And not, like, big-in-a-famous kind of way, but big-in-a-we-don’t-sell-your-size-here-so-don’t-even-try kind of way.
I know what you’re going to say — “But, Sally, you’re not fat!” (You were going to say that, right?! RIGHT?!).
I’m not fat… in America.
As far as Americans go, I’d say I’m pretty much average. Heck, I’m considered downright svelte in my hometown of Buffalo, where people like their food portions big and preferably deep-fried. Where I’m from, deep-fried chicken wings in chunky, blue cheese sauce are considered a light pre-dinner snack. (Mind you, when served with a side of celery, Buffalo wings effectively become a salad.)
Sure, I am not a dainty little thing. At best, I could be described as sturdy. I have one of those bodies that clings stubbornly to every calorie consumed as if it suspects a plague of locusts or a zombie apocalypse is just around the corner. I do not possess visible stomach muscles. Heck, I don’t even possess visible ankles. (It’s a hereditary thing. I come from a long line of Midwestern farm folk where sturdiness is vital for one’s survival — you know, should one have to withstand cattle stampede.)But I’m really not that big. (Well, not as big as you might suspect for someone who blathers on regularly about her couch and cookies and bacon.)
Sure, I gained some weight while I was traveling last year due to a slight shift in my priorities — namely, a shift from “attempting to eat reasonably and exercise regularly” to “attempting to eat every weird-flavored potato chip in all of Asia.” (Hey, it was a cultural experiment!)
Still, I am no Godzilla. As you can see from the recent photo below, there’s no way a girl of my size could trample Tokyo and devour innocent bystanders. There is simply no way. (Besides, I don’t even like innocent bystanders. They tend to be stringy and poorly seasoned.)
(But I did devour those pancakes. Roawr.)In Asia, though, I am big.
Frankly, after four years of being considered fat (when, I swear, I am merely robust!), there are some days when I dream of jetting off to some hearty Eastern European country where a girl of my stature might be considered normal – heck, maybe even possibly, desirable. (I have a feeling a girl like me would be quite popular in some of the rural Slavic nations, where being able to hold your own against stampeding livestock would be considered an asset.)
But, fear not, curvy ladies, Asia isn’t all bad for us big girls.
I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories – the unwanted comments, the stares, the almost impossible quest to buy pants.
But, really, it’s not that bad.
You just can’t believe everything people tell you.
Instead, believe what I’m about to tell you. (See, how easy that is?)
Sure, it can be a bummer being bigger than most of the female population of your country of residence (and, arguably, half of the male population, as well).
But being big has its advantages — especially in China. You see, Chinese people have, what I consider to be, a “can-do attitude” when it comes to the tasks of daily life, like shopping, taking public transportation and driving. By “can-do attitude” I simply mean that Chinese people believe you can do pretty much whatever you want.
Stand in line? What line?
Wait patiently while other passengers get off the train before you barge your way on? But then you might not be able to get a seat!
Allow pedestrians to cross the street before you charge through the intersection in your vegetable truck? Why would you do that? Just because the traffic light is red? How ridiculous!
Luckily as a big girl, I have bulk on my side. When someone tries to cut ahead of me at the checkout counter, I use my body like a human shield. When making my way through the crowds at the train station, I barge on through like a line-backer. And, that vegetable truck driver is going to think twice about attempting to run me over – after all, I’d do quite a number on his bumper.
What they don’t know…In America, I was that girl who cowered by her locker while getting dressed in the gym changing room.
I would do this thing where I would change from my street clothes into my gym clothes without ever actually removing any clothes. And if I was at one of those gyms that didn’t have shower curtains for the showers, I would opt to skip the shower all together and just spray myself liberally with deodorant.
Things changed when I moved to Japan – big time. One of my favorite activities was going to the public hotspring baths or onsens. Unlike in some countries, the public baths in Japan are totally swimsuit-free. That means you’re naked… in front of a bunch of strangers… who are also naked. (Funny how that works.)
And I totally didn’t care.
Why the big attitude change?
Well, I figured, there was probably a pretty good chance that most of my fellow strangers at the public bath had never actually seen a real live foreign person up close and naked before. This meant that they had no one to measure me against. So what if my thighs jiggled? They probably just figured all Americans jiggled when they were naked.
I also found myself doing a lot of other things in Japan that I probably would have never done in the States.
I began running races and even ran a full marathon – something I would have been way too self-conscious to do in America as I am a really slow runner. (In fact, I’m not sure I would call what my body does “running” – it’s more like “an advanced stage of shuffling.”) But in Japan I didn’t care. After all, if I ran slowly, I figured the crowd would just assume all foreigners ran that slowly.
I also signed up for belly dancing classes, having never taken a dance class in my life. I was a pretty atrocious belly dancer (despite having the prerequisite belly), but, again, I didn’t care. I was the only white girl there. My classmates probably figured all white girls dance like they’re being electrocuted.
What these people didn’t know, didn’t hurt them – and, in fact, helped me. Ignorance really can be bliss, people. (And, onsens can be bliss, too. Seriously. I know what you’re thinking — “I would never hang out naked in a hot tub with a bunch of strangers.” But don’t knock it until you try it, sister.)
If the pants fit…Every great traveler has a quest.
Jason had the Golden Fleece.
Odysseus had Ithaca.
Moses had the Promised Land.
I have pants.
Personally, I prefer to just stock up on pants while I’m at home rather than braving the stores in Asia (and the smug shop attendants who will either insist they don’t have your size or insist they do have your size – but act like selling pants in your size is a feat akin to peddling unicorns).
It’s true that most shops in Asia don’t sell much above an American size six. Mind you, it’s not impossible to find clothes that fit you in Asia if you’re bigger than that; it’s just kind of a hassle. (I’m pretty sure Moses said the same thing about wandering in the desert.)
A lot of my friends here have their clothes custom-made as hiring a tailor in Asia can be quite reasonable. I haven’t done this yet, as, personally, I find pants-shopping rather traumatizing, even in the States. I prefer to do this activity on my own with as little human-interaction as possible – you know, in case I need to cry or lash out at the hangers or scarf down an emergency bag of potato chips for energy.
I’ve had some success at finding pants in my size in clothing stores in Asia – but usually this requires my buying them with a label that has a few too many X’s on it for my liking.
Not thinking that China would be much different from my shopping experiences in other Asian countries, I was rather shocked when I managed to find two pairs of pants in my size in Shanghai the other weekend. And they were in my real size –- not the fake, gross size that Asia made up for me.
So, umm, now that I’ve found pants, does that mean my quest is over? Like, can I go home now? Or does that mean I get a new quest? (My next quest better involve donuts; that’s all I have to say.)
Sticks and stones won’t break my bones (because my bones are kind of big)One of the hardest things about being a big girl in Asia is putting up with the comments about your size. Usually these comments are not intended to be malicious or hurtful – they just kind of come out that way.
Once while teaching a lesson on descriptive adjectives in a writing class in Japan, the word “fat” came up. “Fat like you, Sally!” one of my students yelled from his seat. I’m sure he didn’t intend to be mean – that’s just the way it came out. (Likewise, I’m sure I also didn’t intend to mark ten points of his grade point average – that’s just the way it came out.)
During a hike in Northern Thailand, my Thai friend gleefully informed me, “You walk like Santa Claus.” When I tried to explain to him that he shouldn’t tell a girl that she walks with the grace of an obese man in a red fur suit, he was sincerely confused. “But I like Santa Claus,” he responded.
While working on the Malaysian rice farm last spring, the rice farmer would often tell me, “You’re not fat. You’re big and strong — like a cow.” This was yet another comment I am sure was not intended to sound as bad as it did.
There’s really not an easy way to deal with these comments aside from pretending you don’t understand what the person is saying (which, mind you, is quite difficult to do should the person be speaking in English). Just remember that the person making the comment probably didn’t mean ill-will – after all, I’m pretty sure the rice farmer likes cows.
Prove everyone wrong… including yourselfWhen I completed the full marathon in Japan, it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
I never thought I could do a marathon.
Until I did.
You see, I had never been athletic growing up and had never thought I would be. I didn’t do sports as a kid and the only game I was mildly good at in gym class was dodge ball as it required a certain level of cowardice to be successful.
I didn’t start running until I was an adult – and, even then, I only did it because it was the only form of exercise I could do that didn’t require a gym membership or expensive equipment or, say, hand-eye coordination.
When I finished the marathon, I got to prove wrong all the people who had looked at me doubtfully when I said I was going to do it.But, even better than that, I got to prove myself wrong.
Being big (even if you are not big – just sturdy!), you are told there are a lot of things you can’t do: run marathons, be a rock star, hang out in naked hot tubs, rock a bikini, be strong, be sexy, work on a rice farm, dance, find pants in Asia, wear short-shorts.
What if you found out you can do all those things and the only person holding you back was yourself? (Okay, and maybe your mom… because I’m pretty sure my mom would not approve of my wearing short-shorts.)
Wouldn’t that be cool?
So fear not, my voluptuous female friends, Asia isn’t all bad for us big girls.
Just as long as you don’t believe everything you tell yourself.