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Archive for the ‘Stereotypes’ Category

I grew up in small town Texas in the 80s. You can make some basic assumptions about the lifestyle and diet there. It’s now a haven for the world’s most amazing tacos, but before the changing demographics, it was known for fried food and BBQ, and subsequently obesity.

My brothers and I were thin by nature. Tall, lanky types who could eat an entire week’s worth of groceries in one sitting. You didn’t leave food for later, it wouldn’t be there. Even if you hid it in the back of the fridge someone would find your stash. We didn’t try to be this way, we just were. We played like normal kids, alternating between outside and the TV.

And people would comment. We were described thin, bony, tall, slinky.

“Look at that girl. She’s so skinny. Wowee! And blonde too, one day she’ll be a model.”

Skinny, dripping with more envy than smart kind or even wealthy ever held. To be described as skinny held even more status than the bible-belt mandated description of Christian.

Skinny was their issue.

Skinny was my virtue.

Skinny became my identity.

lanky

My brother and I on my first day of eighth grade. Make no mistake, I’m not posing. I’m standing like that because I’m uncomfortable with my height and weight. Also, fringe/bangs are an anxiety ridden bathroom DIY job and shoes are a size to big, purchased on sale at Kmart.

In 1999, I moved away to Austin and attended the University of Texas. As you do, I gained 10 pounds in beer and buffets. It was a mad slap to the face.

I started to workout for the first time in my life. Not because I was interested in being healthy, but because I had lost my value. I may have still been thin and healthy, but I was not skinny. I had fallen from grace.

I’ve spent the last 14 years dealing with some level of body dysmorphia. I am not overweight. I am perfectly suited to my frame. I have amazing long legs and a slightly protruding belly. The belly protrudes partly due to my love of food and partly due to structural hip issues. My pelvis tilts forward due to postural problems and hypermobility. I had hip dysplasia at birth. It’s me. It’s my body.

There have been times when I have tried to cheat the system to find my lost virtue. Crash diets, starvation, diet pills. and then there have been times when I have tried other solutions. Postural realignment, exercise, self acceptance. These days I manage OK.

And then there are the days when hell really is other people. I don’t just mean MTV culture and pressure to be thin. I mean other people’s constant comments on your weight. I went to dinner with a friends family, most of which were obese. The dinner chatter kept circling around to my weight. I wasn’t the one doing it.

“Eat, eat, you’re skinny! You can have more!” I wasn’t starving myself, I was full. “I wish I was that skinny, you skinny Minnie!” It wasn’t my body issues that kept an entire dinner’s conversation circling around my size. It was someone else’s.

Or the look of glee on my mother’s face when she relayed a story of my brother arguing that I was not average sized, I was thin. I didn’t share the joy. I know it was suppose to be a compliment, but I could not be comfortable with the knowledge that my family was conferencing over which category of body size I fit in.*

It is uncomfortable to have one of my most personal things, my body, under scrutiny. Uncomfortable when done by strangers and acquaintances, but more intrusively by friends and family. Your daily intake and expenditures, your most basic life choices are watched and judged. You see, once you’ve been skinny, you will only ever be skinny or formerly skinny.

My body is my body. It is what it is. Most importantly, it works. If I eat healthy and take care of it and avoid any major accidents, it will hopefully continue to work just fine. Strong and healthy. This is the mantra I tell myself daily.

For the last year I have lived in Asia where I am large by comparison. I tower above the girls and boys just like in junior high, except this time I am not skinny. I am surrounded by very slight Asian girls. This is their body type. They are not this way by virtue, just like I was not skinny by virtue at age 10.

I step onto my patio and say hello to my neighbor’s domestic helper. We are both hanging morning laundry to dry. I am dressed for an office meeting.

“Oh you look so fat!” she compliments me.

My dress choice of the day is slightly more Christina Hendricks than Kate Moss.

“Oh it’s the dress,” I laugh. I understand that her intention is to describe me as voluptuous, not fat. Her culture values curves and womanliness. I am slightly working the va-va-voom.

I go inside and change clothes anyway. It’s not my culture to aspire to voluptuousness. But then, I don’t really want to be skinny either.

I just want to be me. Healthy and capable. Preferably free from other people’s issues, expectations and judgments, but most importantly, free to pursue other things in my life than skinny.

*Editor’s note: Blessings to my mother and all her good intentions, she didn’t know she was going to have a writer for a daughter.

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The other day I saw an ad on TV sponsored by StarHub, Singapore’s cable and telephone company.

There was an artsy looking woman on the screen with a ukelele trying to convince me that Singaporeans really are happy.

I wondered if this had anything to do with recent polls citing Singapore as the most emotionless country in the world and another one saying that Singaporeans didn’t experience positive emotions, basically that they are unhappy. According to the study, Singaporeans were less upbeat than people in poor or war-stricken areas like Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti. Ouch.

Sure enough, the ad was indeed a response to the study.

There’s a whole Facebook page dedicated to proving that Singapore is actually happy. And a happiness bus that distributed free coffee outside of La Pau Sat to go with it.

So folks, this is the Singapore Happiness Campaign. You can share pictures and videos of proof that you are happy on the Facebook site in exchange for a chance to win cash and the latest mobile handsets.

The submitted photos are mostly babies and children, food and shared moments with friends. I didn’t notice any photographs of the infamous five C’s.

What does this mean for Singapore and the life satisfaction level of its residents? That indeed they are happy? That they are like everyone else in the world? That cash and mobile handsets can encourage you to participate in a social media project where you submit your very own Instagrams? Or a need to prove to the rest of the world that they are not an unhappy society?

I think it means that Singapore likes campaigns. There was the Courtesy campaign to promote a pleasant living environment filled with kind, considerate and polite Singaporeans. The Speak Good English Campaign, a movement to promote the proper use of English over Singlish in Singapore. The Speak Mandarin Campaign, to encourage the Singaporean Chinese population to speak Mandarin. Singapore’s OK Campaign, for better hygiene.

And I haven’t even mentioned the use of remade modern fairytales to warn women of declining fertility, oh my. They go on. I counted ten total government campaigns for 2012 alone off this government website.

Do they work? A 2011 study says no, they actually wear out the population.

But maybe, just maybe this happiness one will work? I’m crossing my fingers for you Singapore. Here’s to hoping that an absence of emotion doesn’t equal unhappiness, only a shyness in expressing it. It’s just too bad I missed the free coffee to go with the tagline.

Editor’s note: Although this isn’t the original commercial mentioned in the posting, you can view one of the happiness campaign videos here.

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I’ve never had things not made for me.

That’s a lie.

The original plans in the engineering building at my university did not call for a women’s bathroom. The school compensated by converting the one on the first floor into a ladies room, much to the chagrin of the men.

And the entire thing about being a female engineer is really a bit abnormal in the first place.

Then there was that period of time- my entire teenage years- when I was too tall and skinny to fit into normal jeans or trousers. Everything was just a few inches too short leaving my socks showing and submitting me to high school mean girls shouting “There’s a flood!” when I turned the corner. Although the bully experience was scarring, you don’t get much sympathy for being too tall and skinny.

And then I gave up eating meat, so there was that. But I lived in Austin, and then London so that wasn’t too much of a problem.

But mostly I fit in. I’m right handed. I’ve never had a disability, unless you count being severely clumsy.

Then I moved to Singapore where my average height self and husband stand up tall over the rest and not eating meat is something the Hindus do, not the ang mohs.

But the daily struggle is the clothes and the beauty products. My friends back home were shocked to hear that in Singapore I was an XL.

Sure you can get the same high street items as you get anywhere like Gap and Zara, but they aren’t guaranteed to stock your size.

For the record, I’m not overweight.

And the beauty products are to lighten skin and smooth the hair, while I already get pretty pasty and have hair so smooth and flat that it will hardly hold in a ponytail.

The sales ladies don’t understand and in their aggressive nature proceed to tell me how their smoothing serum is great for Caucasion hair.

“But lady, look at it. It doesn’t need to be any straighter. It’s already limp and lifeless,” I try to reason with them.

They can’t seem to answer my question as to why the skin product they are pushing is allegedly good for Caucasians. I then realize I am only being placed in one category: white.

This is the portion of the post where I apologize to all my black female friends and acquaintances whom I did not take seriously enough about their hair and beauty product struggles. Obviously my problems are not the same, and yet I still feel traumatized.

I’m made to feel racist when I request a hair stylist who can deal with REALLY fine and thin hair. “All of our stylists our good with Caucasion hair.”  That’s not what I was asking, and by the way I ask this question at all new salons. That includes in the US and Europe. So really, please don’t take offense!

These are first world problems, I know, but you don’t mess with a girl’s hair.

My last haircut left me feeling pretty sad. At the end of the haircut, I had to ask for more product. And more product. “My hair is so fine it’s falling in my eyes,” I had to point out.

“Oh sorry,” she said. “Most Singaporean girls don’t wear product in their hair.” I tried to smile, but couldn’t help but think about how I had just paid her $70 to teach her how to cut my hair.

I know there must be very talented hair stylists in Singapore, I just have to learn where to look.

I walked straight out of the salon- one I found on expat forums miscategorized as cool and chic and good with fine hair mind you- and straight into a plate of cheese fries.

If you are going to engage in emotional eating, might as well do it full force.

I guess I should be grateful that there are some things you can get everywhere.

Texas style, with a side of ranch.

Author’s note: In case you are desperate for a reminder of home, there’s a Chili’s at Tanglin mall and Clarke Quay in Singapore. Normally I wouldn’t condone this behavior, but hey, there’s really no shame in it from time to time. I know a foodie friend who once drove 2 hours in the UK just to go to a TGIFriday’s. Think about how desperate he must’ve been.

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Last month I had two BFFs come all the way from Texas to visit. Of course in the line-up of events was the obligatory trip to Stonehenge where my lovely friend, Jennifer, snapped this one.

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I’m at the yoga studio chatting lightly with a fellow American. I ask her where she’s from and she tells me Delaware. She returns the question and I answer with Texas. This question is followed in it’s normal fashion with “what part?”

I give her the story. I grew up outside of Houston. I then spent about ten years in Austin and two in the Dallas/Fort Worth area somewhere in the mix.

There’s a man standing nearby, hanging around on the edges of the conversation. He turns to Ms. Delaware and says “I went to Houston once about ten years ago. It was awful. I took a yoga class in a hotel gym and it was like being in a competition. Not yogic at all! Ugh, Houston!”

Hello? I’m right here. What alien takes over some people’s brains when you tell them where you are from and makes them immediately insult it?

And yes, I’m sure your one experience in a Houston hotel gym ten years ago qualifies you as an expert.

I relay the story to my friend, Carolyne. Carolyne is hilarious. She has a thick southern accent despite being long gone from South Carolina and having married a British man. While I usually get asked if I’m from Canada, she gets asked if she’s from Texas. Oh, the irony.

“Girl, try being from South Carolina. At least they don’t tell you that where you’re from people marry their siblings.”

Yes. Touche.

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Photo not mine.

I have two modes when it comes to making it to the airport for a flight. I am either extremely early or barely make it. The other weekend I happened to be extremely early.

Husband and I went to our usual Gatwick pub for a pre-flight beverage and sub-standard reheated frozen snack. I approached the counter and made my order. The bartender squinted. “Um, can I see some I.D?”

The legal drinking age in the UK is 18. I am no longer anywhere near 18. I call bullshit on anyone who wants to tell me I look younger than 18. Nonetheless, I’ll take this as a compliment. I know bartenders in the UK are trained to I.D. anyone who doesn’t look 25. I like to believe that I can pass for 25.

I go to retrieve my passport and make it back to the counter. “Ah, American” he says when he sees it. “You know, I love some American accents. Some of them are really nice. Yours is really nice.”

“Thank you,” I reply. This is a nice surprise. I usually get told that American accents sound like a British person with a mouth full of bubble gum.

He feels the need to go on. He’s compensating with friendliness for having asked for I.D. “Some of them are really bad. Like Texas accents. I hate Texas accents. They are awful.”

I thank him again as I grab my beer.

“Where in the U.S. are you from?” he asks.

“I’m from Texas,” I reply as I prepare to walk away.

His face goes blank and he lets out a stutter.

Awkward.

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