A Reflection on Body and Body Image- Take 1

I remember being thirteen, looking at myself in the mirror, examining every corner of my face, my cheekbones, my eyes, my nose bridge.

I pinch my nose hoping that that small outside force can shape my cartilage to be a bit taller, a bit stronger. Every pair of sunglasses still seems to slide down my nose. I learn to contour, so that my cheekbones can seem more defined and thus my face more thin. I wish I had a heart shaped face with pointy chins like the rest of my friends. Or maybe give me their blue eyes, light brown chestnut eyes, blonde hair, anything so that I can be beautiful and desirable too.

I remember the first time I realized I didn’t like my body. I was in eighth grade and in ballet class. I noticed my legs were not as long as the girls around me, and my body was not fit for me to be a dancer. And so every night I would ask my mother to help me stretch my legs out, hoping that at age 13, I still had potential to grow a little taller, legs a little longer. It was around that time that my body started to change. I was no longer paper thin like I used to be. People around me reminded me of that as well.

“You look… healthy.”

“You look… strong.”

“What has your mom been feeding you?”

“I knew your baby weight would catch up to you.”

With those comments, my body entered a into a new era, where it would become the object of everyone’s gaze, judgement, and opinion. That was my welcome into womanhood. My mom, with her good intentions and blessed heart, saw that I was unhappy and wanted to help me. She offered to increase my allowance if I lost 3 pounds by my birthday. I took that as encouragement. I would spend hours watching videos on how to lose weight at home. I would eat half of my school lunch and toss the rest in the trash. My aunties introduced me to whitening products. They said to me, “white people might look nice tanned, we cannot tan. Because when we tan, we don’t look bronzed or golden, we look like dirt. You play too many sports outside in the sun, these products will help.”

My best friend at the time was the talk of the school- she was, as they call it, a “natural beauty.” She’s half white and half filipina, and all the boys seemed to have a crush on her. She didn’t need makeup, or to do her hair- she naturally was more beautiful than everyone else, is what they said. I loved her of course, because she was indeed my best friend, but I couldn’t help but feel like her plain asian sidekick- not beautiful, not desired, not to be seen or noticed. I was the nerdy one, bossy, loudmouthed, arrogant (as some would say). I was angry, I wasn’t easy going, I knew I was smarter than all the boys so I never laughed at any of their jokes. That, combined with my flat asian face, boring black hair, flat chest, made me see myself as a secondary character in my own life story. Of course now I realize how problematic this entire rhetoric is, she was being fetishized and objectified in different ways, but at the time, I thought if I looked like her, at least a little, I could be beautiful, feminine, wanted, too.

A lot of my past struggles with my body has to do with my Asian upbringing and my instinct to survive and assimilate into whiteness. This isn’t to say that asian culture is “backwards” or “traditional.” There is a lot of anti-blackness within Asian culture that has to do with class structures in Asia, and the worshiping of whiteness leftover from the colonialism era perpetuates that sentiment. But I think about how much time I spend everyday pondering over my body insecurities, my not-so-defined features, and how much I could accomplish if I never have been taught to think about those things in the first place. How many times have I forced my body into clothes that restrict me. How many times have I yelled at my body for not looking and functioning the way I wanted it to. What if I was taught that my body is beautiful because it is a vessel for my soul? What if I had been taught to thank my body, for functioning, for protecting me, for working for me?

My relationship with my body has changed a lot in the past three years. Though I still harbor some of the insecurities from my childhood within me (how could you not when the media and well-intentioned family members are constantly reminding you of them), I’ve managed to begin to unlearn my toxic habits of hating my body and the way I look. The most important lesson I’ve taught myself is that my body is my home. No matter where I am in the world, who I am surrounded by, I have my body, my vessel of rest, carrying my soul and mind, and that is a lot to be grateful for.

Reflections on Love & 2018

I stopped writing this past year because I was in a place where I couldn’t be honest and reflective in writing without infringing on the privacy of those around me. I started writing on Medium in 2017 with a post on my new year’s resolution — to choose myself — which I had succeeded in doing while traveling alone in Europe and studying abroad. But my life, in a sense, was not my own in 2018. My life was shared with 68 (give or take a few) brilliant, bright-eyed, and vulnerable individuals as I took on a new role. I stepped back onto the UCI campus after spending 9 months learning how to be alone, how to love myself, and how to live without labels — and chose my new label and all the wonderful responsibilities that came with it.

Being a resident advisor.

That was the first big change during the months approaching 2018. I had to relearn how to be an extrovert again, how to love others without expecting love in return, and how to live with labels and wear them proudly.

I was also in a committed relationship after 20 years of “what are men and why do I need those?”

That was the second big change. Learning to love someone and letting them into my life without losing my sense of self and my natural independence. Learning to grow with someone instead of growing alone.

I left college, joined the frictional unemployment group of newly-grads, and eventually moved myself to DC to start my career.

That was probably the biggest change. After finally learning to love others and put them first, learning to love being around people and to depend on them, I now had to do another 180 — learn to let go and be alone again.

I said that this post was supposed to be a reflection on love, but let me backtrack and start from my 2018 new year’s resolution. To be honest, I don’t remember what it was — I think it was something shiny and pretentious that I immediately forgot about once winter break was over. But if I had to choose the biggest lesson — what my resolution should have been — it’s to understand love. In all its forms.

I spent most of 2018 feeling very unloved and alone (ironic). I was so exhausted from constantly being an emotional crutch for others, that when they reciprocated love back to me, I couldn’t decipher and understand it. Being an RA made me feel extremely distant to my friends. I couldn’t do the irresponsible senior year stuff that they were doing because I felt an obligation to always be in my hall. I felt a deep guilt anytime I wasn’t available to my residents. This job was just that important to me. Despite everyone constantly trying to convince me otherwise, even up until the last moment of spring quarter, I was still unsure if I really did a good job, if this experience really had made an impact on my hall.

Most friends also stopped reaching out. After you cancel plans 30 times, people naturally just assume that you’re busy and stop asking you. I was busy, extremely busy, but in my 3 minutes a day of time to myself, I felt a deep sense of loneliness. Of course, my friends were also busy with their lives: work, internships, boyfriends, girlfriends, midterms, finals. And so our time together became short and scattered.

But I was loved all along— and it took all of 2018 for me to figure that out. People love in different ways, in different languages. It takes time and effort to process and understand love. It can be a bowl of fruit my grandmother places in front of me at the end of a long day. It can be a short message that says “hey, I miss you.” It can be an article sent to me from a friend who thought I’d enjoy it. It’s the trust that is placed onto me when people show me their vulnerable side. It can be in the form of harsh honesty or endless validation. It can be a hug. A smile. Anything can be love.

Here I am, entering 2019 with my heart full and head clear as I had my final realization: It’s time to learn to love myself too, because if I had loved myself before, I wouldn’t have questioned if I was important to those around me. That means believing in my abilities and experiences and battling my imposter syndrome. That means leaving behind phrases and jokes like “I’m trash” and “I hate myself” in 2018. That means spending time to cultivate myself this year — my talents, my mind, my heart, and my spirit.

Cultivate you.

That is my new year’s resolution for 2019. And that’s why I am back on medium. I’m excited to write again. I’m excited to learn more about myself this year and to continue being a student in life despite the end of my formal education. I’ll keep you posted on how these grand plans go. Thanks for reading and I hope you’re feeling loved and doing well, too.

Happy new year and cheers to us.

Dear Girls.

This is for all who identify as women and have been hurt by others who identify as women.

I may not know you and you may not know me but there is something that makes us the same despite our different narratives.

We need to remember to be kind to each other

because the world is not kind to us.

We are all women and we have all struggled.

We have all been cat-called,

Slut-shamed,

Fat-shamed,

Told that we are not (insert adjective here) enough.

We are condemned as dramatic when we show emotion

But labeled as heartless when we don’t.

Girls are catty, they say.

Girls are drama, they say.

And the worst is that sometimes they is we.

We’ve all disliked other women,

Almost as often as we’ve disliked ourselves.

We have all been called a bitch behind our backs,

We have all called some one else a bitch behind theirs.

If you’re like me and come from a conservative family

then you’ve also been told your place in society —

“Women need to be smart but not too smart.”

“Women need to be pretty but not too pretty.”

“Women should be feminine but not too girly.”

If you’re a woman of color,

You’ve been objectified, fetishized,

Told that you’re ethnic — or worse — exotic.

When we go out for drinks,

dress too little and you’re a slut.

Too covered up? Prude.

And when we get hurt,

when we are attacked,

when we are violated,

It’s our fault — we shouldn’t have dressed this way,

smiled this way,

moved this way.

The right to our bodies,

The right to reproductive care,

The right to decide for ourselves

— when will that come?

It’s hard enough to be a woman in society as it is,

I’m sorry for making it worse for you.

You’ve hurt me and I’ve hurt you.

I forgive you. Will you forgive me?

Because we need to stop this nonsense. We are not each other’s competition. We are not threats. Bringing one woman down will not bring you up and of course we know that already. So then why do we do it?

The way we act or are perceived to act is not predetermined by our gender because we identify and define our own genders. We have been socialized to think a certain way. We have been told that the world is comprised of binaries so you should stick to one side and conform to all its labels. And once you decide to identify as a woman, if society even gives you the decision, these labels are then dumped onto you as you struggle to catch them. But then we grow up and realize that we didn’t need to fit these labels in the first place. And then we just feel silly.

We have been taught to be afraid of other women but that is wrong.

We are each other’s best allies,

So let’s treat each other with kindness.

Please.