I have recently started getting back into listening to podcasts regularly again. The latest one I have been binge listening to is called Perfectly Imperfect. I found this podcast because an ex-producer of Wongfu Productions began this podcast with her friend who also used to work at the same production company and I have been a casual fan of them for a while now. So one of the podcasts I listened to today that resonated with me a lot was the one wherein they talked about body image. Through this, it got me ruminating about my insecurities, which I try to hide most of the time especially in front of friends.
One of the insecurities I have had for the longest time growing up and even until this very day is to do with my body image. Like most girls, I have had to deal with feeling insecure and unhappy with the way my body looks. It is a very common struggle that almost everyone goes through. I have yet to meet a single person that is completely and 100% okay with the way their body looks. As much as my friends and even myself say that they are completely happy with the way their body looks, there is always that person that wants to go to the gym every day to lose weight through exercise or someone who is trying to change their diet by cutting out sugar or carbohydrates because they believe that is the best and fastest way for them to become skinnier. Of course, not everyone strives to lose weight as their main goal by striving for a healthier lifestyle. Some people genuinely are doing it for the long-term benefits of living longer and healthier, but I still notice a lot of people struggling to be okay with themselves even in their adulthood and I definitely am one of them.
So growing up I was on the skinnier side and my body image issues started quite young in primary school. I would have friends at school comment about how skinny I am and say I looked like sticks or they would say that my legs look like a pair of chopsticks. Then I would go home and get criticised by my family and relatives, telling me that I’m not eating enough and that I looked way too skinny in my clothes. They would then serve me huge portions of food in order for me to gain weight. It all sounds silly now because I don’t remember all the specifics that people told me about my body, but at the end of the day, it made me self-conscious of my looks. I was already insecure about being literally the only Chinese student in my entire grade and being the 1 out 5 Asians in my entire school that had a student population of about 140 kids. Just everything about me, made me stand out in front of everyone and I really just wanted to be accepted for just me and not judged all the time.
I used to be friends with someone who would constantly criticise my body and say that they wouldn’t be surprised if I fell down the stairs because of how thin I supposedly was. I would actually spend time standing in front of the mirror and pointing out what I did not like about my body and would wish it looked different. I became so self-conscious about my ribs being visible beneath my skin and I also became self-conscious about the fact that my breasts hadn’t developed yet. I would wish I had bigger boobs and I also hated my jawline. I hate how thin my face structure was that my chin pointed out from the side. I was also self-conscious of my nose. It was the one thing I wish was smaller and slimmer. I just had a lot of insecurities. It didn’t help that I began having acne in the 6th grade, so I was 12 years old then. I had all the more reason to loathe myself.
This unhealthy obsession with my body also meant I began having an unhealthy relationship with food. Everyone would tell me that I never gained weight and everyone seemed to somehow diagnose me and claim that I had super fast metabolism, when in fact I was just eating a balanced, healthy diet. All my friends telling me that I had a fast metabolism crept into my mind and I began to believe it without having actually been properly diagnosed by my doctor. Since I thought that my metabolism was much faster than everyone else’s, I thought it was the perfect way to eat as much junk food as I wanted because there would be no consequences for me. And now it has all hit me in my 20s and I do regret my past choices with food. Because I’ve created this unhealthy relationship with food, I am constantly relying on it to fulfil both my hunger and emotional needs, which is such a dangerous area to be put in. So unlike most people who wanted to lose weight, I wanted to gain it. I did not want to be skinny or ever called a twig again. I did not want to look at my naked body in the mirror and see a small, bony child. I would constantly check my weight and I would just eat whatever food I could consume without caring about whether it was healthy or not.
My parents contrary to what most of my friends believe was extremely strict all throughout my childhood and teenage years. They never ever allowed me to have any kinds of snacks that would be classified as even remotely unhealthy. Because of this, I yearned so hard for junk food. I would be so envious of peers whose parents packed them a small packet of chips for recess or chocolate yoghurt or dunkaroos. I think the unhealthiest thing they allowed me to have was those small packets of tiny teddies. I was so envious of all the lunches that my friends were allowed to eat. I was especially jealous of people who were allowed to have fast food often. That was the dream for me. I mean in hindsight, it was good that I didn’t eat junk food growing up, but then I would secretly eat all this junk food in school when the kids and I would swap snacks and later on, I would go to the canteen to try all the unhealthy foods they sold. I craved everything I could not have and I tried to find ways to secretly eat all the junk food I wanted to try without my parents noticing. This was so dangerous for my body and my self-worth because I just wanted to fit in and not be so skinny. I did not want my friends to constantly make remarks about my body. I would go home and always check my BMI score to see if I was still in the underweight range. It got really bad when I was about 16 and 17 when I told myself that I was actually trying to gain weight so I could be eligible to donate blood since the minimum weight requirement was about 46kg or something around there. It became my biggest goal and because of that, I began to binge eat.
The excuse of trying to be in the right weight range for blood donations was actually a way to mask the fact that I did not want to be skinny. By the way, I never ended up going for the donations. I wanted an excuse to gain lots of weight. I began to binge eat whatever I could find at home. I would hardly ever finish my food during school and because of how hungry I was after class, I would use whatever spare change from I had from skipping piano lessons, to buy myself a thick shake from the nearby Donut King or I would secretly go to Woolies and buy myself a big packet of Red Rock Deli chips, hide it in my school backpack and secretly eat it in my bedroom at night. I would be so sneaky about all the junk food I would eat and not tell anyone. I remember when I was 16 when I used to see this group of people after school, we would always meet up at the same McDonalds every week, so of course, I would go order myself at least a soft serve or some sort of meal that would come with a big cup of Fanta or Coke. I just did not care about what I was consuming because whatever would help me gain weight the quickest, was alright with me.
This goal of trying to gain lots of weight was also the sole reason why I began running as a hobby. I began running a lot at home on the treadmill and I would also go for jogs at the park in order to gain muscle mass. I was just so obsessed with changing the way my body looks and for the wrong reasons. Also because I was consuming whatever foods I deemed delicious enough, I began to stress eat and eat whenever I was bored. This binge eating really took a toll when I began university. Funnily enough, once I actually gained the weight I wanted to all those years, all my insecurities reversed and I wanted to be skinny again. I wanted to be slim like I used to. Due to all the junk food that I would eat at the wrong hours of the day and all the fatty, sugary foods I was eating, I gained all this weight in my thighs, my face, my stomach and basically just everywhere. I regretted my choices but I still had that ignorant mentality of eat now, burn it off later. My ribs didn’t poke out as much, but now I wanted a flat stomach or ideally some defined abs. My confidence was just on a crazy rollercoaster ride. I wanted to gain weight in my face, but when I actually did and got chubby cheeks, I wanted to lose it all instantly. I got a new set of insecurities with my body and in the back of my mind I wanted to change it, but I was just so caught up in overthinking about my body that I was not really being consistent with trying to change it to a healthier, happy state.
The drastic change of environment, the plethora of university work I had to always keep up with and my bad home life, stressed me out so much. I did not find a healthy way of coping with all the new stresses in my life and I turned to food to give me instant gratification. It did not help that I have limited self-control so whenever my friends and I would eat out, I would just order whatever I wanted to. Now I had so much freedom to go out and buy and cook my food that I ate whatever I could never have in my childhood. During class breaks, I would go to the food court and order overpriced meals and at the end of every big assessment, my classmates and I would have celebratory dinners, which in turn made me lose a lot of money but also gain a lot of weight. Because everyone told me I had a fast metabolism, I believed it so I ate whatever I wanted to and did not care about it. This was so false. I gained weight so easily and I didn’t notice the changes until I looked at old photographs of myself as a teenager wherein I was much slimmer. And not just stress, I would also binge eat when I was bored at home. I would use the excuse that I needed a good meal or a whole bunch of snacks in order to study, so I would walk on over to my local Woolies and just splurge on random foods I wanted to try or that I was craving. Fulfilling cravings was such a hard thing to control. I am still struggling with this now. Even when I am completely full, I will still eat because I have become so reliant on food to satisfy whatever needs that need to be met.
Currently, this is something I am still working hard on. All that binge eating and unhealthy lifestyle choices have affected my health very negatively as of late. I am now dealing with constant bloating, constipation, nausea, food intolerances, vomiting, etc. – all because of my poor diet choices. Whilst I used to be so insecure about how skinny I was, now I have become insecure about my gained weight. In my mind, I want to be skinnier again or just very lean with minimal fat. It is something I am working on and it is hard for me. I have unfollowed all social media that make me envy other girl’s “perfect” bodies, but I am still working on trying to eat healthily. Instead of pointing out how skinny I am, now my friends will point out all the little fat I have on my body. I look in the mirror every day and give myself positive affirmations and say that I am very happy with the way I look, but deep down I still haven’t fully accepted myself yet. Beauty definitely is in the eye of the beholder, but I am honestly still struggling to accept my body for the way it is and I am still quite insecure about my own body despite working out daily and eating lots of fruits and veggies. Overall, it is a tough journey of acceptance that we all go through and I hope that someday, we would all just love each other for the way our bodies are and not for what they could be.