July 20, 2014

Do You Think This Girl Is Fat?

jamie khoo gym selfie

I never expected the responses I got for this article I wrote about half a year back, about my 20-pound weight gain.

Mostly, it was comments like these that surprised me the most:

“she’s not even fat.”
“a very small-framed, very thin person”
“you look the same in both pictures”
“she’s too thin to be able to talk about being fat”

This surprises me because where I live, in Southeast Asia, I am constantly heckled about being overweight. People here tell it to my face: “Wah, you really put on weight, huh?” or “Wow, why are you so fat now?” (Yes, they’re not always known for tact or subtlety here!)

Store assistants look me up and down to size me up the moment I walk through the doors and often don’t bother attending to me because they know they won’t have anything to fit me. If I do ask for something in my size, they reluctantly pull out a Large, an Extra-Large, or sometimes even, an XXXL size (yes, that’s three X’s). And even then, I can’t get the zipper up.

I took the photo above just yesterday, after an hour of weight training and just before heading into an aerobic dance class. It is the fittest and best I’ve felt in a long while, but I was still the largest person in the class—larger even, than all the men there.

By Asian standards, I am the very definition of what it means to be fat. Two dress sizes ago, when I was at my slimmest (American) size 6, I was still the largest girl on both sides of my family. It was always thought that I could have done with losing at least another 10 pounds.

In Asia, I am not thin enough.

Then, I wrote that article, feeling at the time glad for who I was and the body I was in. It had taken me a long time to get to that place and it was a big step for me to write the piece. While many of the comments were extremely supportive and cheerful (with many sharing that they were also finding comfort and joy in their bodies), there were a few that talked about me “not being fat” and therefore, suggested that I perhaps wasn’t quite “qualified” enough to talk about body image in this light.

It seems that in the West, I am not fat enough.

I’ll admit that despite being all upbeat and confident in many of the pieces I write here and on my own blog, there are days where I still feel a little down about my body; where I feel perhaps I could be a little trimmer here, or a little firmer there; where I think, even for a moment, about how nice it would be to look like Jen Selter, or Sofia Vergara, or whoever it is that I’m reading about in a horribly manipulated, airbrushed celeb story that day.

Then there are days when I’m jamming a mean dance class at the gym, when I’ve swum a full sunny afternoon or when I’m about to eat delicious, juicy meal I made myself—those are the days I feel that I am exactly where I should be.

I feel good, I feel strong, I feel enough.

Those are the days I value my body for its health and its strength and all that it allows me to do, over what what it merely looks like.

I remember watching this interview some months ago on The Huffington Post, where blogger Liz Casey speaks frankly about how much she “adores her body.” She says,

“I’m much bigger than the norm and I absolutely adore my body, I love it, I love every single bit of it, I love it when it’s out of shape, I love it when it’s in shape. And I’m really healthy. I think what we wanna start doing is: Let’s talk about health. Let’s not talk about size. Let’s talk about ‘How are you healthy? Are you healthy when you rant and rave and go to your therapist? Are you healthy when you play with your kids? Are you healthy?’

My blood pressure is 110 over 60, I’m probably not the norm for my size but I work really hard to stay fit and if I have to be big—which evidently my body wants to be—I wanna be fit and I wanna be healthy.”

I thought that was a wonderful way to relate to our bodies: that if the body “wants to be big” (or thin, or fit, or in or out of shape, or whatever!), to give it the respect and space that it needs to be the best and most healthy that it can be for us, not what we want to force it into being.

So perhaps my weight and fat percentage readings will never show that I’m “thin enough” for Asia. And perhaps my photos will never show that I’m “fat enough” to merit talking about body image to a Western audience.

But that’s okay. I’m fat enough and thin enough and healthy enough for me. And as far as comparisons go, isn’t that all that really matters?


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       Editor: Catherine Monkman

       Photo: Author’s own

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