Fat-shaming is everywhere in Hong Kong. From billboards advertising slimming pills with impossibly thin women, and local clothing stores that sell “one-size-fits-all” items labelled XS (and you can’t even try them on), to cruel jibes on social media targeting those who are of a bigger size than the average Hong Kong Chinese woman.
But the problem of fat-shaming, I think, really starts at home. In Hong Kong, girls grow up thinking that they must fit the Hong Kong feminine ideal: skinny, pale, and probably with zero personality.
There is a reason why we are always told to just smile and nod when relatives pipe up about our appearance (which is free game at every family dinner), our careers, our love lives — and really, just about everything else.
I have been called fat, on and off, since I moved back to Hong Kong about six years ago. I am currently a UK size 8/US size 6.
But it shouldn’t really matter what size I am. There is no excuse for criticizing a loved one’s appearance — especially not to their face — when you know that it’s going to cause them pain. During the period of time when I was a bit bigger, I constantly had to deal with comments about my weight: I was “living a little bit too well,” “enjoying all the perks of trying out new restaurants,” and sometimes, just had “chunky arms.”
I felt so self-conscious that, to this day, I still bring a scarf or cardigan with me when I know I have to see certain people at family gatherings, so I can cover up.
But now that I have lost some of the weight, I am still being told that if I went to the gym and dropped a few dress sizes, then I “might just find a boyfriend.” How do those correlate? When I was 21, I was a UK size 4/US size 2, and very single.
It is not just me who has to deal with this. Hong Kong girls everywhere who grow up with overbearing Chinese families (“overbearing” is probably a weak word to describe such families) face comments from loved ones about their appearance, almost on a daily basis.
And these attacks don’t just come from our families. Even in a workplace setting, people occasionally feel like it’s okay to comment on the fact that someone has put on a bit of weight.
I get that there is a huge difference between the Hong Kong Chinese mindset and western thinking. Historically, telling someone that they’d put on weight was considered a compliment in our culture. But while our city underwent over a hundred years of colonization and has plenty of western influence, it seems that respecting personal boundaries is one cultural norm that didn’t quite make it over here.
The worst part is that there is no point piping up about the city’s fat-shaming norm. “But they just really care about you and worry about you being overweight and unhealthy,” my mom said when I complained to her years ago about people calling me fat.
Ultimately, I believe that until we stop telling young girls that they are fat in a home environment, there will not be an overhaul of this mindset in my lifetime. And if that appalling attitude does not change, how can we expect advertisers, retailers and internet not to take advantage of the insecurities this causes for their own gain?
All Tea No Shade with Andrea Lo.
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