“Eh, you gained a bit of weight oh?”
“Oh, you knew?”
This is the latest conversation I’ve been involuntarily involved in regarding my body. I’ve been back home for 5 days, and I’ve already lost count of the number of times people have brought up the fact that I look different now.
And not all of it has been very nice.
I get most of the comments from uncles and aunties who I haven’t seen in a while, and I love them and understand why they would say stuff like that; society’s been wiring thinspiration in the heads of humans for generations, and the stuff I’m getting now is the byproduct of that. These adults don’t know the kind of body image issues we kids are in the danger of—we are exposed to so much that tells us our bodies aren’t ___ (big, small, girly, manly, tall, short) enough, through the media and yeah, even our family and friends.
My generation has been through thinspiration, with girls competing to starve themselves stick thin, to achieve that enviable #thighgap. Now it’s fitspiration’s turn, which is basically thinspo in a sports bra. Spoiler alert: those #bodygoals aren’t all they’re cut out to be. Do a bit more research, and you’ll read/watch stories of girls who’ve wrecked their bodies by working out too much and eating too little.
TBH, I’m not entirely uninfluenced by society’s expectations. First thing this kid asked me when he found out I like going to the gym was “Do you have abs?” and another friend asking me to flex my biceps so he could feel them. It was a pretty funny moment for me, but it also showed me the darker side of being on this journey. Say you do exercise, and suddenly your body is public domain, free for everyone to talk about. I have a friend who never goes unmentioned when people are talking about ‘good bodies’, cause he has a visible six pack and biceps that could crush my head. What they don’t know is how hard he pushes himself, how he does bench presses to the verge of vomiting, how he has to force calories down his throat, how losing weight makes him feel crappy about himself. They also don’t think about how he’s kind of a/n (insert profane word here) sometimes, thinking he has the right to be that way cause society thinks he’s hot. And one of my best friends has what all the other girls I know call ‘a super good body’, but when she’s alone with me she pinches her chiselled obliques and complains that she’s fat. How messed up is that?
I’ve had my fair share of body envy thoughts, thinking my body isn’t good enough and how that translates into how I as a person am not good enough. Did I not run far enough, eat clean enough, lift heavy enough? This is a cycle of self judgment that has its good and bad days—some days I think I did everything right, some days I beat myself up for doing things ‘wrong’. There’s always something more out there to compare yourself to, someone else who’s where you wanna be.
I think I’m pretty fed up with all that. It really is time for body positivity to be a thing that people talk more about—I’m getting sad hearing ‘so many calories’ ‘guilty’ ‘gotta run this off’ ‘ughh cheat meal la who cares’. GUYS. THis is a disorder, you know?? Anorexia and bulimia aren’t the only things that mess with people’s minds when it comes to body image. Let me tell you about binge eating and orthorexia. Orthorexia means the person suffering from it sees food in two categories: good and bad. And long story short, they feel intense negative emotions when they eat something they think is bad. I think I still lapse into that sometimes. AND HELLO, on the other end of that disorder spectrum is binge eating disorder! This is basically when someone eats a TON of food, usually to the point of feeling sick. If you’ve never heard of/experienced this, from what I know it occurs when someone’s been on a restrictive diet state of mind for too long and finally caves and goes for all the food that used to be ‘off limits’. It also happens when someone tries to eat their feelings away. Heard of comfort food, and pints of ice cream being downed after break ups? I’m way too familiar with this for it to be a laughing matter for me. I’ve had nights of tears falling into my fifth bowl of cereal as I try to make myself sick so I don’t feel the (way less preferable) pain of heartbreak. And I never knew who to talk to about it. So here’s this post. I think there are tons of people out there who need to read this, to know they’re not alone. And if you who are reading this doesn’t know about these eating disorders, please please please educate yourself about this. You can be the listening ear they need, so their mouths are saying what they feel instead of swallowing their sadness along with their sixth chocolate bar.
I don’t have a structure for this post, and I know it’s not overflowing with poetry and prose but it’s raw and it’s real. I’ve been through these troubled times, and who knows if I have more of them ahead? Our brains (also part of our bodies, in case you’ve been so brainwashed by headless pictures of models showing off the rest of their bodies that you forget) are so complex, it gets frustrating sometimes. My brain that loves my body and tells the cells what to do to keep it safe and functioning is the same brain that thinks it’s ‘got a couple of pounds to lose’. My body that loves me so much it destroys any malignant cell it finds is the same body that I pinch and poke into the shape I want it to be. My body that people think ‘she got bigger, what a waste’ (NO JOKE—I’ve had this said to me before), is the same body that can now do a handstand and lift a grown man off the ground if I needed it to. Back when I was lighter and fit society’s standards of beauty, I’d get random chest pains and collapse after sprinting 100 metres. And guess what? There was nothing wrong with that body either—11 year old me is worthy of the same body positivity that 18 year old me is right now. But she got the same body shaming: ‘you’re so skinny, I can play guitar on your ribs’, the same messages of ‘the perfect body’ pounded into her little head. Back then I didn’t realize it was coming from these adults’ own places of fear. But instilled in me already was the notion that being skinny meant being pretty. I think my earliest memory of this was watching the Little Mermaid—have you seen how small her waist is?? I remember looking at myself and my sister in the mirror and telling her she didn’t have the right curves. I was what, 8 years old? And that body shaming mentality didn’t leave me when I outgrew those unrealistic perceptions of beauty. I’m not innocent when it comes to looking at someone and thinking things about their bodies, be it pleasant or not. That’s why I know I know I know my body is under constant critique as well, even if no one says a word. And that creeping feeling that eyes are roving over your skin, thinking about your outer shell is not something you want to be thinking about too often.
Can we all stop? Stop judging people by the way they look? And if we can’t (yeah, it’s a journey too), can we just keep it to ourselves? Like thanks for noticing, uncles and aunties and friends, but newsflash: I’m the one who lives in this body, tqvm, and I know best how it feels to be in it. And if you ever come across this, please know that you got lucky when you commented on me—some other person may not have been in the right place to take it. You could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, your words pushing them down another spiral of self loathing. You don’t know what we kids face today.
And if you’re young enough to understand this, you damn well better start playing your part in stopping body shaming. And it starts with you, the things you say to yourself. I learned this week that I’m the best and worst judge of my body, and whoever elses’ opinions I take to heart means I’m giving them power over my body, power they don’t deserve. I went to a waterfall with my friends yesterday, and I am so damn proud of myself for not leaving my shirt on just because I don’t have ‘enough abs’ (whatever the hell that means lol I’m not making these quotes up, these are things I hear from people). Take it from me—waterfalls feel way more fun without a waterlogged shirt and a self conscious mind.
There will also be people who think your body’s fine just as it is—“no need to go gym la, you so thin liao” “what are you talking about? People like you got eating disorder one meh?” “real men like women with curves” like oh my goodness thanks but no thanks? When people say things like this I’m sorry but I lose a little bit of respect for you each time. It hurts to see how we treat each other less and less as human beings and more and more like things to be categorized and placed into compartments. You may think you’re making positive comments, but the truth is you’re just propagating the notion that we are all our bodies present us to be.
I want it to be known that I have my good days and bad days, my moments of self doubt and insecurity and also the moments where I feel SO BOSS I COULD SLAY ONETY ONE DRAGONS AND LIVE TO TELL THE TALE. All in this same body. I want it to be known that I get to decide what I want to do with my body—cover up, show it off, make it do 30 burpees a minute. I get to decide what I want to eat, not the aunty that’s concerned that I’m eating ‘too much’ or ‘too little’. I get to decide how I feel about myself, not those insecure people who zoom in to find the flaws in my pictures of myself (note: these insecure people I’m talking about includes me. Truth. ).
Our bodies are fluctuating all the time, expanding and shrinking and stretching and bending, all the while serving as a vessel of who we are and who we want to be. I choose to respect where I am, and respect where everyone else I know is. Because I don’t need a magazine cover body to live the life I want to, and neither do you.
This post is getting kinda lengthy but I am not done. I’m so filled with appreciation of what my body can do, and the personality it houses is pretty darn cool as well. My body can curl up and go to sleep on a plane for hours and recover from the soreness really fast. My body has skin that freckles in the sun cause it’s protecting me from fatal damage. My body can take an entire binge without throwing up, taking the abuse I give it out of hatred and still loving me the same as it did yesterday. My body heals my cuts and bruises. My body dances out of sync with the music and houses a brain that laughs at my crazy moves. My body has neurons that fire at rapid speed every time a pun war begins. My body has a heart that tells me when someone really needs a hug. My body has legs that sprint like lightning to get a charger when my phone battery is at 1%. My body has sweat glands that tell me when to turn on the fan and oh my goodness my body can speed walk to the lecture halls when I’m late for exams and it starts snowing and I only have a sweater on. True story. And I’m sure your body has its stories to tell, from the tattoos you have to the kisses it’s received to the piercings in funny places.
(this is from Bel’s snap, not that there’s anything wrong with me complimenting myself hehe)
Therefore I urge you to love where you are, here and now. Even if you want to change your body—get bigger, stronger, faster, thinner, gentler, slower…remember that your journey’s up to you and not anyone else. Do it first for yourself, and the people who understand will see that you are where you’re truly meant to be, here and now.
I promise I’ll keep my stupid opinions to myself, on the days when I try to compare myself to you by thinking nasty things about your body. I promise to give you love and support in all your endeavours to live the life you believe you deserve. I promise that I won’t be defensive if you chasten me for engaging in body negativity. I promise to love myself more than I did yesterday, cause this body and I have a long way to go.