I have a folder on my desktop that reads Diary Of A 124 LB Fat Chick. It’s a piece I’ve been working on intermittently since arriving in North America from Thailand last year. The topic evokes a potent mix of rage meets shame meets frustration meets helplessness within me. This all adds to why I haven’t published it until today.
In honour of Eating Disorders Awareness Week which occurred last month, I’ve decided to publish it raw. I could edit the piece, make it less emotional and more fluid but I’ve decided against it. The form very much addresses the headspace I was experiencing at the time and emotions I suspect others may deal with.
Diary of a 124 LB Fat Chick
This is what sequentially came to mind in my Polynesian dance class tonight:
- I’m looking hardcore Italian mob wife in my turtlenecked yoga tracksuit (buy new gear).
- I’m the only one wearing a jacket.
- Would I feel comfortable taking this jacket off?
I kept the jacket on as I have been either literally or metaphorically every single day since I arrived in Canada from Thailand seven months ago. The province of Ontario was hit with a heatwave this past summer and I left the house most days in either a jacket or a sweater. This was due in part to the process of acclimating as well as a sense of shame and fear. I didn’t want anyone to see my arms. To this day, I continue to hide them.
I’m 5’3″, 124 lbs (56 kg) and I’m uncomfortable in my body.
Four years ago, I was 5’3″, approximately 124 lbs (56 kg) and comfortable in my body.
The only change in my physical stature is my muscle mass. It has increased substantially after training muay thai in Thailand for three and a half consecutive years. I continue to wear a North American size 5/6. I am the same size.
So what happened? It wasn’t one incident. A single incident or a series of random incidents couldn’t effect me this way, I suspect. I had what I considered a healthy love of self before stepping on that plane to Thailand. My confidence wasn’t impenetrable but I was one who rarely entertained shame towards the physical. My present state is
my response to the cumulative effects of training muay thai full-time and living in Thailand. I lived in Thailand for a total of four years, the first six months occurring approximately a year and a half prior to the following three and a half. I don’t remember being affected the first six months, possibly longer.
To break it down without writing a 3,000 word essay:
- Like Western boxing, muay thai is a weight specific sport that requires a great deal of discipline during training and the management of one’s weight. Many men as well as women struggle with maintaining their required weight (i.e. you don’t want to be that fighter that steps into the ring at a soft 125 lb rather than 115 lb to fight someone who dropped 10 lb to smash you.)
- PMS and the associated water retention is my bane.
- 5’3″ and 124 lbs is considered plus sized in Thailand.
I have no issue with being considered plus sized, it’s the shaming of it I have contention with (directed towards anyone, anywhere).
In Thailand, my weight, thus my body, seemed to be of public property. From factual statements of “fat” thrown in my direction, to teasing, to evil spirited mockery and the occasional upper arm grab, I was called fat more than my mind will currently accept as plausible. The Western bubbled side of my brain tries to dissuade me from thinking that I was perhaps called fat on average, every other day for the two and a half years I lived in Buriram.
The Buriram side of my brain scoffs. It shouts,
“You were called fat more, if you count groups of people who made fun of you. And if you exclude the days you didn’t leave your room.
Or the days you ran your errands as quickly as possible to avoid people. Or the days you waited until past 4:00 pm to go out in public because that’s when the people who lived in the country went home.”
There was a definite decrease in public opinion at night.
So how often did fat shaming in Thailand happen in any form? Too often.
- Being fitted for a body brace in a Chiang Mai hospital after fracturing my spine whilst the attending nurses laughed with one another about how fat I was (not realizing I understood them).
- Going out on a first date to have my date ask me how much I weighed. When I told him, he began to give me a speech about how I needed to go down to 103 lb (47 kg) – 108 lb (49 kg) to be beautiful like Thai women. He later would call me on various occasions to ask how much I weighed, if I was eating a lot and to tell me how much he liked thin women. I stopped answering his calls. He wasn’t the only Thai guy who expressed interest in me that followed a similar pattern.
- Parking my motorbike to eat lunch. The woman attending the food stall looked at me horrified. She came running to me on the street, grabbed my arms and screamed in my face, “WHY ARE YOU SO FAT?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.
- Constantly having people not believe I was a Thai boxer. Why? Because I was too fat.
To keep this piece the intended less than 3,000 words, I’ll omit the plethora of other examples. I will also do this to keep my anger levels low.
Most Thai nationals I met seemed to not understand Foreign women’s bodies, particularly ones like mine with a large waist to hip ratio. As one muay thai trainer exclaimed while massaging me, “You’re not fat! You’re strong!”. He had spent over a year prior believing I was fat.
Although fat can be used in conjunction with cute in Thai culture and for some, a compliment if they haven’t seen you for awhile (i.e. you look well taken care of), often the way it was directed towards me wasn’t in this fashion. Fat, as I was fat, was undesirable and humorous, aka less, not cute. My fatness made me less beautiful and to some muay thai trainers, lazy. My perceived fatness was the physical manifestation of my disrespect towards them.
It meant that I didn’t appreciate their teachings, I didn’t take muay thai seriously, and/or I wasn’t training hard enough. If I was, I wouldn’t be fat. My fear? If my trainer(s) thought I didn’t respect them, they wouldn’t train me with intention.
The diet pill industry is very lucrative in Thailand and aimed towards nationals. It’s not only Westerners that don’t consider it a compliment to be called fat.
I don’t know how many Thai men I had to educate on PMS and the associated water retention.
I don’t know how many times I was mocked.
Okay, less than 3,000 words….
So I’m back in Canada and I feel better about my body although not remotely back to where I used to be. Why? I really don’t know, but that’s where I’m at. This is something I would have never seen coming and probably didn’t realize was happening to the extent that it was until something inside me eroded.
What helped keep me together in Thailand, what I’m grateful for and how I’ve benefited from this situation:
- I’m grateful for the African American and West Indian women who are unapologetic and proud of their thick thighs and big backsides, the men who love them and the music industry that profits from them. Thank-you YouTube for transporting them across the planet.
- I’m deeply appreciative of my female friends, both Western and Eastern (Japanese) who offered support as some of you were going through similar issues. I’m deeply appreciative of my Thai friends who were also supportive (male and female).
- I’ve become more aware and empathetic towards the men and women who live with this stigma daily, wherever they are.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
I didn’t come home with either anorexia or bulimia, rather I took a hit to my self-esteem and I suspect I suffered from hardcore body dysmorphia for awhile. It continues to improve as time passes.
Updated: To learn how to distinguish between sports-specific weight management and an eating disorder, please read my interview with Mia Tannous, Health Promotions Manager at the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association.
For Thailand solo travel and safety tips, in addition to Thailand information you won’t find in traditional tourist guides, please visit my post Tips For Women Traveling To Thailand.