My mom’s side of the family has been discontent with my weight ever since I hit puberty. I currently am 5 feet 8 inches and 120 pounds, which equates to a BMI of 18.2 — below the normal BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 — and have only been skinnier before now. Despite these facts, my family, without fail, comments on how fat I look throughout every conversation I have with them.
Before coming to the United States, I used to model. My old house in Taiwan has a library that shamelessly catalogs all the print issues I’ve been in since my racially ambiguous physiques began to present themselves. Though I later gave up modeling for academia, my family still expects that I’ll continue to model later on in life.
As a consequence, my family constantly puts me down for not being as skinny as anorexic models, even though I have no intentions of pursuing a modeling career. And with that, my weight has become a regular subject of critique among family members over the evening news and some fried rice.
When I went shopping with my mom, she would ask me to abstain from striped tops. Horizontal stripes have a widening effect, even if the top was in a size small. My uncle would take it a step further and, without an ounce of sarcasm, dish out comments such as, “You’ve only achieved the ideal weight if you look like a unfed, third-world child.”
My uncle’s belief that I needed to be malnourished to be attractive implied that it was more important for me to meet a certain expectation of weight than for me to be happy and healthy. I was made to feel bad about my weight on every occasion when I lived with my family, and even more so when I was out of their sight.
This summer, my friend Isabella, who is an amazing photographer, took pictures of several of us over the course of a study abroad program. I, being an avid social media user, of course excitedly updated my profile picture to the best-quality, best-edited picture of me that had yet existed on Facebook. I was sure that the profile revamp was only going to receive a few positive “reactions.”
Three hours upon updating my profile picture, however, I got a text from my mom. Apparently, my picture was pulled up for the entire family to criticize at the dinner table, and they took it upon themselves to download my picture and Photoshop my face to look thinner.
My family is hardly cooperative, but when it came to criticizing me and “fixing my wrongs,” all of them worked together without a glitch.
They said that I needed to be 110 pounds to be considered attractive, when for my height, it would give me a BMI that qualified as anorexic. What’s worse was that I returned to Berkeley from summer abroad to find a package from Taiwan filled with six packs of Japanese weight-loss pills.
Luckily, I love my body too much and am too stubborn to take those pills or develop a diet similar to a rabbit’s. But with a family that enforces values that perpetuate anorexia, more than once I’ve looked at my food baby in a pair of Calvin Klein underwear and its unforgiving elastic waistband, questioning for a split second whether I should lose a few pounds.
I could not help but develop weight insecurities, even with a figure that is considered underweight.
These unachievable body expectations constantly surround us and are enforced on screen and in magazines. We ourselves realize that striving for unrealistic body standards, such as those of women on “Friends,” is ridiculous. But constantly being compared to these representations takes a toll on our emotions regardless.
When sizes 0 to 2 are considered the ideal female body type by media, everyday women, consciously or not, embed these notions in their heads and criticize their bodies regularly. Though body standards can apply to both genders, it is primarily women’s bodies that are criticized and women who are more conscious of what they eat.
And especially during a time like Thanksgiving, when the festivities center on pigging out, people are made especially cognizant of what’s on their plate.
But the ideal weight and body image is a construct, and health is much more important than achieving an enviably skinny body. Society assumes that skinny bodies are healthier, when it is not the case.
People should not have to cut down on the number of servings of turkey and green beans this holiday because they want to lose weight. One’s health and well-being should be prioritized, and no one should determine their own worth and attractiveness, or let anyone else determine them, based on their scale number.
All I’m saying is, my healthy, 120-pound self would have a much better chance at a good grad school than the drowsy, malnourished, 110-pound version of me. And for me, that’s more important than the modeling gigs waiting for me in Taiwan.
So I’ll gladly go for another turkey leg.