me how my body had blossomed compared to their own especially when they pointed it out so often. I was flattered most of the time by their compliments, but there were occasional events where I wished I looked like the rest of my friends. For example, when I told a boy I had a crush on him, he told me he didn’t feel the same because I was giraffe-like. It’s silly to think back on those words he responded because 10 years later, his own girlfriend is taller than he is. Lo and behold, the whole cycle of being admired physically by my friends and being rejected by boys I fancied was a very common cycle in my primary and secondary school years.
As my appearances furthered into womanhood, I’d often get comments or “terms of endearment” from elders or family friends that I was so tall and beautiful. Or that I was bigger than my mother and almost as tall as my father. Or that I should participate in beauty pageants. Or that because I was so “tall” it would be difficult for me to find a Hmong man that I would have to date outside of my race who in their preference would be a very tall White man. I believe comments like these are quite common for the Hmong daughter that sticks out from the others, and though they are amusing the first few times when heard, it begins to take a toll on your self-esteem as an adult.
This time in my life I’ve grown tired of hearing what seems to others as blatant remarks. I don’t even know where to pinpoint the exact time I began to become tired of the comments. But there are those situations that vividly replay in the back of my mind.
Months ago, an elderly woman I’ve never met stopped by our home unannounced. I was told she was a relative, but you know how these things go. People you’ve never seen in your life tell you they knew you when you were little. Well anyway, in the vulnerability of my home with my breasts unprotected by my bra and my shorts as high as my underwear go because I deserve to be comfortable in my own home, she proceeds to tell me to not eat too many chips or other junk because I will get fatter than I already am and I will get a heart attack, and as a result the EMCs will not be able to stroll me out of the door. Instead, I should eat only vegetables so I can get super skinny and maybe even snag myself a handsome Korean man; This she also told me. When she left I didn’t even know where to begin! First of all, you never come to someone’s house unannounced. Second of all, I only eat chips once in a blue moon. Third of all, I’ve been eating my veggies for as long as I can remember! Fourth of all, I don’t care for Korean men, or any other man besides my own. I really could go on….
On a Friday when I walked into the small family owned grocery store I’d been going to as a child. On this day, I wore a beautifully patterned olive green dress with a brown belt sitting on my waist. Though I wore a bare face, I felt beautiful. I felt confident. It wasn’t until I was greeted by the wife of the owner and she commented that I appeared chubby or in hmong, puv puv. I chuckled in embarrassment that I was simply just fat, or rog, in hopes she wasn’t implying or asking if I was pregnant. I bought my groceries, and left.
The following day, at a religious family ceremony, I had been snacking on whatever I could find at my grandmother’s house, for I hadn’t ate since the evening before on Friday. As I sat on the couch, a relative came up to me and as she smiled and nodded her head with both hands resting at her hips she said in our language, “Wow, you are so BIG now.” I had expected her to say something more polite to me. And though I know that in my language, BIG has many meanings, I can’t help but think that what this woman meant was I was fat. My aunt aside me whispered how rude it was of her to just say that to my face as I sat there to try and process my feelings about what this person, who was no bigger than I was in weight, had told me I was fat.
Out of all of the selfless qualities that I deliver to others anywhere I go, why is the first thing to be said about me is how BIG I am.
To paint a picture of myself, I currently stand at five foot five and a half inches. My breasts have not yet stopped growing but I currently wear a 40DDD. My weight teeters between 215 on good weeks and 229 on bad weeks. I’m currently on birth control and anti-depressants which explains my increased weight gain over the past two years. I occasionally exercise given the time and I have a bad habit of yo-yo dieting. When I gain weight, it typically goes to my breasts and my thighs. I love my body and would not say I am the healthiest person but I am quite self-conscious of what I consume. Though I know I could improve my physical appearance, I really do try when I am given the time and energy. But under the pressure of school, work, family, relationships, and as well as taking care of myself, staying consistent with exercising has been hard for me to balance as I already try to balance so much on my plate.
I know it seems like I’m overreacting to having been called fat. But to everyone who has told me or remarked on my weight gain or that I’ve “gotten so big”, Y’ALL I KNOW! I have a mirror (several actually) and I look at my bare naked body every day. Even when I was 9, weighing at 100 pounds, I was still “big.”
Weight gain has been a common topic in my household since forever. My 14 year old sister is not much bigger than I am so she as well hears the constant remarks of how big she’s gotten. Her and I share the same annoyance when our mom nitpicks at our weight and size while emphasizing the weight she herself has lost. As bigger girls, we often do wish we had never grown to be so big. But it isn’t like we don’t try to make a difference in our lives to change how we look. It makes my stomach churn when my sister tells me she’s skipping meals to lose a few pounds because she feels chubby. Our younger five year old sister, loves to eat McDonald’s and asks for one of her many nicknames to be Chubs. Yet, we are careful with our words regarding her appearance because we know how it has shaped ourselves as we grew older.
I’m really jumping around topics here, but I really remember a time when I desired to be small and petite. Small and petite were the girls around me at school. Small and petite were the KPOP women I hypnotizingly watched. Small and petite were the Victoria’s Secret Models I saw in the catalogues and store where I shopped. In this time I felt that maybe if I skipped eating lunch at school, I would gain a smaller waist. Or if I forced myself to eat as much kimchee and spicy Korean food I’d shit so much that I could look like the KPOP stars. Or if I followed the routines of a VS Model I’d probably be one some day.
Hell, had someone told me back then that everyone comes in all different shapes and sizes, it wouldn’t have taken me this long to appreciate my body for every little curve, flab, and scar/stretchmark I have gained along the way. I went through a typical teenage phase in my life where I constantly needed to have makeup on because I believed that as long as I was beautiful on the outside, nothing else mattered. Now, I can almost confidently wear a naked face because there is nothing for me to hide. And I used to be afraid to show or tell anyone my clothing size, but now I occasionally and unashamedly select clothes from the “plus size” section. I really think the one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life is to love who I am flaws and all while also having thick skin because other people’s perception of you doesn’t matter.
To all the “bigger” girls (and boys), this one is for you. You’re beautiful, and smart, and confident. You shine brighter than the stars. You’re more than you know. You’re more than they know. Never let anyone tell you different. And if you want that second piece of cake, or third even, you eat that damn cake.