in which i purchase a swimsuit and recall my own journey to a healthier self-image.

2011 March 6 § 3 Comments

I bought a new swimsuit today, a black Calvin Klein one-piece that I saw at Costco while on the lookout for toilet paper, plastic wrap, and food to keep my tummy satisfied during tenth week and finals week of the quarter. The only sizes left were 10s, 12s, and 14s – which I knew I wouldn’t fit – so I grabbed the only 6 left, hoping it wouldn’t be too small.

When I got home, I tried it on and looked at myself in the mirror.

It was the first time in a very long while that I liked how I looked in a swimsuit. I’ve refrained from buying one-pieces in the past because most of the inexpensive ones tend to be cut higher on the legs and hips than I thought I was comfortable with. I wasn’t even that comfortable with two-pieces, because they either revealed too much (both the top and the bottom), or didn’t cover my belly pudge. And no matter what kind of swimsuit I tried on, I felt like my thighs were huge.

I’ve never really liked my legs.

In my worst moments, I’ve likened them to malleable tree stumps that are too vein-y, have too much flesh, and are too muscular to be beautiful. When I sat cross-legged, they crease in such a way as to make it painfully obvious – at least, to me – that I’m “fat” and “need” to become thinner. When I shopped for jeans, most places had legs that were too tight for a comfortable fit – and when I could find jeans that didn’t have skinny-person legs, the hips were way too wide. When I tried on dresses for dances and homecoming, my legs looked ‘wrong’.

It was attempting to shop at the Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe and other similar stores that convinced me that I didn’t have a perfect body. In retrospect, I cared too much about “fitting in” or being under Size Z – but as a high school student, my conceptions of beauty and popularity were influenced and molded by the likes of Seventeen or Teen Vogue, which didn’t do much to promote the idea of universal beauty or healthy beauty, or of beauty as being more than “one size only: skinny and thin”.

And my mother, being the typical traditional Chinese mother, was always telling me that I was fat and should stop eating. It also didn’t help that every time I visited my relatives, the older folks (including my various aunts and uncles) would mention how I’d gotten fatter since the last time they saw me.

Obviously, my notions of beauty no longer subscribe to thinness or weight, and certainly not fitting into a certain size or being able to wear a certain style of clothing. Several things happened that made me embark on a journey to a healthier self-image that I still continue to travel today.

Sports and physical activity. Playing sports and doing JROTC, I was extremely proud of my powerful legs and firm calves – it was a testament of my athletic ability and my hard work staying fit, of being able to chase down tennis balls and badminton birdies, of being able to run a faster-than-eight-minute-mile, of being able to tread water for longer than anybody else in my class. Having muscled legs, toned legs, was a wonderful thing when I was an athlete.

Changing perceptions about how to achieve personal happiness. A slow change that occurred over the course of several years, I began feeling unsatisfied with the “happiness” that I gained when I lost weight on the scale. The decreasing numbers would give me a moment of achievement, but it was never enough. I didn’t feel happy with the amount of food I put into my body (which wasn’t enough), and I skipped meals under the assumption that it would make me thinner and thus, happier.

Predictably, the happiness never lasted. When I was trying to “lose weight” and “lose fat”, I was changing for the sake of others; my reasons were shallow and negatively motivating, especially when I looked at my body in comparison to others. I felt ugly when I tried on dresses next to my friends, and saw my thicker arms and thicker legs and muscled calves; to me, not looking like the mannequin made me imperfect.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that my personal happiness hinged being happy with myself, and being confident in who I was now, and not some idealized image influenced by popular media and societal pressure.

I can’t pinpoint where it started, nor would I be able to give anyone else struggling with the problems I had a few years ago a starting point – but I do know that it involved a lot of change in how I held myself and portrayed myself to others. I stopped downplaying my skills and my achievements – I made a conscious effort to really think about how unique my accomplishments were. I wasn’t “okay with computers,” I was well-acquainted with the basics and great at troubleshooting; I wasn’t “not that great at Super Smash Brothers,” I could “kick your ass eight times out of ten.” Even if it was just video games or something more meaningful like being a great writer and a fast learner, learning how to think positively about myself – and telling others that I was proud of myself! – started making a huge difference in how I started to think about myself.

Because once I stopped telling myself that I wasn’t that great. and I stopped myself that I sucked at everything and wasn’t any good at anything, I stopped viewing myself through a lens of imperfections and flaws.

Finding clothes that fit me, rather than trying to fit into clothes that didn’t. The problem was shopping at places that didn’t make clothing for my kind of body. I hate to put a great deal of emphasis on clothing, but finding clothes that were made for my body shape, that accentuated my positives and downplayed what I didn’t like, really played a big part in becoming more confident in my beauty, and seeing myself more than in terms of not fitting into a pair of jeans or looking bad in a halter top.

I did eventually find a store that made their jeans for short people with legs. EXPRESS and American Eagle both have my patronage whenever I need some more denim. :)

Equating beauty with health and confidence. Around this time, I began realizing how carelessly I had been treating my body. I willfully ate very little, and I didn’t keep a healthy schedule of rest and sleep. Combine the two with an active and sometimes very stressful lifestyle, and it was a recipe of terrible imbalance, which affected my moods and my concentration.

In the interests of efficiency (and due to the worry I was causing some of my closest friends), I realized that I really had two choices: continue the way I was, and maybe ending up in the hospital’s emergency room someday if I became sick enough or unhealthy enough to collapse; or, change my lifestyle not just for me, but for the people who truly cared about my well-being.

It’s been a slow process. But as I slowly began to eat healthier and more regularly, and at least made an honest effort to have a minimum of five or six hours of sleep every night, I began to see positive changes like being more awake during the day, feeling more alert overall, being much more energetic, and working more efficiently.

Confidence made me view myself differently; health made my body feel significantly better. Perhaps it was when these two changes squished together and melded together in my life, that I began seeing my image in a mirror and not seeing someone who was flawed, but seeing someone who was beautiful because I was imperfect.

My legs weren’t fat, they were the lingering legacy of three years of varsity tennis and two years of varsity badminton; of running and sweating during hot summer days as I trained to get in shape for the season; of being the most physically fit girl in my high school’s JROTC cadets. Each part of my body was the sum of my experiences, a journey and a story that is worth so much more than a number on a scale, or fitting into clothes made for tall skinny people.

So being able to try on a swimsuit, look in the mirror, and having the first thought in my head be “Wow… I look amazing!” really made me realize how far I’ve come since the me of before.

It’s a journey I’m so happy to have made.

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my lady

2011 February 23 § Leave a comment

all of these emotions
i cannot untangle them
knotted and twisted
a maze of uncertainty
how can i shape them into words?
My Lady
do you hear my thoughts?

sadness. anger. frustration.
there is no outlet
nowhere to go
bubbling until it bursts inside
to where this hurt
these words
to where can they go?
My Lady
can you help me find a way?

deep breaths
eyes closed
beating
singing
until you give shape to my feelings
your sound bringing all to life
My Lady, my protector
can you guide my heart and spirit once more?

You are Timelessness
fleeting Beauty in the air
essence as Sound
essence as Silence
raging
and soothing
rising
before settling into peace

and when your whispers end, finally
resolve beckons to me with gentle hands
but if my words are still
tangled
tied
knotted
like a maze that has no finish
like a stair that loops into itself
what then?

My Lady, please
give me calm and strength
for my heart, to face this greatest of fears
for my eyes, to gaze ahead
for my hands, to not tremble
for my breath, to not vanish
for my lips, to speak the truth
for it is not a victory I seek, but
a reconciling
a renewal
a promise

My Lady
can you hear my prayer?

haiku to 4am studying

2011 February 22 § 1 Comment

A car speeds past
Painstaking notes in orange
Where is the sun?

there is awe in my soul when i stare up at the sky, and i see nothing but darkness stretching all around me

2011 February 18 § 3 Comments

I let my eyes wander through the bright lights inside the car before staring out the window, squinting slightly at the glowing golden tint of passing streetlights. The farther we go, the fewer there are, until soon the only lights we can see are the vivid whites and pale colors of the dashboard gauges and the rings around the radio knobs and airflow controls. Sometimes, the pronounced darkness of trees looming tall around the mountain road makes the lights inside the car seem brighter than they really are –

– like static fireflies waiting to be released back into the night sky –

– and closing my eyes, I can still faintly imagine their glow, following the lead of our headlights, guiding us to our destination.

I always try to hide my nervousness about driving in the mountains (something about the constant curving of the road and the consequences of tumbling right off the cliff into a forested abyss), but tonight the curves don’t seem so scary, and the slight side-to-side motion as we make left turns followed by right turns, rinse and repeat, only makes me hold your hand tighter as the car trundles along steadily, still following a path lit by giant fireflies.

When we turn off cement and onto gravel, I bite my lower lip, resisting the urge to peer out my passenger door window to watch as my tires roll along the crunching bits of rock. I have visions of tires going flat or losing traction and skidding; whether the scenarios are physically possible, I have no idea, but my fears and imagination never did obey the laws of physics.

‘Everything okay?’

Warmth and concern bring me back from imaginings of danger and crisis. A flush warms my cheeks and my heart, and I smile and nod in the affirmative.

Did you just know, or was it the tightening of my grip that gave me away?

We’ve been driving slowly but steadily for some time now, and reaching an open area intersected by another graveled path, the car finally stops. When you banish the car’s fireflies back into the night, there is nothing for us to see by.

I open the car door and step out, motions that I’ve done hundreds of times before. Idly, I remember the past times I went stargazing: on another hilltop with friends; digging my toes into the cold sand at the beach; driving down endless dunes of sand.

And then there is nothing, as I stare at the dozens of stars peeking from behind the treetops, and then tilt my head back to see the thousands dotting the midnight sky. The darkness interrupted by distant balls of gas and light, it stretches all around us and surrounds us, an embrace that is at once awe-inspiring and fearsome, lonely and welcoming. I cannot help wondering if we are but insignificant tiny gears within this giant universe, this world of worlds that is larger than human comprehension…

But there is awe in my soul when I stare up at the sky, and I see nothing but darkness stretching all around me. There is no need for words as our shoulders brush together, leaning against the car.

When your hand touches against mine, I entwine our fingers together without removing my gaze from the beauty that is always around us. Always waiting for our realization, for us to see.

And I am at peace.

help is here; come find me

2011 February 2 § Leave a comment

Maybe it had to do with coming home in the afternoon in second grade and having to make my own snacks, and start homework on my own.

Or maybe it’s always just been my personality – I like to do things on my own, if I can.

I don’t like asking for help. I get that. It took me a long time – right up through college! – to work up the courage and tell my pride to go stuff it and ask for help when I needed it. I still have trouble with it right up until today, though it’s gotten a lot better than it’s used to.

But the thing is, there hasn’t been a lot of times when I’ve actually needed help with school (classes, or assignments) because I actually and seriously did not understand the concept(s) of what I was learning. Sure, sometimes I get overwhelmed with extracurriculars or I get sick, and then I need a hand getting back up – but learning is something I’ve always done well, whether it’s history, or math, or English.

So, it was hard for me to understand when someone else didn’t ‘get it’ in class. If it’d been me, would I have asked for help? Maybe, maybe not; it’s not a question I can answer now, since it’s not something that actually happened. But if I didn’t understand something or if I didn’t understand why I wasn’t doing well, would I have been able to ask someone – a teacher, an older friend, a sibling, a parent – for help?

Learning, and what you know, isn’t necessarily connected to your grades. If you’re failing a class because you just don’t like doing homework and filling out worksheets just isn’t your thing, it doesn’t mean you don’t get it – it means that the structure of that education system doesn’t work for you.

And is it your fault that you just can’t bear to conform to that structure, or is it the fault of the education system for pretending that people with a different style of learning don’t exist?

Just a lot of questions I’ve been thinking about, about education and learning and school. I wish I had the answers.

An interesting video about changing education paradigms:

high school essays

2011 January 31 § Leave a comment

Today was much less time spent ‘tutoring’ and a lot more time spent reading. The kids in my English class were taking an open-book reading quiz on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so while they were doing that, my teacher asked me to read through three classes of practice essays that were written for the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam).

Easy stuff, right?

Actually, it was hard not to cringe – and not just from the handwriting. Some of the students actually had very nice handwriting, though some others…

I honestly do not remember what my essays were like in high school. If I had to read them again, I would probably cringe, too. But the school being a charter school (and a college preparatory one at that), I had really expected a high level of writing, I suppose.

The question itself wasn’t terribly difficult – “Name one event in history that has had an impact on the world” – and the structure of the essay itself was very basic. Introduction, describe the event, prove your thesis #1, prove your thesis #2, conclusion. When I first got my “assignment”, I thought, how hard could it be?

That was rhetorical, by the way. Apparently, the only historical events that most tenth graders will remember to write about include:

  • Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus
  • Obama being elected president
  • The September 11th terrorist attacks

Not to say that there weren’t some creative answers – I remember one about the printing press that was quite impressive, and a couple of others stood out simply because they weren’t one of the three answers from above. Some of the arguments were a bit of a stretch, but I think that kind of persuasive writing will come with practice.

I’ve been thinking about how to explain why “a lot of people died” is not a reason that an event had a big impact on the world, though, and I’ve been at somewhat at a loss. I’m probably lucky I still have a day to ponder a witty answer to that one.

loneliness, relationships, and disconnection from my [supposedly] social generation

2011 January 30 § 2 Comments

I keep a lot of the important parts of my life private, but I also keep a lot of those important parts segmented from each other, for various reasons. It’s easy to be a part of all of these spheres that I exist in when I’m feeling well and feeling healthy, and I actually have energy and hours during each of my days to float through school, a social life, my ‘persona’ in my writing forum, and sometimes talk to my mom on the phone or my brother on some form of instant messaging…

When I got sick with the flu roughly ten, eleven days ago, I managed a semblance of normalcy in my academic life and extracurricular activities for about two days (I vaguely remember not feeling well on Wednesday, and then only feeling well enough to tutor in the morning, crashing at home, then studying for a vocabulary text on Thursday) before being completely unable to function for the following week-and-a-half.

Given my attitude towards social networks and the likes of Facebook and Twitter, nobody who I hadn’t told personally that I’d gotten sick knew that I’d actually been sick until somebody else told them – and I don’t think many people knew to what extent I’d actually been floored by the demon, influenza.

It’s given me a lot of time to ponder the meaning of loneliness, and to think about who I value in in my life, and who values me.

For a little bit in the beginning, it made me a little sad to think about how disconnected people have really become from each other. If you take away the insta-access to Facebook, to Twitter, and to whatever, how connected are people to each other, really? If I choose not to participate in the social networking sites of my generation, does that mean I’m not compromising on the relationship values that are important to me, or does it mean I just get left out of the loop?

But one of my closest friends asked me out of the blue how I was after I told him that I couldn’t make lunch after all, and after finding out I was sick, he dropped by later with magical soup.

Another friend invited me over – not because I was sick, just because – for food, and even though I was feeling incredibly under the weather, I still enjoyed myself and enjoyed the delicious food.

And then one of my closest girl friends texted me after she found out I was sick, and after a few exchanges, she brought over some home-made soup at my request.

A friend who was long distance sent me her healing mist over the internet, which made me smile. I’ve had a dearth of smiles for the past ten days.

It makes me realize how easy it is to look at your life in terms of how many ‘friends’ or ‘connections’ or ‘how popular [I] am’ on Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/the-social-site-of-the-day. When you have time for people, they have time for you – and when you disappear for whatever reason, how many people will actually notice?

While bedridden with the demon, one thing I missed the most was having someone take care of me. Despite living with two housemates and rooming with one of them, it was hard to ask for something without feeling like I was automatically obligating them because I was sick (I mean, what kind of mean and bitter person would you have to be to say ‘no’ to someone who was clearly not feeling well, right?). I missed having my boyfriend to make me comfortable and give me a glass of water in the middle of the night, I missed having my mom make me delicious, comforting porridge when I feel well…

Sure, I had the comfort of my Yoshis and my various stuffed animals (as well as my growing mountain of laundry), but it just wasn’t the same.

Thank you to those of you who cared, and brought moments of healing into my life.