Hi, Mom and Dad.
Wow, this is incredibly awkward. I rarely ever desire to acknowledge a relatively private part of my life on this platform, but given that family is such an integral aspect of most people’s lives, especially when it comes to pursuing a new endeavor in health and fitness, I know it’s incredibly important to spotlight a few factors regarding the role of parents and relatives while trying to change one’s physique in some way.
Firstly, before diving into my rhetoric, I know that all parents have a different perspective on raising their children. However, whether they be army parents, BFF parents, absentee parents, or even “cool” parents, they all will hold some sort of stance whenever their children want to embark on some sort of health regimen, suffer from negative body image or an eating disorder, or simply want to try something new in the fitness world. But this is for my parents: if you think that what you say and do in front of my sisters and I regarding this subject doesn’t matter, then you’re most certainly downplaying the effects of your words and actions. They really do.
Having been raised in an Asian household, I always learned everything either the hard way, or the downright straightforward way. The Asian–Vietnamese for my personal experience–culture simply values presenting everything like hot black coffee with no sugar, no milk, no cream, no ice, and no fancy mug. I know what it’s like to be victimized as the unattractively chubby kid in the family to the child with the most mannequin-like physique. Both times, you were pretty critical. (P.S. Extended relative: you weren’t all that helpful either.)
“You’re getting fat.”
“You could afford to lose some more.”
“Ugh, too skinny.”
“Eat that donut. What’s wrong with you?”
Dad, I cannot thank you enough for opening my eyes to something that has become such an incredible driving force of my life. Now, I wake up every day, excited to play out my passion for health and fitness in a different manner. My curiosity continues to bloom as I learn even more about the industry, discover the diversity of beautiful body types, and gain motivation to improve myself. I know you want me to constantly seek ways to better myself. But because of you, for years of my life, I didn’t know what was enough. I’m fat…….I’m still too fat…….okay, I’m getting there……..not quite…….I could afford to lose some more AAAAAAAAAAND now I look like I don’t lift.
The way you spoke of my sister’s body as that of an “athlete’s build that will always hold onto muscle” truly hurt her too. At the time, we lived in an era that glorified Kardashian hourglass figures with a waist thinner than Barbie’s and a ballooning hip area. You were right–my sister indeed possesses a straight torso, strong legs that can run for miles, and muscles that could knock me out instantly. However, she developed the idea that she would always look larger and lack the curves of an average woman.
In short, while intentionally being truthful, your words inflicted a painful sense of insecurity that made her feel hopeless. Yes, she may not have jumped at the choice to prove you wrong right away, but I don’t think you really understood the sorrow that she underwent after your comments. Unlike me, she didn’t have enough negativity to boil inside of her to alter what she couldn’t accept. And yet, it still sucked that she had one more thing to stress about.
Surely, many parents will attempt to express their thoughts in a kinder manner. However, sugar-coating anything that acts as a double-edged sword is still just as counterproductive. Negative talk about body image is a virus, and it plagues on everyone around you. Even worse, if my sisters or I are younger, we ingrain any remarks about their bodies even more because we haven’t adopted as many independent beliefs as older children. We’d assume you are right.
As we grow older, make some friends, meet new people, and explore the world around us, we craft our individual values of what we view as beautiful. But, it figures that you make comments about other individuals’ bodies as well. It’s weird to say that family members radiate the same energetic waves and sense tension through our exuded auras. With the curiosity, insecurity, or envy I sensed from one or both of you, I felt inclined to align with it.
Seventh-grade me would have killed for a body like the girls from manga books I read and anime cartoons I binged on. Eighth-grade me ever so desired the figures that female K-Pop artists had–thin limbs, soft angles, and legs for miles. From ninth grade to twelfth grade, I spent hours researching ways to attain the same physiques of any model I saw on social media. Pile on the criticism I faced in the household, I lived in a world that was against the way I looked.
Mom, I wake up every morning with a subconscious fear of what will come out of your mouth, because I know at least something will regard my physical appearance. I know you mean as well as always. I know you care. You only want my sisters and I to feel the most beautiful and healthy. But, you have to understand that insecurity isn’t inherited. It is taught. Thanks to you, I now feel obliged to despise the size of my butt, my sun spots, the bumps on my arms, the color of my teeth, the size of my stomach, and facial hair. Don’t even get me started on facial hair.
I’ve lost count of how many times you told my best friend that she’s lost weight ever since she met me. Not that this inflicted anything entirely negative, but it almost enforced a cold competition between my friend and I: my friend wanted to shrink as I did, and I felt this pull to remain even smaller. We never spoke about this. Everything just occurred accordingly and neither of us had the courage to address it.
Observing the way you treated my little sisters, I realized that it was you who instilled the competitive fire in all of us. Your constantly prompted us to go far and beyond to accomplish anything, but just like Dad, it was never enough for you. There is no denying that college applications were no exception. I practically lived as a shut-in during junior year and senior year of high school, and was the victim of the fear and uncertainty that both of you felt about my college journey.
Whether it be my sisters’ sports or my qualifications as a candidate for colleges and jobs, I viewed everything around me as some sort of race or process of elimination. I used to be far behind the skinny trail of everyone around me, and little did anybody know that I’d race to the front. Before I knew it, I spent three years trying to outrun myself when everyone was long left in the dust. Next thing I knew, part of me died from exhaustion in the middle of the race.
Remarks aside, they’ve made who I am today. Mom and Dad, I thank you for everything. Your barriers that separated me from my self-acceptance were meant to be broken. All by your initiations that led me to do so on my own. I don’t need them anymore. There are more than enough around me, all thanks to social media, advertising, social competition, and (needless to say) rude people. Nowadays, I still appreciate your says in how I present myself to the outside world. Just respect my choices to follow them or decline them. I may be a cross between your genetics, but I am ultimately my own person. I am more than a daughter, a physical product of both of you.