Growing up in China, I considered myself fortunate and free. My classmates were forced to go to various tutoring classes on the weekends, while I played outside with my friends in the self-built neighborhoods until it’s completely dark.
Not Noticing Abuse Due to Neglect
Even though every time I wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house, my parents said: “you are not homeless, so why would you need to sleep in someone else’s house,” I grew up having minimal parents supervision. My dad even set up a children’s website on the computer for me, so I could be frequently left at home as the single child without a babysitter. I later discovered that some of the “write your own ending” German children stories on one of the websites were highly sexual and inappropriate as a result of certain ill-intentioned website users really running wild with their imagination. Since I just didn’t know they were sexual and inappropriate for my then 8-year-old self, I never told my dad about it. But hey, who can grow up completely protected in the age of the internet?
Since I had so much freedom and so little supervision compare to those around me who were born to helicopter parents and tiger moms, I never realized that my mother saw me as an extension of herself, and she hated me as a result of hating herself. I always thought, if she was a bad Asian mom, she would determine my career, who I marry, etc, and since I’ve always had the option to be an artist or marry a black guy, she was a progressive Asian mom. Even though my parents had no career expectations for me, and never asked for my report card or cared about my grades, I was expected to be completely loyal to my family, in a “family first, you are second, and how you feel is not even third” way.
Shaming Puberty, Body, and Asian Features
So I ignored all of the signs of abuse. When my mother said I was too fat at 115 pounds and 5’2, and I could lose at least thirty more pounds, I just thought, that’s how all Asian moms feel about their daughters. When my mother said my face is too flat and I am not pretty, I just laughed it off and made self-derogatory jokes. I sure can laugh about it, and joke that my pepper spray is just my face. My white friends were horrified when they heard me say stuff like that, and often responded with you are beautiful, don’t say stuff like that! Other white people thought I was being attention seeking by joking about myself being ugly when I am not considered conventionally ugly. At that point, I didn’t realize that all of them knew something that I didn’t know about myself: how ashamed I was of my looks.
Growing up, my mother would look at me, physically try to stretch out my nose or chin, and say your face is just too flat, if your nose can be taller or your chin can be longer, you would look a lot better. Or you hav such a fat butt, have you been sitting down a lot and just studying? You need to walk around more, you are getting fatter and ugly with a butt like that. When I first started developing breasts, my mother took me to the doctor and asked them to make my breasts dissapear so I won’t become premature and unable to grow taller. The doctor told her one cannot reverse puberty, and my mother responded by telling me I should massage my breasts to make them go away. As a result of her constant shaming of my normal development, I became very hunched over and constantly tried to hide my breasts, making middle school a harder experience than it needed to be.
My mother would also subtly mention her brief trip to London and her approval of European standards of beauty without expressly saying it, so many of these women are so beautiful, it’s like people are just more beautiful in London, unlike the Chinese, they look angelic like models. At that point, I didn’t realize that the reason white people looked like angels and models, is because how angels and models look are based off of how white people looked. All my mother was saying only meant white people looked like themselves. Even though I have never had an issue when it comes to my appearance when dating, and I always get compliments from other people on my looks, I’ve always felt deeply ashamed about how I looked, and I spent countless hours googling plastic surgery on the internet. When guys try to flatter me, I would say oh that’s not true you flatter me too much.
Every time someone hit on me, I thought it’s because they think Asian girls are easy, and I never considered the possibility that me, someone almost never represented by Hollywood, could actually be beautiful. At the time, I thought being humble is true confidence, and being able to make self-derogatory humor is the best way to be funny. I didn’t realize that by joking about myself being ugly, I allowed my mother’s voice and her hatred toward herself, her whole race, and me to turn into self-hatred.
In the end of the day, it is rude to call someone ugly, and it is terrible to say that to yourself, een as a joke.
So Where am I Now?
I am still a work in progress. I feel more confident once I realize that I am just an average person, trying to make her average life worthwhile. There are a lot of average people who are happier and more confident, because they felt like they have a right to be happy, appearance isn’t everything, and it’s good to accept who you are.
There is no shame in just being an average person of any race. And now when people try to compliment me, I would take it as a sign of appreciation and truly be joyful about it, instead of thinking they were just being pitiful and charitable.
As someone who used to research and serious consider “height-extension surgeries” that require breaking your legs and laying in bed for a year, I am by no means fully recovered from a lifelong of body-shaming. But I am trying, and I will keep writing about my progress here.