Going through puberty in my household meant that every change in my body was heavily scrutinized under my family’s watchful gaze before it was inevitably brought up at the dinner table.
New pimples on my face? My stepdad would make it a point to announce his concern to everyone in the room. Gained two pounds? I’d be nagged at lack of exercise each time I left the room. And in true Asian-mom fashion, she’d stuff my mouth with food even though she called me out for getting fat, like, a minute ago.
You see, the term “body-shaming” doesn’t exist in my family’s dictionary. As wrong as it sounds, it’s simply their way to express concern and love for their children (their words, not mine). And yes, their children gaining weight is one of their biggest nightmares (right up there with not wanting to become a doctor). I’ve only ever tried to confront my mom about body-shaming once, and she looked at me as if I had just taken a sledgehammer to her heart. Needless to say, I never confronted her about it again.
From taking weight loss drinks to getting “educated” on Twitter
Being surrounded by hypercritical family members and their hurtful remarks made my self-confidence take a dip.
I began drinking weight loss beverages that I secretly bought with my saved-up allowance, only ate 1,000 calories per day with the help of my calorie counting app on my phone, and would step on the scale first thing every morning.
I knew clearly which goals I wanted to attain: I wanted to sit through a family reunion without anybody making remarks about my weight. I wanted to be able to go shopping for clothes without my mom throwing me a glance for getting jeans a size bigger than usual. I wanted to stop getting body-shamed, period.
Stepping out of that unhealthy routine didn’t happen overnight. What helped me tremendously was discovering fervid advocates of the body positivity movement on Twitter. I’d be scrolling through my timeline before stumbling upon a selfie of a beautiful girl showing off her #OOTD without hiding her tummy and thick thighs. But what really got to me the most were the frank, unfiltered, and unapologetic captions that followed these photos.
These women (and men) didn’t paint body positivity as something that was all rainbows and glitter. Reading their struggles on the path to embracing their body made me realize that it’s all part of the process. It’s normal to have some days when you don’t particularly like how you look, and it’s also not a sign of weakness if you’re hurt by other people’s comments.
I was just glad that for once, I wasn’t made to feel bad about how I looked. I wasn’t urged to be as skinny as possible just to conform to some warped ideals. While it certainly took some time for me to kick my old habits, and I still struggle to quiet that voice at the back of my head that warns me each time I indulge, I’m no longer letting my body image issues control my life. By the time I started university at 18, I officially retired the calorie counting app on my phone and swore off anything that promised quick weight loss results.
Finding ways to stand my ground
I didn’t want to continue taking my family’s hurtful remarks lying down. So, each time an insulting remark about my appearance was hurled my way, I’d stand my ground and respond in a way that they weren’t expecting. To every negative comment about my weight, I’d respond with a positive comment. I’d cheerfully say something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s been a good month for me — I got to eat tons of good food,” or “I’ve been going out with friends more, so I’m visiting new restaurants each week.”
They ultimately gave up, as they couldn’t get the reaction they wanted from me. I refuse to be shamed for the changes in my body because I know that I have a healthy BMI, and most importantly, I feel pretty dang good when I look at myself in the mirror. If I’m okay with my body, then nobody else should make me feel otherwise (unless it’s the doctor citing legitimate health reasons).
Aside from my slick self-empowering moves, I also wanted to spare others from my family’s harsh gaze and judgments. Whenever my mom pulled me aside to gossip about my godbrother’s slightly “bigger” girlfriend Jasmine, I’d give her a disapproving look and remind my mom of Jasmine’s active lifestyle. Whenever my young nieces were called out for eating too much during meals, I’d interrupt and give my nieces a free pass to eat whatever and however much they wanted.
After so many years of getting body-shamed in my own household, I like to think that my experiences made me into the passionate advocate for body positivity that I am today. I may not be posting daily motivation talks on social media, but I do try to be the person my friends can come to for support whenever they’re struggling with body image issues.
I’ll always feel sorry for my younger self for what I had to go through when I didn’t know any better, but this fuels my motivation to make sure that nobody around me is made to feel bad about their appearance.
Originally published on November 19, 2020.