I love fashion. I love clothes: looking at them, picking them out for friends, but most of all wearing them. Clothes are definitely my guilty pleasure. Let's not say how long I can go without doing laundry and never repeating an article of clothing once, let alone an outfit (I own a lot of dresses). Anyway, one of my closest friends and I both went shopping in anticipation of our separate trips to China (where I just returned from), when she mentioned that she figured she'd just buy most of her clothes there. I replied wistfully that I wish I could, but that my last experience didn't go so well and that I was doubtful that this one would go better.
Some background: All of the women in my family are tiny--not just petite, but small heads, small torsos, small feet, etc. Except me. Nothing about me is tiny (despite my shortness) except for my feet. Okay, and hands. In China, I stick out like a watermelon among a field of...strawberries. In 8th grade, I went shopping with an aunt and saw this gorgeous brown dress that I wanted to try on. The shopkeeper was about to give it to my aunt when she indicated that I was the one who wanted to try it on. The shopkeeper gave me the once over and said bluntly, "Her? No way." I slunk away, abashed--it wasn't until only after that I thought of a suitable retort: that I'd just take my wad of American money elsewhere.
I haven't grown in height since then, but there was puberty. Since then, I have not had a single encounter with my mom that didn't involve a comment about my body fat percentage. I am, to put it delicately, lopsided in a top heavy way, with wide calves. My aunts say that I'm "fat" (pang, used affectionately, not pejoratively) in a cute way, but that sentiment was not shared among others in China.
This was made abundantly clear when I went with another aunt to try on qipaos, unbelievably beautiful traditional Chinese dresses. They are notoriously unforgiving, having no stretch as they are made of silk, and I, at this point recognizing that I had reached the second largest possible size in standard Chinese clothing stores, figured that sizing up still wouldn't work. It didn't. The shopkeeper looked at my aunt, who at 4'10" looks 30 even though she's 44 and is delicate and porcelain, and back at me, bursting at the seams of the qipao, and the expression on her face led my aunt to explain that I was her niece from America. The shopkeeper nodded knowingly and immediately launched into a diatribe about how Americans are all fat and eat fast food all day long. At this point I was wrestling out of the qipao in the changing room, but I could hear the awkward silence as my aunt didn't quite know how to respond.
I've written extensively about the issues of fat shaming in American society (if you're interested in more, leave me a comment!), but I have been quite at a loss since I went to China on its role there. This post will also be continued next time with some more commentary/observations on other beauty standards. But for now--I'd love to know: what do you all think about the view of differing body types in AAPI/APIA communities?