By Kaleen Luu
“I haven’t seen you in so long, you’re looking so much fatter to me.”
It’s the opening line for so many family gatherings, but I force a smile and bow to my elders. They point out my weight out to everyone and a roar of laughter breaks out. I feel my face get hot.
“Stop teasing her, she’s just been eating good cooking! Come eat.”
I cringe inwardly, I feel tears burning in my eyes but I don’t let my smile falter.
They mean well. It’s a cultural difference. Don’t take it so personally. These are all things I keep chanting in my head as I swallow the tears back. If I cry, I lose.
I know my relatives are only making good natured jokes and there is a cultural difference, but I hate it. The expectations of respecting your elders and never speaking back has kindled a resentful fire in my soul and the embers are burning down my self respect.
I hate that this kind of dialogue has been prevalent in my life since childhood. The offhand remarks are crushing to my self esteem and I can never speak up for myself in any capabilities because that would be considered rude. I have to go along with it or be labeled a spoil sport.
The line between respecting my elders and respecting myself and this body of mine is something that I’ve struggled with, and still struggle with, drawing. I can’t firmly stand my ground and must teeter carefully not to offend my relatives while still somehow maintaining dignity with my body since that is who I am.
I don’t fault my family for their remarks. The dialogue is natural and meant to be lighthearted, but I wish I could speak my mind without needing to break expectations. To smile and be obedient. Though, I wish I could shout and cry and beg and plead for them to just stop! They don’t know the constant battle I have with myself, the calculator in my head that never stops. I don’t want to cross a line but it’s difficult when my own boundaries are crossed every time.
Where can I draw the line between having respect for myself and respect for my family while still maintaining some kind of dignity?
I’ve never admitted to it because I know it sounds ridiculous, but I don’t chew gum because I don’t want to waste the five calories. I fork dip my salad dressing instead of drizzling some on so I don’t consume too much accidentally and I struggle with calculating every meal automatically.
All that frustration and internal struggles with myself comes to a breaking point at these family gatherings. Of course I know what words are coming. They’re the same as it’s always been, but even if I spend days and weeks preparing myself with words of affirmation, that I am good enough and I like myself as I am, it feels like all my work is broken down in a matter of seconds. As soon as a relative makes a passing comment on my weight I can feel my self doubt and insecurity creeping back in like an uninvited visitor come to crash the party.
I don’t want to be a drag on the festivities so I don’t cut in and tell them to stop, but this isn’t good for my mental health. I hate that I have to put up with it. I wish I could say I grew up and had an epiphany— I woke up and loved myself and suddenly I can eat without punishing myself for it later… but it’s an ongoing battle.
I don’t know where this began but the first time I noticed I obsessively counted calories was when I was 12 and my friend told me to stop freaking out.
“Just eat the cookie, who cares how many calories it has?”
I hate that it’s like this.
The toxic dialogue has permeated my childhood and poisoned my mind. Now that I’m older, I find it more difficult to bite my tongue. I want to stand up for myself. I want to be able to laugh it off. I want to beat them to the game and make the joke about my body first. I wish I had some wise words of advice about how I stopped beating myself up but I’m a long way from there.
Though, I have to say. I look in the mirror and I really believe my reflection is someone I’m proud of.