So, I’m in Singapore at the moment.
The sunny island of Singapore.
This is where, a long time ago, I lived, worked, got married and had a baby. It’s where I had Eve. Shortly after she was born, my marriage with Eve’s father deteriorated and we divorced. I then moved to the States, to begin a new life with my husband, Pierluigi, and his two boys.
It’s been 12 years since I set foot here.
I have a complicated relationship with this place.
It’s a mix of loathing and appreciation (more on this in a subsequent post, and how it’s gone a long way towards creating the woman that I am today).
If you’ve read my rant on Instagram, you’d understand part of the hate. Women such as myself who are independent, free-spirited, intelligent, and articulate (in other words, not quite the traditional Asian female) are disliked, distrusted, unaccepted. And heaven help us should we earn more than our men.
For the entire decade I was there, I was made fun of (for my size). The way I speak English (with a British accent). How I dressed (to please myself). My profession (as a PR practitioner). And the barbs came mostly from women. Yes, my own gender.
Let me create a background of sorts for you. In 1995, I weighed under 100lbs and was a Size 0 with measurements of, if I recall correctly, 32-26-36. I did not exercise, nutrition was of the typical dismal carb-loaded variety, and I was skinny fat. Yet, in the eyes of many Singaporean women, I was a giant. They were like children in stature (or lack thereof). The vast majority of them had no hips, no chest, no shoulders. In part caused by genetics, but also very much a consequence of their lack of protein consumption. Asian fare is often disproportionate in that rice (or noodles) makes up 75% of the plate, greens 20%, and meat 5%.
(Practically) every single day, for the entire decade I called Singapore my home, I had it drummed into my head that I was overweight and unattractive. By Asian women. The only ones who thought otherwise were either expatriates or those who’d spent most of their lives abroad (read: who understood I was no such thing, and that we come in all shapes and sizes). After a while, it gets to you, you know.
No matter how strong you mentally are.
It’s like the little Dutch boy and the leak in the dike.
I suppose it’ll come as little (or no) surprise that I quickly became, in turns, anorexic and bulimic. There was a stage wherein my weight dropped to around 70lbs. I found it fascinating to see food (and things) travel through intestines protruding up through my tummy. And I thought it was cool that my spine was visible for all the world. Thankfully, I got through that, and left before I inflicted further injury on myself.
22 years later and I’ve only been here 4 days, and I already feel like regurgitating everything in my stomach. I’d be in the apartment, getting ready to walk around with Eve, feeling happy with how my body looks, how it’s become more toned, that I have muscles, and I’m still managing to lose weight consistently (83lbs to date). Five minutes walking down Orchard Road, and my mind’s already messed up. I see myself (again) as an awkward, clumsy rhinoceros lumbering across a field, trying my level best to not stomp on those itty bitty Meerkats.
Another thing, many Asians have no filters. They tell you what I think as they think it. For instance, I took Eve to have lunch with her paternal grandparents, and the first words to come out of both my ex-in-laws’ mouths were that I’d gained weight but I look good. Like hello. That’s the first thing you think of after not seeing me for 12 years? I didn’t even bother to correct them that it’s 90% muscle. What’s the point? They’re part of a mentality that thinks the ideal size for a woman is that of a 10 year old child. I’ll give you another visual comparison. Eve’s 19 year old cousin, whom I truly adore, stands 4ft 7″ (ish), and looks like a 5th grader. Then there’s Eve who just turned 18. She stands 5′ 5″, is a Size 4 with all the curves of a woman, and they think she too is a giant.
ARRGGHHH. IT'S HORRIBLE.
I recognise it for what it is. I’m fully aware that one simply cannot physically put on weight within the space of mere minutes. I know it’s all psychological. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real to me. As you can imagine, I spend a few hours every day, talking to myself, rationalising things, and seeing them for what they are. Stereotyping.
And that, my friends, is why I have no love for Singapore.
It took only a few words and five minutes of playing tourist to have my self esteem completely derailed. Followed by hours and hours of digging deep within, and finding balance again. I talked to myself. I reiterated all the positive changes I’d made to my life. I talked more to myself. I went to the gym. And I’d feel at peace again until the next time. I know I’ll be alright once I leave here but I really had to share my thoughts. I mean, it happened so quickly and easily. I have to fortify myself. I need to build that well of self-love. I truly do.
I must ask – has anything similar happened to you? Does it happen often? What’s your coping mechanism?
p/s my photos are by Sofia Touassa
I link up here.