The Origins of The Love/Hate Relationship With My Body
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my body, but then again I don’t know a girl who hasn’t. I’ve gone from hating it to loving it to everything in between. I would say that my relationship with my body has been just as volatile as my relationship with men: you don’t like it, but you have to deal with it. I was bigger when I was younger. I don’t know whether it was my eating habits, stress, or my genes, but I was much bigger than the average girl in my middle and high schools. They were mostly white, skinny, well groomed—some were even budding models. Being bigger was one thing, but being part Asian was another. It was more than just not fitting in: it was perpetuating a stereotype that I didn’t reflect. When I was called ‘Fat Asian Girl’ by my peers (AKA ‘FAG’). I only ate more, I stressed more, and it took tipping the scale at 175 pounds to make me stop.
Then somewhere in high school, I stopped eating altogether. I skipped lunch saying I had a lot of work to do, but I really wasn’t hungry, and I usually settled for a bag of pretzels. I ate little at dinner, saying I had a large lunch. I wanted to be like these pretty, skinny girls, so I started working out not because it made me feel good, but because I didn’t want to be the Fat Asian Girl anymore. During all my years in school, no boy had ever been attracted to me. At least none that I knew of. Obviously, I hated my body for it: the body that gave away my race and that looked ugly next to other bodies.
By the time I reached college, things had changed a little. Boys were attracted to me. Boys wanted to be with me. And boys wanted to sleep with me. Boys found me physically attractive, and I started to like my body a little more. I had lost some weight, and I was of average size, but still not like the tall, blond, skinny girls so typical of the university I attended.
Before Henry, who was my first real boyfriend and the claimer of my virginity, I was only preoccupied with my race and my weight. When I finally got around to sleeping with him, I had developed a sense of ease with my body but there was still one problem. I had a membership to the Itty Bitty Titty Club.
I had never given my breasts much thought until then. The body was so much more complicated than I had realized. I had become aware of things like hair growth and cellulite, razor rash and muffin tops, but my breasts had flown under the radar. The first time I had sex, I was prepared. I felt attractive and relatively thin. But I couldn’t find a way to mask the tininess of my lady lumps.
Most people assume that I exaggerate the smallness of my breasts, but they are, truly, flat as a pancake. Mosquito bites, I usually say to describe them. I have the chest of a twelve-year old. It took me a long time to start taking my bra off during sex. I never wanted to, and I always avoided Henry’s groping hands. He never questioned my choice until after our first breakup, when he asked me why I refused to take my bra off.
“I’m not very well endowed in that area, in case you haven’t noticed.”
He said he didn’t care. When we got back together after the summer, the first thing I did was take my bra off. He killed that confidence when he dumped me again a couple of months later for a girl “with big tits and bubbly personality” who “wasn’t Asian.”
Just when I was starting to get over the relationship, my race became a problem again. After Henry, I doubted my attractiveness again, but never so much as before I met him. As long as I had men’s attention, I felt confident.
When I started seeing Kyle a year later, I came across a different set of problems. Everything about my body worried me: my breasts, my weight, my race. Even when he told me that I was beautiful and sexy, I still compared myself to other girls, especially the type of girl I imagined he liked: slim, white, and pretty. Star, his ex-girlfriend, was slim and Caucasian, whereas I was an Asian girl sporting red hair. I had built a lot of muscle by then: I could squat 185 pounds more than one hundred times in one gym session. My quads jutted out. I was fit, but still bigger than the average girl. I was happy with the way I looked—I wanted to look fit and strong, but because I didn’t fit the mold and didn’t look ‘feminine,’ I thought he would eventually leave me for a suitable option. I was scared that I was too different, but I didn’t care enough to change my appearance for him. When it came down to my breasts, Kyle said he loved them. The first time I slept with him, I went so far as to apologize for their tininess in the middle of sex, as if they had chosen to be tiny of their own accord, and I didn’t have any say in the matter. I spoke of them like they were misbehaving children, but he dismissed my apologies. But I still worried. With my record with men, I know that they eventually get tired of my lack of breasts, and I was afraid that that would happen with him.
I talked to Mike once, about the issues with my lady bits. It was a warm May night, and we were smoking cigarettes outside the convenience store where he worked the night shift. Kyle had promised to text me soon. It had been a month since the first night I spent with him. I thought my breasts were to blame.
“Most guys like the ass better than the tits. Tits don’t even matter.”
I was starting to be known amongst my friends for my fit physique. That would have shocked my middle and high school peers. I was proudest of my behind. It was the part of my body that I worked on the most and that showed how physically strong I was. It attested the most to how much I worked on myself and how much my lifestyle mattered. And it definitely outweighed the forgettable nature of my breasts.
Still, in a society where the norm is to be blond, pretty, slim, and wealthy, I felt out of place. I didn’t choose my race or my body type, or the way my body grew. Instead of hiding those differences, I accentuated them, and stopped apologizing for them. I was still a little insecure, but if guys weren’t happy with the way I looked, I said two words: “Blow me.” I hid the insecurities about being part Asian by accentuating the difference between me and the rest of them: I didn’t dress like them or talk like them. I didn’t like the same things they did. I was ashamed because I was doing what everyone else was doing: generalizing an entire race. If anything, looking Asian helped me get to a place where I was secure in my body. After all, the Asian stereotype was not nearly as bad as the white girl stereotype at the university (‘basic bitch’ was a popular term, then).
I learned to love my breasts while I was with Kyle. It took being comfortable in the buff in the presence of this very sexy man to help me get over some of my fears about the smallness of my chest. He admired how tight I kept my body. If he noticed my physical flaws, he hid it well. If he compared my body to Star’s, he hid that well too. What he couldn’t hide was how I drove him wild in bed. I didn’t care about the rest.
I wish I had found confidence in my body without needing male attention. A woman’s body image shouldn’t rely on how men perceive us, but without male attention, what else do we have to understand our unique gendered and racial bodies? A man can sense confidence on a woman, and that’s what makes her attractive regardless of how her body looks. If she carries herself well, if she owns her body and understands it as hers to use and not to be used, she is attractive. My confidence in my body derived from male attention but it’s no longer reliant on it. I like the way I look. I live the lifestyle that is based on my own values. I do not envy other bodies. But I have to acknowledge the reality that what I want for myself is not necessarily what men find attractive. And I don’t care about what they find attractive as much as I care about what I want to be.
Art photography by Mariaeisl