When I was enrolled in kindergarten, my parents also enrolled me in “Korean school,” with the expectation that I would learn to read, write, and speak the language. I proved to be stubbornly incompetent in all three of those areas, though, resulting in the early termination of these lessons after about two years. Some 15 years later, it seems that all I’ve retained from that time is a Korean expression of exasperation which I routinely butcher and which was probably, now that I think about it, never actually taught to me in class. But I think my parents would be surprised to know that I still carry within me startlingly clear moments from those classes—moments that had nothing to do with the Korean language.
Sometime near the beginning of the first year, the kids decided among themselves that we would all have Pokémon nicknames. A fray for the best names ensued, and I waited uneasily on the sidelines, half–leaning in, waiting for someone to pull me the rest of the way, because I was too scared to do it myself. You see, although we were supposed to be learning Korean together, almost all the other kids in the class were already fluent from speaking it in their households, and spoke to each other in a language I didn’t understand. Only when the frenzy began to trail off, one of the boys, the ringleader of the class newly christened the appropriate “Charizard,” thought to ask me who my favorite Pokémon was. “Mew,” I answered, and from that day forward I was known as Fat Mew.
Well, seeing as we’re here on memory lane, we might as well walk along a little further.
There was a childhood friend of mine whom I, predictably, developed a slight crush on sometime in high school. He was blissfully unaware, as was probably best, now that I look back on it. One day, seeing him in the hallway, I said hi. Inexplicably, he replied, “Fat.” It wasn’t a nickname, it wasn’t a joke—the topic had never come up between us. But somehow the sight of me had evoked the word so strongly in his mind that it made its way down to his mouth and precipitated from his lips. I kicked him in the shin.
I have learned to look back on most things and laugh. I am a self-realized woman, who can evaluate herself based off of her own achievements, not the judgment of others, who is strong enough to not spare a care for what the world might have to say about her. But for some reason I find it difficult to laugh at these memories. I’m embarrassed that they have such a strong hold over me, that they have embedded themselves so deeply in my heart that they still cut with their clarity. It’s ridiculous that, in a world full of things to actually care about, perhaps my biggest insecurity is that I am fat.
Maybe it’s because we don’t really talk about that: fat. There hasn’t really been a body-positivity community in my life outside of the Internet, and those “you are beautiful” messages that thousands, if not millions, see on Tumblr every day really don’t help. Because, you see, I know that I am beautiful. I get up in the morning, I look in the mirror, and I am generally happy with what I see (barring a horrible case of bedhead). But it’s only when I see myself through the lens of a camera, or accidentally catch a glimpse of myself as I pass by a window, perhaps seeing myself as others do, that I wonder if I am ugly.
The only conversations I’ve had about my weight in real life are with the well-intentioned people who say, “You’re such a pretty girl, if only you could lose some weight,” “Especially as a woman, looks matter,” “I wouldn’t have dated my girlfriend if she was overweight.” And I sit and I smile and I reaffirm to them my desire to lose weight as their statements reaffirm my deepest fears—that I do not deserve to be seen as beautiful, that I will not be loved, because from first glance I am fat, I am damaged goods.
I suppose I have no right to others’ perceptions of my beauty, only my own, but the two are so intertwined that it becomes complicated.
You think I can’t do science because I’m a girl? I was captain of a nationally ranked Science Olympiad team. You think it’s just because I’m Asian and therefore have a predilection for math and science? Check out this English major. You think I’m unattractive because you think I’m fat? Well, hmmm. I guess, OK. There’s really nothing I can do about that. Everyone will like whom they like, and all are entitled to their own preferences, but what complicates matters is growing up in a society that almost unanimously sets the standard of beauty at a weight well below mine. Something completely out of my control has turned the odds against me, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it—there is no way to prove to myself that others will think differently than what has been dictated, and attraction is so complicated that there is no way for me to convince them to do so.
I have no right to dictate others’ thoughts, only my own, but I guess I’ve come to a middle ground of sorts lately. I’ve met some women here who I think are absolutely gorgeous. And only recently, after knowing some of them for more than a year, did I realize that they have bodies like mine. Of course, I’m just a fellow female friend of theirs, so who knows if this really resolves anything—but it’s given me some peace of mind, and that’s all I have a right to. At the very least, if it’s that irrefutable societal statistical trend of perception I fear, I have become and therefore finally found an exception to it, and it gives me hope that perhaps there will be others if I walk along a little further.
Eleanor Hyun is the writer behind this Celebrity Shot. She is a second-year in the College majoring in English.