Friday, July 22, 2011

How I Became A Self-Loathing Expert

All my life, I’ve struggled with my weight.  If there is something I’ve never really experienced, it’s how it feels to be skinny or just weigh normally, to be an ordinary size and not stick out, not be plump.  As a child, I was never obese, just always ‘bigger’ than my peers.  Early on, I became aware of how my arms were bigger, stomach rounder and nothing I did seemed to matter as far as making myself shrink and just be like the other kids.  I got teased quite a bit, but oddly, mostly by adults.  I was never the object of bullying or teasing among my peers.  As a matter of fact, I’ve always been part of the ‘upper crust’, if I may say so, as I was always a good student, and somehow I think this exempted me from a good amount of meanness and youthful roughness, to say the least.


But really, which is worse if you think about it?  The teasing from another child who just  doesn’t know any better, or one from an insensitive adult who can easily have so much effect and influence on a child with mere words?  In my past, I got used to hearing insensitive remarks from adults who thought they were being funny or maybe concerned when they would tell me and my parents that I seemed to have been "spending too much time in the kitchen", or I seem to be "loving food too much".  And did these people also think it was polite and acceptable to greet me by saying, “Oh you gained weight and look fat” (spoken in Filipino), as if it were the acceptable alternative to "Hi, how are you?".  I’ve always had such violent thought bubbles for those people so indeed they are lucky that my parents raised me well and that I have a reasonable level of restraint and respect for the law. 

I also got used to hearing what I would call ‘non-generous, half-hearted, pseudo-compliments'.  Examples of such are the following: "Oh you’re so pretty, but you need to lose weight”, or the innocent but extremely loaded “Oh what a pretty face you have!”.  I always thought to myself, “Sheesh! Couldn’t you just compliment me, the WHOLE me, instead of limiting it to just one body part?”  It was like a one-two punch really, wasn’t it?  Complimenting my face but also almost simultaneously insulting the rest of my body so in the end, it all evens out.  I end up not really feeling any better than before they had opened their mouths and spat out their venom. 

Yes, to a child that is all poison.  Actually, to any person of any age, really, because I continued to hear all those even to my late teens, early twenties and it was still damaging just the same.  I never felt comfortable in my own skin.  I’ve always been jealous of people who did not give a damn about how they looked, how much they weighed and felt so self-assured.  I’ve always felt conscious about my size even though eventually, I realized that my frame is just naturally bigger than the normal Filipino’s frame and that no amount of dieting and exercise will make me shrink to the ‘normal’ size (and what is 'normal' anyway??).  I’ve always carried extra weight, yes, I don’t deny that.  But my point is that even during those years, when, looking back now more objectively, I did not really carry that much excess weight, I still never felt ‘normal’ or pretty enough and comfortable about myself.  I was just never happy with how I looked.  Sadly I still don’t know how to be happy with my own body.  I’m in my late 30’s now and though I’m doing my best to appreciate what I have and what life has blessed me with, I still struggle.  I still hide under clothes that conceal my real shape.  I still think of myself as ‘fat’ even though people tell me I look fine.  I still criticize myself non-stop and can’t seem to give myself genuine compliments.  And when I hear them, I am grateful and feel happy, though I know deep down, my brain rejects it.  How can it not when it’s the only wiring it knows?  How can it not when all its life, what it has heard is that its body is not good enough, not attractive unless it loses weight; that no one can genuinely fall in love with this person unless this body, this person ceases to be its overweight self. 

I still hear those voices now.  It’s sad isn’t it?  That a child, adolescent and adult can be told that she’s not enough just as she is.  Like it never mattered what I accomplish or who I was inside.  Like none of it can be seen because it was all drowned out by my big frame and excess pounds, that I never had the typical 'Asian' look or size.

In a way though, I guess there are still blessings behind all this.  I became more appreciative of sincere compliments.  I also grew up more compassionate and understanding of other people’s shortcomings.  I knew how it felt to be made to feel less so I don’t like making other people feel less than who they truly are.  I’m also grateful that I proved someone wrong when I was told that no one can ever fall in love with a chubby me.  (But I admit I still do wonder sometimes if they fell in love with the whole package or just my 'inner beauty'....hmmmm....See what I mean?)....  

However, honestly I still remember those few who chose to insult me maliciously years ago, those who did it to entertain themselves.  I still remember their faces and though I’ve forgiven them, I still feel sorry that they were ignorant and thought they were being funny and doing something totally acceptable when all they were truly being was hurtful and mean.  Let me just say that Karma took care of things for me.  Let’s just leave it at that. 

35 comments:

  1. "All of us could take a lesson from the weather; it pays no attention to criticism."

    When criticized, I've always wanted to tell someone: don't try to fix me - I'm  not broken. And that's where it begins, believing that you are a person of worth regardless of what others think or where you fall on the normal curve of differences. I have to please no one but myself.

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  2. Whoa, Karma had its hands in this, huh?  You know what, I feel what you feel.  I have never really appreciated my shape, form, and everything I'm bundled in...there's always that doubt of looking too big, too jiggly, too fat...for a "typical Asian" woman.  Yup!  Even now, in company of other Asian women, I DO stick out as being the largest, biggest, and ahem, fattest of them all!  It doesn't help that they do lavish me with comments such as, "Look at Tess, she's guarding the dessert table again!"  or "You're pretty but, maybe you should lay off the carbs and sweets?" or "Looks like you've gained a LOT of weight since I last saw you (which would be a month or so)!"...spoken in our native language of course so, the impact is doubly horrendous and hurtful!  But instead of putting a stop to these snide comments, I just laugh it off as if they didn't hurt.  Like you, though, those nasty thought bubbles stayed in my head due to the politeness instilled in me.
    Still, these comments hurt.  And I heartily agree that comments such as these are more hurtful coming from adults, people who should know better than to hurl subtly veiled insults!  What more, my girls here these comments and they look at me like, "Mom, you're not fat!"...no wonder our eldest is getting so anxious about her bigger frame (although she's totally in the normal range and definitely NOT fat) and our youngest getting more picky with food since she's afraid to put anything on her already tiny frame!  I mean, c'mon!?!?!  It's one thing for these people to throw their ignorant comments on me but, for the same comments to affect my girls...well, WELL, WELLLLLL...that's another story!
    Anyway, I suppose before I could instill a healthy self-esteem on my girls, I should learn to love myself as it is first, huh?  Jiggles and all, more of me to love (as hubby declares...who, I believe thinks I'm actually sexier when I am, uh, plump!).
    Thank you for the post, Joy.  And I've always seen you as beautiful, head to toe and everything in between.  The heck with the naysayers... :D

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  3. The weight criticism.. been there and had my share of trouble with it. I am the youngest among three daughters and somehow I am the tallest and way broader than my sleek built sisters! But then, I had supportive parents, we are beautiful, no matter what they say, words can't bring me down!

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  4. I have never been skinny, and I don't want to be fixed. Most French women diet like there is no tomorrow and frankly, I can't be bothered. I have read somewhere than women with a bit of flesh enjoy life more (especially -ahem- in bed). So that's what I say to anyone who comment on size and weight. I enjoy my life more than my skinnier friends!

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  5. I think everyone, no matter how tall, beautiful, short, skinny, overweight, whatever, will have something about themselves that they focus on that they don't like.  I'm certainly not in love with my body but I do things to make myself feel better about myself.. whether it be clothing choices or hair color choices or whatever.   Sure there are still days when I look in the mirror and want to cry.  But other days I can actually look in the mirror and say... "damn, I look good!"   I hope you have those days too!

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  6. Hi Joy, I empathise completely. I grew up with 5 brothers who teased me endlessly. I had an aunt who told me I looked like the back of a bus. Looking back on old photos, I was not fat and had a nice figure albeit pear shaped. Unfortunately by the time I realised this, I had gained weight and now have to struggle with it. As part of a course I did, we had a workshop on body image. We had to write a poem about our body image. I don't write poetry, even the thought of doing so gave me the shivers. But I was amazed at what I wrote, not good poetry maybe, but my body image was a pear, curvy. warm coloured, juicy, nourishing etc... Funny thing is I hate pears!
    We need to change how we view ourselves, most people want to look different, want to be taller, thinner heavier. If we did we wouldn't be use. The wrapping on a parcel is usually ripped off and discarded as we want to see what lies underneath.

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  7. Aiyah! I'm Chinese - we have PhDs in self-loathing.  Our families are also upfront about weight gain.  A guy friend even once asked if I was pregnant.  (We are no longer friends. :D)  I spent the last 3 years of my 20's plumper than usual dancer-body self and every single hour of every single day of those 3 years I would say to myself, "You're fat."  I HATED myself.  Like really, deeply hated.

    I wish I could tell you I learned to accept myself, but actually the voices didn't stop until I lost that weight (which was healthier for me anyway) when I turned 30.  But I think it has more to do with just being healthy and at a weight that's right for you.

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  8. Do I know one or two of these adults?? hmm?? HAHA!! just kidding! :) Just be confident and show them the REAL you. Those who will come to accept you for who you are, will definitely be the ones who are worth to keep. :D

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  9. Lol, a PhD in self-loathing huh?!  You and me both!  Great term!  I can totally understand why you're no longer friends with 'are you pregnant' person  ;-)

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  10. Thank you for sharing that, Mary.  A yummy pear indeed!

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  11. I will remember that, Muriel---- women with flesh enjoy life more.  Amen to that!

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  12. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Tess!  I can't believe anybody would criticize your wgt/size.  That's just pure insane!!

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  13. Another new mantra for me....Don't try to fix me, I'm not broken.  Yep yep!  Thanks Thom!

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  14. Why is it just so hard to be content with what we have?  But thanks Lalia and yes, sometimes I have my 'sane' days too :-)

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  15. Dammit!  I hate when I comment under the wrong username.  Anyway, Joy, I'm trying to delete that one so I can comment under my proper name.  Stupid Disqus.

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  16. Joy it always amazes me how cruel many adults can be without even being aware they are, somehow because they are adults its justified and they blurt it out.
    I think we all have stories similar to yours where people have judged us and made us feel we are not good enough, not worthy enough. I recently attended a course and that was the number one issue for most of the attendees when you peeled back the surface - the thin, fat, square, perfect, round etc et. Ultimately to get past it, its all about self esteem and instilling the seeds of it into our conscious and subsconscious to reprogramme the damaged tape.

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  17. I've always been overweight and have heard it all from children and adults. But the self=loathing is the worst.  I'm no stranger to it. Though society foists their "Ideal" body images on us, the challenge is to make peace with who we are and take what others think with a grain of salt. Easier said than done, I know, but that is the goal.

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  18. Isn't it horrible how insensitive Filipinos can be. But I guess I've grown accustomed to it, thick skin if you will. When I was pregnant with my second baby, my uncle was like "you must be having a boy, since your really big." I just smile while nodding robotically. Well unlike what he said, I had a girl. Like you, I also have a big frame, to be more specific big hips, butt and thighs. And ever since we moved to the Philippines I can't help but to every now and then wonder if I could ever be as STICK thin as a lot of the girls here. But really...who wants to be a stick? That's probably while there's a lot of "baklas" here coz' they can easily imitate the body type of a shapeless, fragile girl, but they don't have anything on us REAL women!

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  19. That's it Maureen!  The reprogramming is what is truly needed!

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  20. Let's just hope we reach that goal sooner than later....*sigh*  :-)

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  21. Hahaha, funny bit on the 'baklas'...You made me laugh!  Thanks!

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  22. I am so sorry you had to go through this, quite terrible truthfully.  but reading your story instantly brought to mind the book "The Four Agreements".  I think you would really get a lot out of it. 

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  23. Wow! No wonder you still hear them now. Couldn't you reply and say, "And you're rude and ugly but I can at least lose weight?" OK,not very mature but I bet you wanted too although your approach was probably much better than my answer. Glad karma sorted things out and good for you for learning something from this experience! Josie x

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  24. Your profile pic must be horribly misleading. "Fat" or even "chubby" are the last adjectives that come to mind. 

    Once upon a time, being "well fed" was a sign of prosperity and well-being, and was a look to be aspired to. It was probably envied, even ridiculed, by those who didn't have enough. Somehow, the tide has turned - probably because cheap food, though plentiful in many areas of the world, is high in fat and flavor and low in real nutrients, so it's easy to overindulge and only those with a bit of leisure time to "work out," and who can afford better food choices, gyms, pool memberships, and so on can easily achieve the sort of thinness we see in supermodels. Then there's the issue of what adults think is okay to say to kids - things they'd rarely ever say to someone they thought of as a peer or a superior. They don't consciously mean to be hurtful, and are often indignant if confronted about it, but I wonder if the thoughtless words that trip so easily off people's tongues aren't more about making themselves feel better than they are about complimenting or putting anyone else down. You're smart to let Karma take care of it. Funny how that tends to work, especially as we get on in years. :)

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  25. Ah yes, being told you need to shed some lbs when your young....Those conversations still sting with me too.  Good for you for realizing how crazy it was but it's so hard to get over.  My most painful 'weight' story was for my 16th b-day party someone close to me gave me a weight loss book.  I'm pretty sure I threw that book across the hall then threw it away, but I carry that token in my head all the time.  I've learned that if I want to have a body like XYZ then I have to work for it.  If I don't want it bad enough I won't have it. 

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  26. What a gift....I would've burnt it, lol!

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  27. Great insights Holly....and yes, Karma's a bitch!  

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  28. Ah yes Josie....I can't tell you how many times I've felt so tempted to say that....."At least weight can be changed...You're stuck with your face!"  LOL!  Seems immature but feels good to be able to say it, eh?  ;-))

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  29. Hi Joy -

    It sounds to me that you're tougher on your self than any of those comments you mentioned above. It also sounds like you've been carrying around some type of resentment inside of you since childhood that comes back to haunt you from time to time. Only you can answer this best. I think you're just fine the way you are....just saying. :)

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  30. Insensitivity is not just reserved for "heavier" people.  Throughout my life people have teased (insulted?) me about my weight (too thin or too heavy), my shape (legs too skinny, stomach too paunchy, waist too high, legs too long), my color (too dark), my face (eyes too close together, thick eyebrows, thin eyebrows, nose not high enough nor thin enough, buck teeth, teeth not white enough, lips too thick, round face, mickey mouse ears) and so on.  Even my fingers and toes have been subject to criticism.  Filipinos are the worst. My friend calls it "cariño brutal" but I just think it's brutal. Not to mention cruel, disrespectful and belittling. It's as if people cannot see past the physical.  No wonder so many women are screwed up!  We spend so much energy trying to look "acceptable".  I struggled about these feelings for a long time and I can't say that I've truly let go. I still worry about how i look and secretly wonder if I'll ever measure up to whatever norm society currently dictates. Part of the blessing of not having girls is I won't pass down my insecurities to a daughter. Boys are easier. With them it's more about being aware of grooming and hygiene and healthy habits, less about fashion and big arms and "fat clothes". Surely they have their own body issues but at least I won't be the gauge they will measure themselves against. Sigh. Living is hard! Let's not make it easier and more pleasant by having daily servings of chocolate and double helpings of dessert!

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  31. Amen to the chocolate and dessert bit!  LOL!  Like you Kat, I think I'm also 'lucky' for not having a girl.  Sometimes I wonder about Emily, my lost girl.  But oh well.....at least she won't have my issues, that's for sure!

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  32. Thanks for saying I'm fine the way I am. And yes, deep-seated issues linger indeed.  As I've said, I've mellowed a bit but sometimes 'the voices' still come back (and they're not mine or imagined).  Believe me, it's not just about me being hard on myself.  

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  33. 'Let me just say that Karma took care of things for me.  Let’s just leave it at that'. I so hear you. I struggled with my weight and self-loathing for years due to teasing over the years that cut to the core and ended up with me starving, binge eating and over-exercising for years. I am now the heaviest I have ever been, I'm not fat, I look and finally feel like a woman, and I concur that karma has caught up with those who caused the problem.

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  34. It is amazing how long the hurt can last from comments like that.  I guess the only thing we can learn is not to do the same to others.

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  35. What a great post Joy!!! I have felt a lot of these same feelings. It does amaze me how cruel adults can be, and then we wonder how children can be cruel.  I don't know how I lost you on my reader, but I re-signed up with GFC. I always love to read you!!!

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