Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Weighty Matters

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Tay Yu Ning (23S06E) and Wang Yujie (23S06H, Peer Helper)
Cover image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)

“I’m normal-sized and my parents won’t stop fat-shaming me. I know logically that I’m not fat, but yet I can’t drown out their voices purely based on the fact that they’re my parents. Their words are hurtful and make me feel bad about myself even when I know these words shouldn’t matter to me. What can I do to ignore them?”

Adorable Annie

Dear Adorable Annie,

Firstly, we would like to thank you for trusting us with sharing such personal troubles. It seems to us that you indeed do have a healthy outlook and perspective about your weight, and that is great! Perhaps, the main issue troubling you is managing your parents’ expectations of how you should look.

We would like to assure you that it is perfectly reasonable to feel hurt that your parents are fat-shaming you. In fact, you are entitled to feel that way: it is rather mean to judge any person for their appearance.

The conventional standard of a perfect body is often too narrow to fit into.

Unfortunately, due to cultural reasons, your parents may feel like it is their duty to nag about your weight. Asian culture tends to normalise criticism of weight and appearance, possibly because these topics are commonly brought up during conversations. Your parents may not want you to get judged harshly by others. 

While your parents are most likely unaware of the effects of their actions and do not mean to hurt you, that doesn’t mean that what they are doing is acceptable. In fact, if their words continue to bother you, you can consider sitting down and having a discussion with them.

TALK101

The first step you can take would be to communicate your feelings and opinions with your parents. Maybe you have tried to raise the topic before, but they have brushed your words aside. However, do not lose faith: we are here to help you conduct an effective conversation with them. 

Firstly, ask them in a serious manner if they could sit down for half an hour to have an honest and sincere conversation with you. If they’re not available at the moment, “book” a time with them and make sure they mark it down on their calendars.

When they have sat down with you, begin the conversation by clarifying their position on your appearance. It may be good to start with some ground rules for this conversation. Begin by framing the context: let your parents know that you would like to hear their points of view and thereafter would like to share yours. While each party is sharing their opinions, the other party is to simply sit and listen, giving space and respect to the other party to talk. No interruptions should be made. 

Ask your parents: when they “fat-shame” you, what do they actually mean or want from you? Do they simply want to encourage you to exercise more and cut down on snacks between meals? Do they think that you are leading an unhealthy lifestyle? Or do they sincerely feel that you are on the chubby side (by their standards)?

At this moment, it is important to keep the discussion candid. Allow them to express their opinions without cutting in. Also, try not to be offended by what your parents say if anything comes off as offensive. You can see their problematic opinions as a product of societal influence. Perhaps, to some extent, they are as helpless as many of us in this generation are in resisting those toxic cultural norms.

Next, open up your feelings to them. Explain to them that you are nowhere near “fat”. One  way is to use the BMI as a reference: so long as you are in the healthy range, you are generally speaking healthy and fit. You could also get to know their “ideal” weight for you, and show them where they stand on the chart. 

A not-so-fun fact is that many “ideal” weights widely advocated by society unfortunately lie in the unhealthy range. 

If you are unsure of what to share with them, jotting down some key points you want to mention beforehand could help you organise your thoughts.

Consider being as open and honest as possible when sharing with your parents how you feel about them criticising your weight. A way to get yourself across more clearly is by using “I” statements to share your feelings. 

What are the thoughts and sentiments that cross your mind whenever they talk about your appearance and weight? Transcribe these into “I” statements, like “I feel small” or “I feel unloved whenever I hear you comment on my figure”. This can give your parents insight into the impact of their words on you and how you see yourself.  

Then, you can explain to your parents the harms of body shaming. The most direct impact is on your self-esteem and mental health. Although we know deep down that our appearance is nothing to be ashamed of, it is definitely hard to come to friendly terms with how we look when unfriendly remarks are made about it on a daily basis.

In fact, research has shown that fat shaming could cause eating disorders, which have long-term implications on your physical and mental health. And even if we have not gone to that extent yet, low self-esteem might  also negatively impact your social interactions.

After making your stance clear, work towards a compromise. Figure out a system to work around the situation. For example, you could limit your intake of a particular snack during the week. In exchange, your parents would not comment on your appearance for the week as well. You might even want to write down the agreement on a piece of paper to keep both you and your parents accountable. This compromise enables both you and your parents to feel heard and understood.

#LOVEMYSELF

Apart from talking to your parents, it is also important to focus on yourself in dealing with negative emotions surrounding your weight. 

In recent years, there has been increasing discourse on body positivity and the harms of fat shaming. At the core of these discussions, it is the idea that no matter how you look, you deserve to be loved and respected for who you are. 

To prevent yourself from spiralling into negative self-talk, you can try reframing your perspective on your body. Instead of focusing on how you look, for example your facial features or body shape, appreciate your body for what functions it plays to help you live. For instance, love your nose for helping you breathe and adore your eyes for helping you see. 

It is natural to want to comply with conventional beauty standards, or to be complimented for how you look, but the truth is most contemporary beauty standards are made to be impossible to meet. So instead of trying to change your body to become “pretty” in other people’s eyes, strive to keep your body in the best shape you can to help it function well so that you stay healthy and active. 

Being healthy is more important than having a conventionally attractive body.

Additionally, remember to actively find something lovely about how you look, to remind yourself of the beauty that is unique to you. After all, even supermodels feel insecure about their facial features. One’s perspective on their own appearance can never be completely objective, nor is it representative of other people’s opinions of you! 

By changing your perspective on how you view your body, you can have both a healthy body and also a healthy outlook on your appearance, making you more impervious to external judgement of how you look. 

SEEKING HELP

If your parents’ words get too extreme or hurtful, it may also be helpful to get a third-party intermediary to intervene on your behalf. You could consider getting a relative or a family friend to speak to your parents about how you feel. They may be more willing to change if someone who can look at things from both perspectives speaks with them. 

As the Chinese saying goes, “当局者迷,旁观者清” (The spectators see the chess game better than the players). Your parents may thus be more convinced by the words of someone not involved in the situation. 

Try not to go through this situation alone. If there aren’t any adults in your life whom you are comfortable with and who can speak to your parents, you can consider seeing a counsellor to tell them about your situation. The counsellors may be able to help you feel better about yourself, and can also help to speak to your parents on your behalf (with your consent) if necessary.

We wish you the best.

Sincerely, 

Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Tuesday from 2.30 – 4.30 p.m, Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m., Thursday 2.30 – 4.30 p.m. and Friday 1.30 – 4.30 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at rafflesinstitutionphp@gmail.com or fill in our request form at our website https://rafflespeerhelpers.wordpress.com! 

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