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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Deflated

This past weekend, my father came to visit me. He hadn't seen me since February, and before that, since graduation weekend, when he threatened to cut off all ties due to my relationship with electroman. My father is a prestigious executive at a leading computer company in China. Before that, he was a top software developer for IBM. Throughout my life, he has sought fortune, a little bit of notoriety, and business success. He ambitiously pursued his career at IBM and, when he hit a glass ceiling in the company, possibly due to his overwhelming Asian-ness, he was recruited by his current company and he leaped at the opportunity. It meant that my father was rarely home while I was growing up, which suited my mother just fine. My father always felt that his family tied him down; that filial obligation was little more than a distraction from his real goals. As soon as he could, my father immigrated to Canada in pursuit of his position at IBM, and my mother left a good entomology position in Taiwan to rebuild her life as a secretary in North America. As a child, my father had little patience for his daughters' growing pains -- I remember him as a tyrant, larger than life, always angry, never forgiving, always more interested in his laptop than us. I remember having to play quietly, always worried that he might get angry that our play had taken his mind from his work. As things got rockier for my parents, my father took longer positions out of the house -- frequent business trips gave way to six month postings around the country, and when he left IBM for his current job, even though it meant moving to China, my father felt time away was a small sacrifice. My mother once told me that I was my father's "pearl". When I was born, he couldn't stop holding me, and that I was perfect in his eyes. I've never known it. As I grew older, my parents felt I should follow the path laid out before me by their immigrant hardships. I exhibited the academic talent, so it was up to me to live the life of the excelling model minority. I learned to read as soon as I could lift a book under my own strength, the multiplication tables were drilled into my head before I understood what it all meant, I took piano lessons, Kumon, the Gifted program. My one flaw: I have always been overweight. This seemed to be my father's great disappointment. My sister has always been thin, with large eyes, long silky hair, cute puckered lips, a great fashion sense. She is the personification of Asian beauty -- even though she eats like a lumberjack. I, on the other hand, have always been rounder, softer, more pudgy, less interested in feminine things. I failed him when I expressed my true, pudgy nature. In an effort to cut my weight, he instilled in me the belief that I needed to eat less and eat healthier. I needed to cut out peanut butter, butter, bread, rice, meat, juice and sweets. While my family ate two bowls of rice each, I got the evil eye when I ate more than my requisite, pre-proportioned, half. I never complained -- I felt I deserved it. I grew up hungry and hating myself for it. I felt feral, wrong, and abnormal. I believed there was something freakish within me and that all of my academic achievements (gone largely unappreciated by my parents, since, after all, it was expected of my "talent") would be worthless if I couldn't be "womanly" as well. Try as I might, while I could jog daily, swim as frequently as possible, cut breakfast out of my diet and watch every calorie religiously, I couldn't seem to shed the pounds. I couldn't seem to force my frame into a size 3 or lower -- the size only befitting a person of my ethnicity and expectations. In high school, I watched as my other friends lived a more or less Sweet Valley High existence; they loved to shop, they wore the latest fashions, boys crushed on them and they crushed right back. Meanwhile, my swell of hormones seemed only to be a karmic joke -- I was convinced that no boy could like a girl of my stature, and certainly, my high school dating experiences (or lack thereof... I asked five boys to my senior prom before one would say yes!) seemed only to corroborate this assumption. In short, and not to delve much more into this teenage angst, I was ugly and I knew it. How ironic that yesterday was University of Arizona's Love Your Body Day. I have always felt that self-made celebration to be beyond me -- I don't have the capacity to love this body of mine. I don't, couldn't, love being fat. I seek no affirmative action-esque pride in my appearance, only a desperate desire for acceptance and understanding that being overweight is not a fatal, unforgivable flaw. The last thing I want is to be abnormal, even if it means pride in being different. When I began dating electroman, I did discover that I, too, could be beautiful. In his eyes, I am perfect, and slowly, he has helped me find a skeptical acceptance for who I am. He sees the attractiveness in me that I failed to see for seventeen years, and I have started to believe that it is there. It has taken him six years to chip away at this, my biggest emotional baggage of all, but, to his credit, I am learning to accept myself as pretty. He was the first person in my life who didn't judge me, or say the wrong thing when they tried to do right. He was the first person in my life who made me feel normal and exceptional all at the same time. He doesn't know it, but I hear him, and I thank him. And yet, this slow self-confidence that has taken hold and made me admittedly happier is fragile, and while I had come to believe over the past year that it could not be stolen from me, a brief visit from my father on Sunday was enough to skyrocket me back to my adolescent days. I know that my father means well -- he has reached the pinnacle of his career and is looking at retirement, and now he has realized how much he has sacrificed to get him this far. While he was once superhuman in my eyes, I see him now as a mere mortal: a lonely man, bent, greyed and exhausted by endless work and missing the necessary familial contact that keeps others sane. His relationship with me was shattered long before electroman (when I found myself no longer able to entrust him with my familial care) and though he hopes to find a way to rekindle the father-daughter relationship first forged when he held me in his arms the day I was born, I can't help but see it as hopeless. Fake, even. I remember how little I meant to him when his career was on the line, how small I seemed in his eyes when I became too big. Neither of us can forgive what seems to be the inevitable course of our relationship: that he will lose interest / feel betrayed the day I give myself in name to electroman. And, of course, I see the pattern. I must have inherited his restless, wandering ambition. And so he visits, for a mere five hours because he wants to get to know the adult me, trapped in his idealistic fantasy that we can be the family he dreams of. But he has nothing to say to me. We are strangers who know each other very well. And so he falls back on that which has always been his pattern -- he shows his love by trying to forge me into a better person. And my greatest sin is that I believe him. Even this short an appearance in my life is enough. With the endless cajoling to "eat healthier" (forget that my daily diet is at most 1500 calories a day and mostly veggies and seafood-- if I have junk food, it's maybe twice a month) and "exercise more" (forget that I run a daily 35min, 5K and am working on bringing it down to 30min), though I know he only says such things because he loves me, I could feel myself spiralling back into the depression and self-loathing that marked my teenaged years. Though I tried to stay positive and internalize my responses to his nagging, I could feel each piece of "fatherly advice" like a physical blow. After his visit on Sunday, I felt numb and emotionally distant. I couldn't concentrate on the schoolwork I had to do -- I kept feeling as if something were wrong, that I wasn't doing enough. I looked in the mirror and for the first time in months, genuinely hated the person who looked back at me. My physical flaws screamed back at me from my reflection, and beyond that, I felt as if my academic successes were once again insufficient. So last night, I sucked in my gut, donned my gym clothes, and went running. I ran longer than I have in weeks, the entire time mentally flogging myself for all my inadequacies. I ran knowing it was futile and not caring. I ran wishing I could fly off the treadmill and into another body and another life. I ran wishing I had the self-control to starve myself. I ran wishing (as I had as a child) that I could take a knife to my waist and cut away this fat and with it all my pain and insufficiency and weakness. And after that, when I was too tired to run any further, when my father called and told me I was visiting home in Christmas (I had no choice) and that he would try to visit Arizona again in March, I called electroman and broke down into tears. I cried because I just couldn't do it again. I cried because I had spent so much time this weekend preparing myself and my apartment for my father's visit. I cried because I knew I would build myself back up only to be shattered once more. I cried because there was nothing I could do to change it all. I cried because of schoolwork and stress and loneliness and hunger and self-hatred. But above all, I cried because I realized how little my posturing about self-confidence, self-esteem, self-image and independence really meant. I cried because my father proved exactly how weak I really am. Others say that we women are to blame for buying into the beauty myths that innundate us. They claim that all we have to do is cease buying the magazines, crash dieting, and subscribing so much importance to physical attractiveness. They say that if we stopped accepting the gender roles, the roles will no longer have any influence, and that we are to blame for buying into the hype and drinking the Kool-Aid. And, yes, tomorrow, I will wake up and feel better. In time I will remind myself I am healthy and beautiful and worth it. Eventually, all this will be a repressed bad memory from a distantly, stressful time. But, right now, all I can say is that no woman in her right mind would choose this kind of self-loathing. Previous Posts: Being "Marilyn Monroe"-esque Skinny White Bitches

8 Comments:

Blogger Maureen said...

I have come to the conclusion that parents, and notoriously Asian parents, when faced with no common thread on which to generate meaningful conversation, turn to criticism, because this is what they received from their parents, and is the only means of meaningful communication they know. Because they are afraid to appear soft; because something in them makes any gesture of affection so awkward, unnatural, and God forbid un-Confucian. I agree with your observation that they do not mean badly, but it hurts. BAD. The truth is, no matter what anyone else tells you, what your parents say resonates most profoundly, which goes to say that the Asian culture confers onto them so much power, and they, perhaps unwittingly and non-maliciously (I would like to believe) more often than not abuse their autocracy, knowing you should never, in your good filial piety, oppose them.

I feel your pain, and I think the best we can do is to know it to not do this to our children. Suffice it for now to emphasize that you are an amazing, accomplished woman, more intellgent that most skinny (Asian) bitches I know, and that I hope you will find it in yourself to turn a deaf ear to the abuse. (I'm still working on that myself.)

11/08/2005 07:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

It takes a lot to go against what your parents say. I know - I've been trying to get past years of neglect and abuse myself and whenever I talk to my parents, or go back to Canada, I always feel like a little kid in trouble again, even tho I'm considerably older than that now with a kid of my own. I only hope that I've learned not to do that to my own son...

I'm sorry it had to happen - Maureen is right - you are an intelligent, beautiful (yes, you heard me!), fun, AMAZING person and nobody can take that away from you. It may feel like he is doing, but underneath it all, you're what you are - he can't take that away from you with a million negative words.

*hugs*

11/08/2005 08:25:00 PM  
Anonymous alicia said...

*hugs*

you certainly don't look overweight. you're also adorable.

my mom says her children will always be her children. today mom was pressuring me to practice my flute. i'm 37 years old.

11/08/2005 11:40:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

Excellent post!
I sorry, Jenn. I had no idea. I feel that this is the best post you've ever written. Not for its subject matter, but for your description of it all. I've always told you I love the personal stuff of yours and we never seem to get enough of that here. I know it's hard to bear your soul like that, but I have to say that this post touched me more than anything I've ever read of yours. Thanks for letting us in. Just sayin'...

11/09/2005 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger Karlos said...

I second what Will said. Quite a post!

By the way, don't sweat anything that happened in high school; I got rejected by every single girl I asked out in high school, and shit, I'm Special K!

Oh, and you know that (just this once) J's right; you know you fine. I'd say more, but last time, it ended with J's hands wrapped around my throat and a box of Juji Fruits rammed up my ass...

11/09/2005 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

thank you guys for all the kind words. it's been a rough weekend, but even just upchucking my feelings into this blog made me feel better.

thanks for reading and all the hugs! this was a very difficult post for me to write, and i wasn't sure if I was going to publish it or not, but thank you for not judging. :)

K:it ended with J's hands wrapped around my throat and a box of Juji Fruits rammed up my ass...

... mmmm.... kinky....

11/09/2005 05:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Delurking to say...

I only just got round to reading this post.

I wish I had the words to make you feel better. I wish I had the words to make you believe you are stunningly beautiful. I wish I had the words to make you realise you are funny, insightful and intelligent - enough to make you one of my regular reads although I have only posted twice before.

I can say that I know something of your pain through sharing similar eperiences - this post brought tears of recognition to my eyes.

"I cried because of schoolwork and stress and loneliness and hunger and self-hatred. But above all, I cried because I realized how little my posturing about self-confidence, self-esteem, self-image and independence really meant. I cried because my father proved exactly how weak I really am."

I offer only this - not to admonish or blame but from the hope that what helped me may also offer you some solace.

All of these things are dynamics. They are fluid and contextual. An inability to feel them in each and every situation that occurs in your life does not make you 'weak' - it makes you human.

*hugs*

11/09/2005 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger solitaire said...

Your post made me think of a few things.
Living in a very Asian-dominated suburb, I went to school with Asians. Had and have Asian friends.
When I made a trip to Pacific Mall (you know where I'm talkin' bout, sis!) I wondered why the heck the clothing stores catered only to, well, skinny Asian chicks. What about my friend Tee, who wasn't skinny? Where are the stores for her? Where are the clothes for my round ass?
Alas, they are not in Pacific Mall, further pushing the notion that Asian women are not to be curvy. Round. Fat, if you want to say that.

The other issue of your father not liking J-Dog... is it because it's against his wishes? It is because of the superstition that black is 'evil'? Is 'bad'? I ask that because my father worked with a Chinese woman some time ago. They were talking about cultures and she said she could never bring a Black man home, because her parents, old school Chinese if you will, said that black is evil, so therefore, Black people are evil and are not to mix with 'good'. When my father told me this, I was quite dismayed. But then again, who wouldn't be?

I've noticed there were two types of Asian kids I went to school with...those straight from China or Korea... and those born here (Canada) to Chinese or Korean parents. Big difference? Well, look at those who spoke English at their first language...they were prone to socialize with me, rather than those with English as their second language.

Your last paragraph was the turning point... you are healthy. You are very pretty. And reading through, I could identify. As a woman? Moreso as a Black woman. We know white women have these problems as well... but it seems to be more 'socially unfit' for visible minority women.

11/11/2005 08:45:00 PM  

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