The idea of ‘being skinny’ — having thin arms, a thigh gap where you can sit cross-legged on a stool without falling over, a tiny waist — these were all ideals planted within me.
I yearned to have longer legs, longer calves, to have willowy arms that could be graceful or strong. But I wasn’t born with them. My parents don’t have that sort of body type and nor would I.
As a former dancer, you can only imagine what I put myself through to stay at the top. But someone forgot to tell me one thing: it’s ok to have a different body and not be skinny.
I felt the pressure to live up to the title of the top dancer in my school. When I was 14, I was given the honour of performing a extraordinary dance which required a particular body. And because my dance teacher told me it was special, I went along with what she demanded in order to fit the ideal.
However, my body didn’t listen.
I don’t have the most flexible body and there are certain parts of the dance that required me to bend backwards, touching the top of my head to the sole of my foot. My dance teacher pushed me and pushed me, urging me to lose weight to help with my flexibility (apparently I was packing on the pounds by the time I was 15).
My mom helped too. She reduced my diet to the bare essentials (a 1000 calorie diet) to make sure I could fit into the costume from the year before. In the end, I could barely do up the buttons and my belly fat spilled over the edge of the skirt.
At 15, I experienced my first splitting headache during English class one day. Everything seemed fine that day. I hadn’t eaten anything before heading to class, knowing I would have to put on my costume after school. Near the end of class, I felt something sharp cut across my brain. I ignored it. But when it happened again, I almost fell to the floor crying. The pain was immense. I had no idea it was tied to my lack of a diet so I maintained it. Yet the fat wouldn’t budge.
Then, after I injured my back at 18, my muscles became atrophied from the lack of exercise. I was finally at a weight my dance teacher would approve of. She encouraged me to maintain the weight loss, stating that ‘I looked better this way’. And so I listened. I kept my diet at a minimum, doing my best to morph my body into the ‘ideal’ that was set in front of me.
I became anorexic.
Sleep became non-existent.
My skin turned pale with super dark circles under my eyes.
My hair started falling out but GREW in places I didn’t want. (Like a mustache, for REALZ.)
And yet, every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a grotesque fat person, unable to live up to the expectations of a dancer’s body.
I can’t quite remember what turned me around. Perhaps it was the excess body hair, not having the energy to dance, or the fact that I was muthafucking hungry all the time. Thankfully, it finally came to a screeching halt once I quit dance for good.
Today, I’ve learned to accept my body. Yes, there are days when I look in the mirror and pinch the rolls, but I learned to love my body for what it can do. I turned to yoga, learning to accept my limitations and stretch beyond them. I took tap, hip hop, and burlesque — the types of dances where your body shape doesn’t matter. It was freeing and I learned how my dance teacher and mom (including my own culture and the guys I used to date) played into the stereotype that a person had to be skinny to look beautiful.
Now, I can look at other women’s bodies and appreciate them for their own type of beauty. I don’t try to measure my body against theirs to feel better or worse about my own. Most importantly, I’m just grateful I still have the mobility to dance if I wanted.
Do you still compare your body to others, wishing it looks a certain way? Leave a comment below.
Growing up, it always felt like everyone had received a handbook for life but I didn’t get mine. I desperately grasped at different careers because I wanted to appear like I knew what I was doing.
For me, I believed I knew what I wanted to do for the longest time – i.e. be a dancer – but when that dream was ripped out from under my feet, I faced an abyss of decisions. I couldn’t even consult a handbook because mine was missing.
As I wrote in an earlier post, I grew up dancing. It was the love of my life, until it smacked me across the face. My goal was to graduate with a Fine Arts degree. Then, when I had to leave the dance program, I felt adrift in a sea of options. I was so lost.
I eventually chose Linguistics, because of my love of languages but the program wasn’t geared towards translators. Then I pounced on Marketing because I fell in love with X1 and decided to move there. Cut to working in the fashion industry (and realizing how insane it was), working for startups, conferences, and agencies until now.
Even today, there are days when I wake up and feel like I’m on the precipice of something. And I’m looking into an abyss of choices.
Yet, I have no clue what to do next. Because my handbook is still missing.
In the past 2 years, I became more spiritual, learning to meditate and turn inwards for answers, even going to silent retreats, and travelling overseas. All of these methodologies are meant to help one look internally for an answer that isn’t available outwardly.
And do you know what I heard when I turned inwards? Nothing.
Seriously. I would meditate in the mornings and beat away all the ‘thoughts’ that flooded me the moment I closed my eyes. When everything was quiet, and I looked into that abyss within, I still saw and heard nothing. (And hey, I’ve even consulted tarot cards, birth charts, psychics, mediums, energy healers for answers, which they have provided me.) But I never heard anything.
I almost wonder if I’m not listening hard enough.
Recently, I told a lovely girlfriend that I had no clue what I was doing – in life, work, or love. And she thanked me for being open about it. I was surprised to hear she felt the same way because she always seemed to be guided in everything she does. Like she got a guidebook or something when she signed up for life.
Even though I go through the motions of a ‘normal’ day, there’s a voice in the back of my mind saying, no, DEMANDING to know what’s going to happen next.
Because I hate uncertainty. I hate not knowing. I mean, I freaking consult astrology to see if I can find THE answer. (And don’t tell me the answer to life is 42 cuz I’ve read that book.) In my head, there’s something truly unsettling staring into the blackness and saying, I have no clue what to do next.
How do I quell this uncertainty? Well, there are good days and bad days. The good days involve just living in the moment, feeling appreciative for all that I do have, rather than looking for something to fill the void inside me. Then there are the bad days. The ones where I feel like everything I do is pushing me to that brink of insanity. Where it all feels like life is falling apart.
I have to keep reminding myself life really isn’t falling apart though. It’s just my brain making me believe it.
And when I feel that way, I try to go back to being grateful for what’s in my life. I’ve also spoken to a few of my friends who tell me it’s ok to meditate and not see anything. To only see and hear static. Maybe it’s because there isn’t really anything for me to do except be in the moment then, or maybe my antennae are broken. Who really knows?
Either way, I’m resolving myself to accept the uncertainty (hey, the universe has amazing surprises in store, right? RIGHT?), and just create situations that bring more fun into my life.
Cuz isn’t that what we’re here to do?
This story has been an interesting one that I’ve heard over and over again growing up. The more my parents instituted this idea of working to the point of exhaustion, the more it didn’t make sense to me.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, my dad worked almost til the day he died. He put so much effort, blood, sweat, and stress into his job that it consumed him. It became him. If you asked anyone about an Asian land surveyor in the GVRD, they would probably refer you to my dad because well, let’s be honest, it’s a white man’s game in that industry. I watched him work and he enjoyed it. Which I was so happy to see. He truly loved to do this work. Outside of the family, it was his pride and joy.
The same goes for my mom. No matter what she did, from volunteering, making my dance costumes, cooking, to working at Rogers Arena, she would put her everything into it. It’s what she took pride in. And she instilled that way of thinking in me.
The part I don’t agree with, from both parents, was letting the work consume you. Where you ignore all the pain signals your body is sending you until it becomes too late.
I started dancing at age 2. I choreographed my own dances, put on my favourite dress made by an aunt and performed for my family. Then my mom signed me up for proper Chinese folk dance lessons. And I had one of the hardest dance teachers from China push me to my limits so I could go beyond them. Which was great, in a way. But it also broke my body. When I felt an odd pinch in my back during dance class, I ignored the warning signals my body was sending me and kept right on dancing.
That’s when it happened. I could feel fire shooting down my legs. But you know what I did? I kept right on dancing. I ignored all the warning signs my body was throwing at me. That’s when I barely walked out of class that day. And I couldn’t even stand up straight. Thankfully, after years and years of physio, acupuncture, massage, RMT, everything, I can now sit without screaming in pain. But I can’t dance professionally. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself.
Then when I started working in the fashion industry, it was intense and stressful work. There were days when panic seemed to be the word du jour in the office. The harder I worked, the more I could feel the stress leaking into every part of my body. But I learned to ignore it, as I did with my dancing. I cut off all signals from my body to my brain just so I could hit deadlines.
Because what’s more important in life than deadlines, right?
Cut to today. After my car accident waking me up to the life path I was going down (which definitely wasn’t for me), I finally started to listen. Like, really listen to my body. It had been trying to tell me so much about how wrong I was, how when I pushed myself to get results I didn’t want, and how all those choices lead to me being so unhappy.
But I didn’t get it. How could my parents, my dance teacher, society, be wrong? I was pushing myself, sometimes to the detriment of my own health to deliver something. Did that mean I wasn’t really working? That I’m not trying?
It’s taken me some time to work through this. I still have days when I don’t make my health a priority. For example, I’ve been sick this entire past week yet I decided to head out and do work. Which was a mistake because I didn’t let my body rest. And it pushed my recovery back. *insert eye roll*
I’m working on not being “perfect”, on not obsessing over something, and not questioning how it might look to others on the outside. Because not everyone knows what’s going on behind the scenes, right? There are so many factors there. (I also have one of those obsessive personalities where I’ll keep at something until I get the sweet release of finality, i.e. the whiteheads on my nose. After my dance teacher opened my eyes to them, I spent a good 2 HOURS digging almost every SINGLE ONE out. That kind of obsessive.)
I laugh now because there will be days when I push myself to get something done, for the sake of doing it. My foot may not be pressing the accelerator to the floor entirely, but I’ll still move forward.
Will I follow this idea of not breaking my back working every day? I’ll try. But I won’t guaratee I’ll always do it. Because I’m human and I know I’ll fall back on old habits.
But that just means I get to keep trying the next day.
Do you have this sort of mindset? How did you move past it? Leave a comment below.
I have always carried this story deep inside my heart. And not always in a good way.
Growing up, I remembered thinking when I met my one true love, everything would be perfect. There’d be no arguments. My problems would be solved, like love was a magical solution.
What I didn’t anticipate was learning to compromise on certain things. (What do you mean you’re not going to do EXACTLY what I want?)
Side note: As a child, there didn’t seem to be a ‘compromise’ lesson in my household. It was “this is the way, and that’s that”. So, learning to compromise felt like I was losing out on something.
The idea of a perfect romance blew up in my face when I fell in love. What I don’t understand is how movies and books can’t seem to depict true romance without turning it into some novelty trope? Where’s the compromise in the rom-coms? Well, I guess if there was compromise, it wouldn’t be as fun to watch.
You get what I mean. There are so many romantic ideas IMPLANTED into our minds while growing up that there are times when I don’t even know if I’m compromising because I really want to, or it’s an idea that snuck in there. And those ideas and stories are sneaky. They lie in wait until you grow up and you’re hit with a situation where you’re thinking, What the hell just happened? At least, that’s how it was with me.
From my first real relationship, compromise meant being okay with him leaving me alone on a Friday night while he played poker with the guys. Or him playing video games during the weekends when we’re meant to hang out. (Mind you, I was in my 20s, I had no idea what was acceptable in a relationship; I just went along because I didn’t want to cause any problems.)
Then, I went through a bit of a revolution after X1 and I broke up. I travelled more and learned to be resourceful. You know, not compromising on anything because I was ALONE.
But then, I got struck by cupid’s arrow with X2. At first, everything went smoothly. Well, technically not because we started out as friends who quickly turned to CFM buddies and somehow that evolved into a relationship. (Don’t ask me how we got there, I tore up that map.) As we progressed, I found myself going along with what he suggested. I didn’t argue, or put up a fight. It was like I had forgotten all those lessons I learned when I was alone. I compromised the SHIT out of myself. Cut to one day chatting with X2 about having an open relationship.
Say what now?
Now, if I were with someone for 10 or 15 years, sure, I would be open to discussing it. But at the moment, when we’re trying to build trust with one another? It definitely wasn’t the right path to take.
Today, I realized how much my story of compromise has been holding me back — in love and in life. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m not in a relationship at the moment. I don’t want to feel like I’m giving in to something.
Yes, from the outset, compromising might look like I’m losing something, but I need to flip that perspective to what I’m getting as a result of it.
I get it. Love can be difficult, but it can also be one of the most exhilarating things to experience in life. And not just love for another person, but love for oneself too.
What about you guys? Do you compromise yourself, or in your relationship, on the daily? Do you agree with my assessments of rom-coms? Leave a comment below.
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As a child, this ‘ideal family’ story has been repeated to me over and over. I started to believe this was the only way I could live my life, and if I never reached this, that I was a failure. But as my two serious relationships blew up (and let’s be honest, dating with this looping in the back of your mind isn’t the best either), I found myself rethinking this.
Why is the ‘ideal family’ only identified as this?
And don’t get me started on the kids thing. Ever since my 20s, my mom has insisted that I must have children. Her reasoning is that after she dies, I’ll have someone to take care of me. (I guess she didn’t anticipate the rise of androids?)
And when I started protesting the idea, she would always counter it with: “Oh, you just haven’t met the right person yet.” Like this magical man would blow fairy “mom” dust into my womb and it would suddenly make me want to have kids? Um…no, thank you. I’d rather he blow something else, but that’s another story for another time!
I remember growing up believing that this ‘ideal’ family equation would solve all of my problems. Like math. (I’m Asian so yeah, I tossed in that math joke). Life apparently didn’t matter until you held both the marriage and children cards in your hands.
The pressure to follow this put me into a tailspin and added to my story of being ‘unlovable’. When my first serious relationship fell apart, I was in a state of panic. I had just turned 30 and was now single. HOW HORRIBLE RIGHT? Even my mom treated me like I needed to get going on the marriage and kids train before it left the station forever. So I started dating feverishly, doing my best to find someone who would fit my standards (and that of my mother’s) so I could take part in this ‘ideal family’. (I swear, this is where a lot of my grey hairs come from.)
Every guy I found didn’t even come close to what I was looking for. The deeper I dove into the dating pool, the more I realized I didn’t want to have children. I saw the way my brother and his family dealt with their family and it just seemed like SO. MUCH. STRESS.
Then when I met my last ex, I started seriously (and I mean SERIOUSLY) contemplating having kids. I let myself envision a life where I would have a halfer kid(s). But when he told me he would still be off travelling around the world for his work, that closed my womb down. I’m not into single parenting. Don’t get me wrong, there are some AMAZING single parents out there who are knocking it out of the park. For me, I don’t care if I have the village living next door, I personally don’t want to be a single parent. Cuz parenting is HARD and we need to give parents credit.
Ultimately, when my last ex and I broke up, I gave in to the thought that I would never have the ‘ideal family’. That I would never have kids, or feel them growing inside me. And as a single person, that put me at a lower level in society’s (and my mom’s) eyes.
This idea of what ‘family’ is has changed since my mom’s generation. I understand if some people feel the urge to populate the earth (hey, go for it cuz that leaves me the freedom to do what I want to do). But do not, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER have children if you honestly don’t want to have kids.
I truly believe if I had a child, I would be resentful of them. I’d put up a good front (as every good Asian is trained to) because you can’t ever let other people see you struggle. Then there might be days when you think about your alternate life, one where you didn’t have kids and how that would have turned out.
This story my mom planted in my head is incorrect. She was afraid I would be lonely if I didn’t have kids. But I believe if I did have kids, I would be even lonelier. There would be a hollow feeling inside me because I did it for her, not for myself. And on her terms. So where does that leave me, as a person? I would now be responsible for another life for the rest of my life.
If we continue to live our lives for someone else, is it even your life? In my opinion, obviously not, because you let your life be hijacked by the culture, society, or familial values.
Family isn’t about getting married, then having kids anymore. I have a tier of unconventional families that I absolutely ADORE and would probably kill for, if it ever came to that. (Y’all know who you are.)
So this math equation that never added up for me? I’m freeing myself from it. One of my friends said it best: We’re not meant to have children in this lifetime because we’ve had them in others. What we’re meant to do in this lifetime is guide this generation’s children. (I don’t know if I even fit into that but I like the sentiment.)
What are your thoughts on the ‘ideal’ family? Did you ever question what your parents set out for you? Leave it in the comments below.
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