How a relationship (and a break-up) taught me to accept my body
“Comparison robs you of joy.” It is an old adage that I shouldn't have forgotten when I walked away from myself for a boy.
As funny and charming as I eventually found my first boyfriend, I wasn’t all that interested in him when we met over dinner with other interns. The music was too loud to hear even those across the table from me, and I was at the very end, only able to speak to a guy whose name I couldn’t quite remember or pronounce.
As a nervous talker, I had a compulsion to try anyways. I don’t remember much about that first conversation, but I do know that at one point, I commented on his fast metabolism. He was almost impossibly skinny, weighing 127 pounds even at a height of 5-foot-9-inches. I envied that he could eat anything and still stay thin because my metabolism was completely the opposite: slow and seemingly incompatible with being slender.
For most of my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. After the tender age of three, my BMI often left me solidly in the overweight range. I wasn’t the only fat one in the family, but I was the only fat girl and the only one in my generation to remain fat. Though I heard from others that Asians were supposedly so lucky to be so skinny, I knew that did not apply to me. I felt un-Chinese, and ironically, my shame was only compounded because I had a Chinese family.
Chinese families can be very direct to children about their flaws, and my family was no different. My father complained about the tightness of the shirt I was wearing to church — not because it would attract unwanted attention to me, but because it would draw notice to my belly. The most mortifying of these memories took place on one Thanksgiving, when my entire extended family was gathered in my grandparents’ living room. My grandmother brought out a scale and had me stand on it in front of my aunt. She read the results out loud and commented on how much weight I’d gained —in the same room as the whole family.
My father once referred to my figure as manly. I’m stocky, made to be wider than I’d ever like to be, and it used to make me uncomfortable. Through middle school and even into the beginning of high school, hearing others use female pronouns to describe me made me feel anxious and strange. I didn’t feel feminine, especially as one of the fattest in my grade and far from the thin bodies of K-pop idols. I didn’t expect to ever look like them, but I hoped to at least have a shot at being pretty like other Asian girls.
With a mindset like this, being with my boyfriend was both comforting and horrifying. Though I was often at the apartment he shared with a roommate and ate the same food that they did, I assumed that perhaps he was somehow working off the unhealthy portions after I had gone home. When I moved in with them for a month, I realized that this was patently untrue. When his roommate — an incredible, somewhat health-oriented chef — wasn’t cooking, my boyfriend ate like a typical college student, with plenty of delivery pizza and always a carton of ice cream in the freezer. I tried to keep up with him, perhaps out of a misguided notion that this would somehow allow us to spend more time together, but I eventually and ruefully came to terms with the fact that I could never eat like he did.
When we broke up, I lost my confidence. It made me feel like I had never been good enough for him. There were many things he could do that I couldn’t: He spoke more languages, programmed in more languages, and was so smart that he easily got A+s, even with his trademark laziness. But those didn’t really bother me all that much. I could easily resolve them all with hard work, and that’s something that I’m glad I took the time to work on. What wouldn’t leave my mind was that perhaps he hadn’t wanted to continue our long-distance relationship because I wasn’t enough of what he wanted. I thought, “If only I were thinner, perhaps he would have been willing to persist.” Maybe he had grown embarrassed of being with me.
As time passed and our communication dwindled (for the record, I made every attempt to begin a friendship, but he chose to ghost me), I grew. After I began to counter my feelings with logic, I developed a stronger sense of self. From my various weight loss attempts, I know that looking how I want will take a while, but for the first time, I’m happy with who I am right now. When I look at the mirror, I see someone who is imperfect, but beautiful, capable and loved. And despite all that this relationship has put me through, I’m truthful when I quote Ariana Grande and say, “I’m so grateful for my ex.”