This is not the first time I try to write about this matter. Every time body-shaming happens to me (mostly by my family), my blood gets boiling and I would try to write something down because I have nobody else to talk to.
I would sit down and write aggressively, sometimes simultaneously crying , but then suddenly I would understand why my family is so ignorant and how impossible it is to make them understand. Then I’d stop because I doubt what is the point of all this. If you are reading this, it means I finally overcame my self-doubt and made it.
My Kind of Reverse Culture Shock
You know from my other blogs, I did mention how studying abroad can give you reverse culture shock. And this is my reverse culture shock.
When I’m abroad, I feel normal, sometimes happy and comfortable in my own skin if I try hard enough. At least, I feel free and in control of my own body and mind. Regardless of my weight, I feel worthy and competent.
The moment I come back to my beloved home country, Vietnam, I feel ugly and fat. Sometimes, people do really say it on my face like how my family greet me with “Omg long time no see, you got so fat I could barely recognise you” or “What the hell did you eat in Japan and how did you get so fat?” or “You know if you want to have a boyfriend, you really do need to lose weight”.
But oftentime, I get reminded of how ugly and fat I am when I look at other same age people around me. Vietnamese girls are either extremely fucking thin and light-skinned or are trying to be. At some point, I realised how all these Asian girls are trying to look like White people. How can I keep up with that? I love my Asian brown skin and my fat ass, but I couldn’t stop feeling like I’m ugly, fat, dirty and unhealthy there.
I often get extremely annoyed and upset when my family jokingly judge and shame my body. But it wouldn’t just stop there, they also shame me for feeling and acting negative towards their “jokes”. A more straightforward response to my negative feelings would be: “Why do you have to ruin everyone’s mood for getting so angry like that? It was just a joke. Besides, we call you fat because you ARE fat, what’s so wrong with that?”
If someone is “kind” enough, they would say, “you know you should be more positive. Don’t expect people to understand you all the time and don’t force others to suffer from your negativity”
That shit right there, that is straight up emotional manipulation to me. It took me a long while to learn this but remember:
Why Vietnamese People Body-shame
My sister attempted to explain to me why my Vietnamese family fat-shame me and why I feel the way I feel towards those words.
So she said “fat” is a neutral word, to indicate that your BMI is higher or equal to 23. Nowadays, thanks to the development of technology, there is more food than humans ever need, plus under the dominating idea of consumerism, humans are getting fatter and fatter. The word “fat” turns negative because it is associated with lots of diseases.
Vietnam, or any other developing country that has just escaped poverty, has a very recent history of poverty. The majority of Vietnamese middle aged and old people had very poor childhoods where they didn’t have much to eat. Only healthy and rich people at the time could afford to be fat, so Vietnamese people have the habit of calling others fat as a compliment.
Now that humans are getting fatter and fatter. Diseases like obesity or hyperlipidemia are more popular, Vietnamese people start to realise the bad side of being fat. But the culture of “fat-complimenting” is still rooted within the Vietnamese society, which is why Vietnamese call others fat as a way to express their concern about one’s health, not to shame one’s body.
My sister also said that the reason why I feel so uneasy with those “concerns” about my health is because I study abroad in more developed countries. She said I am like a fish that was born in the river, luckily got a chance to come to the sea. The fish (that’s me) could either not adapt fast enough and want to go back to the river or adapt too fast and blame the river for not being as big as the sea (that’s me). And that’s why I feel ugly, fat, hurt and upset when I’m in Vietnam.
Do I think that makes sense? Yes
But do I think that is true? Hell no.
First of all, I have no comments on the historical analysis of body-shaming in Vietnam. I think that explains well enough why this shit is happening. But does it justify how this culture still goes on? Does that justify how body-shaming is an act of care? No
Also, the fact that I feel the way I’m feeling is NOT because I study abroad or I’m a river fish in the sea or whatever, it is because I am human. If you say I feel upset because I study abroad and was exposed to a more open-minded culture, and now I’m blaming Vietnam for not being as open as the West, are you saying other Vietnamese people who don’t study abroad feel fine and indifferent when they are body-shamed? Maybe those people feel so hurt and helpless that they decide to keep it to themselves and lose weight, bleach their skin to blend in with the society, which results in the whole country trying to look like White people.
I feel like this because I am human and I’m sure everyone would feel the same. In fact, I am lucky that I only feel upset and angry because body-shaming can lead to serious physical and mental health issues as well as affects one’s self-esteem or maybe even leads to eating disorders.
How Body-shaming Affects One’s Mental Health
Body-shaming is an act of criticising or shaming someone for their appearance whether it is skin color, hair, weight, or the kind of clothes they wear. People often have a definite notion of beauty whether it is which hair length looks the best or how dark should one’s skin look and so on. That is why people are always too tall, too short, too dark, too blonde, too thin, too fat or even too hairy for the society.
Body-shamers do not spare anyone, celebrities, politicians, men or women can all be body-shamed.
Body-shaming affects one’s body image. Body image is both the mental picture that you have of your own body and the way you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror. When your body image is unhealthy, your self-esteem is also destroyed, you stop valuing and respecting yourself, you no longer believe you deserve to be taken care of emotionally, physically and spiritually by both yourself and others. This, then, will affect your mental health in a bad way because your self-esteem influences your feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Also, it has been proven that body-shaming causes depression and increases the risk of suicide.
Some people might hate their bodies so much that they stop eating or binge eating, which will lead to severely bad physical health
Some might find a way to look like how others want them to look, while feeling miserable. They will, then, project their negative body image and self-esteem on others, while still feeling miserable. So yes, I do believe body-shaming is contagious and it affects both the shamers and the victims.
Do You Help When You Call Someone Fat?
Most of the time I was called fat was because they “want to help me lose weight”. So did those shames help me lose any weight? There is only one thing I can tell you for sure: fat-shaming only makes people feel ashamed, which leads to depression and anxiety, which leads to destructive behaviours, one of which is overeating.
There is one classic misconception that fat people are stupid, lazy and obsessed with eating. But is that the real reason why they are fat? Obesity is more complicated than that. For a long time scientists have proven that the cause for obesity sometimes can go beyond the person’s control such as poverty, health care access, genetics, hormones, education and chronic illness.
Whatever the reason is, I am sure the lack of shaming isn’t one of them. Believe me, people who are overweight are aware that they are overweight. They know for sure there are many health issues associated with that. They are also constantly reminded so by the unrealistic beauty standard on social media and advertisements.
So before you try to educate others about what they are putting in their mouth, maybe watch what is coming out of yours, because you are for sure not helping.
We don’t glorify obesity, we glorify minding your own business
Look, I get it. What you are trying to show here is tough love because you think you are slamming the harsh truth to the ones who need to hear it. The thing is, nobody needs you to remind them about your view towards their bodies.
Ohh the classic argument: fat-shaming is to help not sugarcoating the reality for fat people, thus helping them realise they need to lose weight.
Believe in me when I say, we don’t sugarcoat or glorify obesity when we say “love your body regardless of the shape and size” because once you love your body, you would want to take good care of it by eating healthier, exercising and so on. And if you think saying that doesn’t help, I’m sure shaming doesn’t help either.
Your body is your responsibility, it is yours and yours only. We don’t glorify obesity, we only glorify minding your own business.