Someone will always be bigger and better or thinner and a winner.
When it comes to size, especially women's bodies, it's hard to label any single type as the best. Somehow, we are still tragically competing with others' opinions about our own personal image. This is a truth I believe is applicable to all cultures.
Being Vietnamese American, I often interact with completely different sets of social norms. When I came back home for summer, within the first few minutes of meeting my mom and her friends, someone commented to me, "did you gain weight?"
Once I said no, there was a hesitant pause before she responded with, "well, you look good." In the text, this can be read two ways. Either she really thinks I'm more beautiful, now that I have supposedly gained weight, or it is an utterly backhanded compliment.
Let me explain why it is the latter of the two.
To many Asian mothers, their daughters are Asian Fat. Which of course is relative because it means that unless you are the thinnest person in the room, you are not the most attractive. Sadly, even if you are the thinnest person in the room, no Asian person will give you an award. Instead, you would be told that you need to gain weight. Life isn't fair. *cue a very necessary eye roll*
This ordeal is quite a struggle to explain, especially because I am not the universal image of fat. Despite knowing that Asian standards are irrationally unachievable, I can't help but feel fat. If I were to express that I feel fat to my American friends, well, I'm sure it would be taken as some kind of a joke.
For me, the biggest obstacle is being able to live what I preach. My very liberal life motto is "you do you, and I'll do me." In this particular case, if I am comfortable with my weight, don't offer your unsolicited opinion. I don't interrupt your meals and tell you how to eat your food. I can't follow my own advice or my instincts to defend myself because even in my mom's presence, our Vietnamese culture permits that anyone can be subjected to open criticism. I'm no exception to this cultural norm.
Much of my life, I have acknowledged that I am not the ideal beauty in either of my cultures. Most of my American friends have, at one point or another, commented on my thinness with shock in their voices. Childish bullies, from grade school, have presumptuously asserted that I suffered from an eating disorder.
In high school, I thought I had overcome the battle and came to terms with unrealistic beauty standards.
At one point, my Gov & Econ teacher had said what I thought to be the most obviously obscure truth. The oxymoron (shout out to Mr. John Welch): Supermodels are freaky; it doesn't make sense that they are the prime examples of beauty in society. Yet, having the characteristics of a supermodel is somehow winning the gene pool lottery.
When you think about supermodel looks, in terms of a standard deviation, they are in (most studies suggest) the fifth percentile. How on earth is it logical to set the bar so far away from what is naturally achievable? No average human being can be a super model without some cosmetic help, that's assuming that there are surgeries that will successfully make you four feet taller.
Even if you do revert to cosmetic surgery, you somehow still lose. In today's society, more and more people frown upon the artificial because embracing your natural beauty has a raw appeal. In my books, if you want to be a winner, you just have to live up to your own standards of beauty.
After leaving my Gov & Econ class, I realized that humans simply value diversity and uniqueness- it's fun to look at (or more appropriately, up to) people who are drastically different from what is average.
Personally, I know I look average and healthy for an Asian person in American society. My genetics bestowed upon me a fast metabolism and I admit that I exploit it by avoiding exercise. I can accept myself and my body, but I cannot accept unrealistic standards of beauty in either of my cultures.
As I continue to fight beauty standards that I never set for myself, I think of something my mom once told me. I have always thought of it as silly wisdom but it does make sense. She said, "people are like trees, all they need to do is grow. Not all trees can reach the same heights; but if any tree were to compare itself to the single tallest tree, it would never grow to be the happiest it could ever become."
It seems like humans are conditioned to compare their sorrows to others' maladies in order to feel better. Then, we compare ourselves to the next best thing, only to feel worse about ourselves. I hope this cycle ends.
We must acknowledge our strengths with pride and humbly accept when we are not the best. However, we should never lose happiness from unnecessary self-deprecation. I never asked to be the tallest tree or the thinnest and prettiest girl, and I won't start just because people call me Asian Fat and American Thin.