Growing up in an Asian household, the first detail anyone would notice was the size of my body--how much weight I had gained and how much weight I had lost. As a kid, my cousins would call me “motu” which means chubby in Hindi. These comments about my body were expressed as concern for my health, and these nicknames were given as a way to show love. However, they meant something entirely different to me. They were a reminder that my body was something to ridicule, something to change, something that had to be bettered.
Since being the “motu” cousin, I have worked extremely hard to work to be fit. Despite my skinny physique, I can never wear a bikini because the critiques of my relatives’ still ring in my ears. I might be slender to everyone else, but in the mirror, I still see a fat girl staring back--a body that I must change with hard work and discipline. Every little indulgence leaves me feeling guilty, worked up and ashamed. Their words have haunted me, making me fight with my body to be satisfied with five green teas instead of eating three meals a day as a teenager. Even with this skimpy diet, I would go to the gym everyday to lose the fat that clung to my body.
The ideal body for a woman in the Asian community has always been defined by the words “thin” and “skinny”. If a woman is chubby, she is automatically deemed unattractive. Men in the Asian communities have perpetuated these trends--preferring “skinny” girls and mocking those who don’t fit this label. I’ve seen how these standards have affected my cousins, who have tried every failed water diet and juice cleanse in an effort to lose weight before an important event or wedding.
We as a community need to recognize that these expectations from women are unacceptable. Apprehension towards girls who don’t fit the bill have caused serious health and self esteem issues in countless women. It is up to us to call out people who preserve these unrealistic and unfair expectations of us. Young people must be on the front lines to change this cycle of shaming by explaining to every uncle and aunty how their mere words have held up a system that hurts thousands of young girls.