Feeling Big asks:
Me and my chinese boyfriend have been dating over a year. When I first met him, I never considered him “date worthy” simply because he was barely as tall as me. However, he was able to win me over. We are planning to move to China as soon as I am finished with my schooling, but I have a little problem which I have voiced a few times to him. I am afraid that I will be huge in China.
Unless you were going by model standards, no one in the States could call me fat and I am barely over the average height for women–which allows me to feel fairly short most of the time. Yet, whenever I am with Asian women, I cannot help but compare myself to them. They are just so tiny! Honestly, I do not see how my boyfriend could possibly be attracted to me when I stand next to them because I am occasionally twice their size! In addition, I am generally as tall as most men and about as fat as them too.
I am wondering if you have any advice for this body issue that I am having. I am somewhat afraid that upon getting to China that I will be overwhelmed by an ideal body shape and size that is simply impossible for me to attain.
Thank you so much for your attention and advice! Your blog is simply inspiring and has often filled me with hope.
Your letter reminds me of my last visit to China, when I discovered that my “average” underwear size is considered XXL (or in some cases XXXL) over there.
Western women in China might feel like we exist in a world of Brobdingnagian proportions, as we are often taller, curvier and heavier than our Chinese counterparts. The effect, for some, might be akin to being forced to stare at photoshopped models in the latest Redbook.
But, would you believe that Chinese women don’t have it any better?
…women in China are evaluated on physical appearance and overall attractiveness against standards of beauty that are based primarily on Western (European) facial features.
…Chinese standards of female attractiveness emphasize height (165 to 170cm), an oval face, long straight hair, wafer-like thinness, a pale complexion, a complete absence of moles and freckles, large eyes with a double-fold or crease in the eyelids, and a pronounced bridge of the nose (China Daily, 2005; Chen, 2008). Unfortunately, most of these features are not characteristically Chinese at all. The average height of Chinese women is 160cm (about 5′ 3″) as compared to 170cm (about 5′ 7″) for Chinese men.
…What all of this amounts to is that the vast majority of Chinese women are extremely insecure about their physical appearance, far more so than their Western counterparts. 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 that conspicuously feature either Western models or those of Eurasian ancestry. Young women who are considered too dark will spend what little money they earn to purchase whitening creams and those who can afford to do so will seek “corrective” plastic surgery (which, by the way, includes hymenorraphy, i.e., surgical restoration of the hymen).
Those Chinese women you see on the streets — even the ones you consider “tiny” — probably obsess about their bodies and appearance more than you think.
Still, even if you’re not alone, the question is, how can you stop the pain of comparison?
Look at your boyfriend — he loves you so much, he wants you to come with him to China. He could easily go back on his own, and find one of these “tiny” Chinese women to take your place. But he doesn’t. He wants you. You give him that something special he couldn’t find before — perhaps like my Chinese husband, who was pursued by many Chinese women as an undergraduate English major, but refused to date anyone until he met me.
So, why not ask your boyfriend what he loves about you? You can carry that answer around with you, like a precious, protective locket, as you walk amongst the tinier women of China.
Still, not even love can completely overcome the destructive nature of body image obsession, especially in a country where the standards of beauty are even harder on its local female population.
Remember that many cultures today — including China, and probably yours — peddle an impossible image of beauty, one that we might do well to unlearn. That doesn’t happen overnight, though…but you can start by reading books such as When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies: Freeing Yourself from Food and Weight Obsession, and challenging these images by talking with others — even counselors, if necessary.
Beauty comes in many shapes and sizes. Your Chinese boyfriend clearly embraces your beauty, and I hope you’ll learn how to do the same — even in China. Good luck.
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.