By Carmen Denia, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio
So I’ve only been home for the better part of three months and already about a dozen people have commented that I’m fat. It’s not even an “Oh, you’ve gained weight.” sort of comment, but in various shades, it was implied that I was unpleasantly heavy.
I was stung at first, more out of shock than anything else. As a child, before I left for Singapore, I never heard these comments. Mostly because I was painfully thin, but probably also because I was too young. As a dalaga, a young, single lady at a traditionally courtable age, I am now old enough for physical scrutiny.
Being slightly more used to it than when I first arrived, I just find it really sad that instead of asking about what I’ve done or where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced or learned for the past ten months out of school, or the last four and a half years overseas, even, the most I can be offered by some is a negative, cursory remark on my appearance. One which, I think, isn’t even valid.
I have a BMI of 20 and last I checked, my doctor said I was fine. I also have thunder thighs and I know that’s not especially pretty in the Asian context, but these legs can execute a double pirouette and overshoot the 2-metre mark when doing a standing broad jump. My feet, misshapen from dancing barefoot and competitive swimming, can work with my asthmatic lungs and small heart to run 2.4 km in 13 minutes. Bragging isn’t my intent. What I’m saying is that thousands of women all over the world probably have bodies that won’t be featured on the cover of Vogue, but they can do incredible things with what they have.
And then people wonder – adults even dare complain – about how young women dress inappropriately and spend inordinate amounts of time on make-up. Some people think bulimic and anorexic girls are crazy and talk about how girls are too skinny these days. Would you expect anything else from a girl who, whether or not she herself realises it, has been trained to believe that she is only valuable for the vessel in which she puts her soul? When nobody on Facebook asks her about what she’s reading or shares with her links about paintings, movies, cool scientific discoveries, or whatever she’s into, but everyone simply ‘likes’ or comments on how beautiful she is, what does that tell her to value?
Whenever my little primary six tuition kid back in Singapore fixated on the perfect hair or flawless skin of her teen idols – featured in magazines that give preteens instructions on how to flirt, I kid you not – I did my utmost to tell her she’s beautiful just the way she is and I reminded her of my favourite verses from King Lemuel in the Bible.
A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household,
for all of them are clothed in scarlet
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Proverbs 31: 10, 21, 25, 30
Taking this outside the Christian or spiritual context, this woman seems to value love, truth, progress, knowledge or humanity over herself. A person should be praised for what she values in life, not what she paints on her lips or carries on her hips.
So to my lovely, small readership, take time today to talk to the women in your lives and affirm both their beauty and their brains, honour the light in their eyes and the sparkle of their souls. To the ladies who may be reading this, value yourself above what can be seen. Remember the fox in The Little Prince? He said, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.” The best of you cannot be found on your face or in how much fat or lack thereof hangs off your waist.
Scribbling all this may not do much to change the world, I know. I do not know if this mini-rant will even help that many girls out there. But I think if we want to honour women – even men who can be judged physically just as harshly – we need to start talking about these things and make conscious daily decisions about how we talk to people, how we talk to young girls. I don’t know if what I have said can counteract everything my little tuition student has been told and is told every day, but the darkness trying to break her small spirit cannot completely win when there is still light.
So we should ask girls like her what they’re feeling. Ask them what they’re reading. Tell them what we’re watching or studying or trying out. Share jokes with them. Hug them. But we won’t tell them they’re too fat or skinny or not pretty enough.
It doesn’t say anything about them; it just shows how shallow we are.