How My Mom (and Others) Unintentionally Body Shames Me
Body shaming isn’t just calling people ‘fat’. It’s when someone makes others feel bad for being in their own body.
“You really should start taking care of your body. If you keep getting fat, it’s going to be harder [to lose weight] as you get older,” my mom texted me.
“Women should take special care of our body and appearance, so it will be easier for us.”
Easy in what way, exactly, mom? I wanted to ask, but I did not because deep down I knew the answers. Instead, I sent my mom 60 plus texts that very night. Yes, I counted each of them, one by one.
It was late at night, I’d just taken a shower after a long day. In need of a human interaction, I video-called my mom because I hadn’t seen her in a while. You can imagine how furious I was to receive the only messages she deemed important for me, when I checked my phone a few hours later,
Now some things hit differently when they come from your own mother.
So I fired back.
Coming from an Asian background, some people might find me up disdainful or disrespectful. Children, especially daughters, are expected to nod along to every word directed towards us by the elders. But how am I supposed to accept these words when they are always the first thing said during face-to-face interaction or in text messages – as my chat history reminds me.
The most frustrating part is that sometimes I am the first to tell my mom about hating my body, hating to be the fat one, hating about worrying what people might think when they see me (“She’s so fat,” or “She’s only getting fatter and fatter”). Most of all, I hate succumbing to this kind of feelings.
I’m not mad at my mother. I know she only wants the best for me just as I do for her. What I hate is vicious cycle of body-shaming. I used to think that it meant calling people ‘fat’. That’s partly true, but not entirely. Body shaming occurs when someone makes others feel bad for even just being in their own body – in their so-called “size.”
At first I thought being concerned about body image is very cliché. Only recently have I realised that I’m not immune to it and that I’ve subconsciously felt this way for six years, without a pause and that it has continued to worsen every day. Since then, I realised how disturbing it actually is. It isn’t my body that is the problem, but how people expect me to see myself the way they see me – as a catastrophe.
So, let’s see. Yes, I am not skinny, but I refuse to be defined by my look or appearance and be judged for my extra weight. No one should say that one’s body shape is exactly the result of their preference and attitude to it – that some people are fat because they prefer being fat. Stop shaming, blaming and stereotyping “fat” people as lazy junk-food eaters who never put in the effort to exercise. This will never get us anywhere closer to what you think we should do.
I told two of my friends about this. One of them responded, “Oh my, me too! Everyone has been commenting about my body, maybe it has become serious and it’s time for me to lose weight.”
The other suggested that I explained to my mom why I had been eating a lot lately. This is not true at all, but I didn’t tell her so. Instead, told her I don’t want to invent excuses and we dropped it at that. These two interaction illustrates the point that I’m not alone in my feelings, and the misconception or misunderstanding about what “being fat” means is rampant.
I understand my mother’s intention was good, but the ideological belief behind it is wrong. This is what we need to end. If being in an ideal shape solves half of our problems because as women we will have it easier, then I don’t want to be a part of it. I want to exercise to stay fit and for my health. I don’t want to be thinner just because it will be easier for me to “date someone” or “find a spouse” or “get into my dream job” or simply “be beautiful.”
For the longest time weight has played the devil role in defining beauty, and it undermines our self-esteem. This planted hegemonical ideology that, at the core of it, being thin is a prerequisite for someone to be beautiful has soaked up a lot of our energy, especially young women’s, for something that’s not even worth fighting for.
We are who we are. Not even our weight, our marks, our money should be the sole factor in defining us. We’re so much more than that. If other people’s words don’t define us, why should the scale? Let it do its sole job to weigh our weight, not measure our values.
P.S. When I want to start giving more time, attention and care to my body and look, by all means, I will. But I’m only doing it for myself. Not because it’s a phase in achieving this imaginary state of being successful in my career or beautiful and desirable romantically. Love you, Mom.
Illustration by Sarah Arifin.