So I’m a really big girl and my boyfriend knew this (obviously) before we started dating. He’s been really open and supportive about everything about me but recently he has wants me to travel to China with him but he also mentioned that he wants me to lose weight. I got upset about it and we argued, which is something we haven’t done been before, and when I asked him why? He said that because when I’m in China, we will be looked down upon because not only am I fat but because I’m with a guy who’s smaller than me.
Being raised in America, yeah there are image issues but really, with the majority being fat, everyone is all about self value and not caring what people think. I know superficial skinny people will just be like, “Lose weight then.” But mostly I’m hurt that he cares what people think about me. It has me thinking, “Why is he dating me if he cares how I look?”
I’ve read that that is the way things are in China and he said something like that too but…We’re not in China and we are going to visit, not live there. I’m also not a miracle worker, I can’t lose as much as he wants, between now and the time he wants to leave.
So this whole topic has me really insecure right now and I don’t even want to be undressed in front of him because I think he thinks I’m unattractive. So, my question for you and everyone is: Is the weight issue truly that big of deal in China and is it worth the insecurity to lose the weight to make him not feel ashamed of me?
A couple of years ago, I sat down to dinner at my uncle’s home (my Chinese uncle, that is) with a couple of local government officials in the village where my husband’s family lives. I’ll never forget when the uncle’s daughter – a slender girl of only 14 years — tiptoed into the dining room with chopsticks in hand, to steal a few chicken feet to nibble on. Suddenly, this portly secretary sitting at the table swatted her chopsticks away and shooed her back to the kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He glared at me, as if I had just uttered profanity. “She shouldn’t eat that. She needs to maintain a good figure.”
Of course, looking at his own figure – or should I say, lack of a figure – I thought it profanity that he would even dare suggest that this lovely, lithe young teenager would even need to worry about her weight!
“How about you?” I sneered, glowering at his own laughing Buddha belly.
That secretary is now in jail for corruption (money laundering, so my husband told me). But the crime of pressuring women to stay thin continues in China:
…eating disorders, particularly bulimia nervosa (binge eating followed by purging), are increasing in prevalence in China at an alarming rate, especially among girls from higher income families aged 12 to 22 (Chen and Jackson, 2007). A revealing human interest story featured on the All-China Women’s Federation website about two American-born Chinese (ABC) girls studying in Beijing, highlights their difficulties adjusting to cultural differences in regard to both weight and skin tone. The article notes that whereas both girls wore small sizes in the United States, in China they are considered “fat” (and are readily told so by both friends and casual acquaintances) and can only fit into large sizes (Martin, 2007)…. There is incredible social pressure on Chinese women to be extremely thin and those who don’t meet their culture’s nearly unattainable standards of beauty are reminded of it constantly — by parents, friends, teachers, and commercial advertisements…
It’s not surprising, then, that some Chinese men apply the same pressure to their girlfriends and wives, even when – in the case of fellow yangxifu, Jessica — it’s completely ridiculous:
“My first Chinese boyfriend told me to lose weight when, at the time, I weighed all of 55kg. But he probably weighed about 50kg!…I was pretty thin to begin with.”
Not surprisingly, Jessica ditched this guy. (You go, girl!)
I wrote earlier this week about my Chinese husband’s vanity – how he suggested I get my makeup done professionally, to impress his middle school classmates at a reunion that evening. Cute, right? But vanity is not always so warm and fuzzy, as Jessica’s example goes to show.
Some Chinese men, in an effort to present the best public face to the world – and especially, to their friends and all-important network of guanxi – expect a lot out of their wives’ appearance. When your Chinese boyfriend said, “you will be looked down upon,” the person he was really concerned about was himself.
Personally, I think this guy is no better than that secretary I had dinner with a couple of years ago – and just as criminal.
No man, Chinese or non-Chinese, should ever make you feel unattractive or unloved. My Chinese husband – who I’m taller and heavier than – never told me to lose weight, even when I stand before the bathroom mirror and frown at my own imperfections (don’t get me started about my thighs!). If anything, he usually puts his arms around me and says something like this: “You’re too thin. You know I like a woman with some ‘meat’ on her bones.”
P.S.: For further reading on this issue, I recommend my Ask the Yangxifu column titled Feeling Big in Little China.
What do you think? What advice do you have for Elizabeth?
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.