This post will mainly be referring to my experiences growing up predominantly around south-Asian culture (India-Pakistan-Bangladesh-Sri Lanka).
Disclaimer: I will reflect on my own personal experiences of my culture. All opinions and thoughts are my own.
“You’re so healthy!”
“OMG that is too much food on your plate.”
“You look older than your age.”
“What does your mum feed you?”
Growing up I was always made to feel out of place.
Too tall or too big.
Visits to see relatives abroad would always begin with a short conversation of how “smart” (a colloquial term used in Pakistan to describe someone as slim) or how “healthy” (a colloquial term to describe someone who is overweight) had become should they have lost or gained a few pounds since the last meeting. Of course, this is something that I would dread. But everything did revolve around weight.
At primary school, I was given a little card by my teacher, along with other (predominantly south Asian) overweight students in my class to join a “Healthy Eating Club”. Essentially what this club consisted of was eating healthy snacks such as fruit after an intense Zumba-like dance. I mean totally confidence-boosting right?
Weight was something that was always spoken very openly about. As a child, I would often observe my father try out lots of different weight-loss diets. Keto, Atkin’s, Mediterranean. You name it.
We would all have our own blood test kit and test our blood sugar levels regularly as a family to see whether or not we were pre-diabetic… very hypochondriac-esc now in retrospect. But you get the gist.
Health was something that everyone around me was always obsessed with. And being south-Asian where there is a higher risk of developing diabetes (1) and other heart diseases (2) who could blame us right? We are a health-obsessed minority group. Obsessed with our image and body image.
So what’s the problem?
I mean so far it sounds alright. We are an extremely health-conscious group of individuals and we often like to take the responsibility of “encouraging” our friends and family on their own bodies and weight journeys. Right? Wrong!
Perhaps I could attribute the direct methods used to comment on others and their appearances to cultural norms. Perhaps these comments may come from a place of concern, and a genuine need to take care of those around us. Or just a way of the initiating small talk. I will give them the benefit of the doubt.
But do we really need to put others down based on their appearances? This doesn’t just go for those who are curvy, but also those who may be lighter. Perhaps they have health issues that you don’t know of. Perhaps they have been trying to gain weight over the last several years but they are unable to do so? Perhaps the lady who has gained some weight just gave birth to a beautiful healthy child?
I am not really writing this to bash my culture. In fact, this is just a reflection of what I have witnessed growing up but also to this day.
“We are more than our external appearance and our weight does not define us as individuals.”
I cannot forget a comment an “aunty” (a family acquaintance) had made as I was recovering from my eating disorder about my weight and how much I had gained. How on earth can it help someone to point out that they have gained weight? It had totally caught me off guard. However, now I openly explain to people when they do make such comments that yes, recovering from an eating disorder does require you to gain weight.
As we are moving into an era of increased mental health awareness, we should be more sensitive when approaching topics such as body image. We are more than our external appearance and our weight does not define us as individuals.
If you want to lose weight you are free to do so. But never do it so that you can appear to look a certain way to people. Or because someone told you that you look a certain way that does not fit in their standards of “beauty”.
Do it because you want to, and it will make you feel good. Go to the gym when you feel like it. If you don’t then every session at the gym will feel like a chore. You will be less likely to keep the weight off, and chances are you will relapse and fall into an unhealthy binge and exercise-purge cycle. This can eventually fall into Bulimia.
Do you see how easily we can fall into unhealthy eating habits?
Ultimately, this is exactly how my disordered patterns of eating began almost 10 years ago. It took me several years to retrain my mind. To process all those negative comments about my growing body from all those years and gain back autonomy of my perceptions of myself and my body image. I no longer rely on others for validation. I do what I please, what makes me look and feel good.
No “aunty” or “uncle” should ever tell me otherwise. PERIOD.
I would love to hear from you all regarding this topic. Perhaps you have had positive experiences when it comes to culture and body perception. Get in touch! I would love to know.
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Thanks for all your support so far. Hearing your responses and feedback is essential in making this an open and safe place to discuss important topics.
Sending peace your way
- Health Survey of England. The health of ethnic minority groups. 2004, http://www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/healthsurvey2004ethnicfull. [Ref list]
- Excess coronary heart disease in South Asians in the United Kingdom. Kuppuswamy VC, Gupta S. BMJ. 2005 May 28; 330(7502):1223-4.