Niggling Thoughts. Body Image. Embracing Self.

I’m impressed and awed at how Europe and the West have started embracing body positivity, especially on social media. Just today, I was browsing through the bikini section of hoping to find something for our December holiday to Krabi and while I found some cute pieces, I also noticed that they hadn’t airbrushed away stretch marks on one of their models – perhaps even all of them but I happened to just notice this one. The simple act of typing this gives me the goosebumps, in a good way.

Now, I know that eating disorders are often thought to be led by the desire to be thin and therefore, beautiful. The truth is, eating disorders are in fact a mental illness. Still, I will admit that a small part of EDs are linked to the physical. For me at least. I used to, and sometimes still have the desire to be small because I felt too small on the inside to fit my body, kind of like being the only person living in a huge mansion that’s far too big to make me feel at home. So I tried to make the outside me fit the inside me. Now, as recovery takes over, I’m learning to be stronger mentally, learning to grow internally, in order to accept myself physically.

All this being said, it’s definitely no easy feat to hear diet talks going on between women who look perfectly slim enough, or to open up social media and see ‘influencers’ you respect talking about ‘Calorie Cut‘ and ‘Fat Burner‘ supplements that they’re consuming in a bid to lose weight.

I just mentioned that EDs are usually more than just a diet gone awry, but especially for anorexics in recovery, to feed yourself when so many women are trying to starve themselves does have a mental implication. It’s like being forced to build a bigger ‘home’ for yourself when you already feel like you don’t deserve to take up that much space at all, if any. And while so many people around you are allowed to downsize, and applauded for doing so, you’re being made to upsize despite the discomfort and foreignness of the change because you need to be ‘healthy’. It’s as though you’ve been caught out but everyone else has got away scot-free.

I find that here in Asia, in Singapore particularly, the idea of needing to be thin to be ‘worthy’ or ‘beautiful’ is even more heavily rooted in society. Shoppings malls have at least two to three salons focussed on weight loss, or butt-shaping, thigh-shaping, hip-shaping, even bust-shaping. You won’t go a day without seeing at least one skin clinic impressing on their ability to remove pigmentation and whiten skin.

Every year over Chinese New Year when the majority of us Chinese are subject to visiting the homes of our older relatives, we are kept in check by nosy aunties and uncles who feel the need to make judgement on how our weight has fared in the last year. “Aiyoh! So fat now! What happened?” and “Wah! You lost weight. So pretty now” are the two phrases you’re likely to hear repeatedly over the visiting days. These are usually saved for females. Of course, regardless of whether you’ve put on or lost, the next line proceeding the first will be “Come! My pineapple tarts are from the best lady in town. She stops accepting orders 6 months BEFORE Chinese New Year. My love letters also very good – homemade. Eat eat!“.

I used to read Shape SG magazine regularly after ditching all the gossip mags with their naming and shaming of celebrities who’ve ‘let go of themselves’, stress on how to lose weight overnight, and other nonsensical quarter-truths. I figured that Shape, with their focus being on health, would be a better magazine to read. Only, after a while, I began to notice advertisements for slimming centres and ‘fat blasters’ appearing between their pages. A health magazine that is supposed to inspire a healthier way of life through a balance of exercise and eating was inadvertently promoting supposed ‘quick-fixes’! I stopped reading magazines altogether.

Oh. I lie. I read Food&Travel as well as Appetite from time to time but prefer to flick through them when free copies are available at clinics or restaurants/cafes because they increased their prices a couple years back. Haha.

More recently, I’ve been seeing influencers, ones I follow for their down-to-earthness and natural beauty shamelessly endorsing these supplements that help cut calories and burn fat. It upsets me more than angers me because they seem so blasé about using them when the fact of the matter is, these are not sustainable ways to maintain good health. Sure, I have the option to turn off and tune out; to ‘unfollow’ them or stop reading their blogs, but I’m torn.

I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve come out of it knowing much, MUCH better how self-acceptance and self-love is so important. I know now how exercising compassion towards yourself is just as, perhaps even more, important that having compassion for others. But what about all their younger, naïve followers who are still struggling to decipher fact from fiction?!

There are no ‘quick-fixes’ in life; no magic pills to pop. We can cat-claw our way to what we think of as beauty through plastic surgery, cosmetic surgery and pills but nothing on the outside will fix what’s broken on the inside. Confidence doesn’t grow out of a new nose or an inch off the waist. They might help, but more often than not, they lead to more dissatisfaction especially if the problem isn’t an external one.

I’ve had this friend who told me that her mother plans to visit Korean next year to get her face done. She then went on to tell me that her mother told her to go with her and get her nose fixed because apparently, her nostrils are too big. What kind of mother says that?! To want surgery for yourself is one thing, but to then rope in your daughter and create an insecurity within her is just.. no!

Another friend share of how her mother would constantly tell her that she’s fat and needs to lose weight, comparing my friend to herself and saying “Look at me, I’m so slim. Why aren’t you like me? You should eat less.” And let me tell you, this friend of mine is in no way close to being overweight. She’s gorgeous! But as a result of growing up with her mother, she is weighed down by insecurities and has so many issues that she’s trying to work through.

This emphasis on looks, physical attractiveness and having the ‘ideal’ body is in almost every facet of a Singaporean girl’s life. It isn’t just the billboard posters of Western, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, long-legged models that are parading before them, it’s within families, on local social media, in shopping malls and magazines. Even schools, primary schools (!!), have calories counts of food painted over their canteen walls!! Should that even be allowed?

Companies and businesses are making crazy loads of money playing off the insecurities of women, and some men as well. And sure, business is business so it’s all the more saddening that we are allowing for all this to happen.

Life is more than that. We are more than that. 

After all that I’ve said, I’ll be the first to say that I still care about how I look, but what’s more important is that I’m healthy in body, in mind and in heart. I’m learning to be happier with myself, to accept my bodily imperfections, and to be aware that our bodies are temporary but if we look after them well, they will look after us right back well into the end of our days. Some might say that if it’s temporary, all the more we can do with our bodies what we will. I won’t disagree. I just hope that within those superficial skin-deep ideals, that there is a person in there who is truly happy with their life as it is.

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