Two days ago I ended my day on the verge of tears. The cultural differences have been getting to me. Not most of them. In fact only one.. the one where I get called fat.
Now, before you get offended for me, let me explain that in Thailand it is common to comment on a person’s physical appearance. “Oh, you look fatter today, have you gained weight?” “You need to eat more, you’re too skinny.” So on and so forth. To the Thai People when you comment on someone’s appearance it shows that you care. A sign that you pay attention to something about them. I think it may even stem back to earlier times when those who had more money and more to eat weighed more than those who did not.
So, normally when I hear comments on my weight I try to use my Peace Corps Cultural Adaptation Tools and let them go right over my head. Smile, nod, agree “Why, yes, I AM fat. I AM bigger than these other Volunteers.” And then I move on with my day.
For the most part, I can do that.. not a problem. Because I know it’s not meant maliciously. I know it’s just the way Thai people are. They are very blunt. They’re quick to ask you about your weight, your age, your salary.. there is no boundary here when it comes to those things like there is in America.
However, two days ago while I was being forced to sit in the front seat of a car and was being compared to a Pig, it finally got to me. I was not allowed to squeeze in the back because I was “too big.” A few weeks before I was not allowed to buy a size Medium Shirt because I was also, “too big.” There have been a few instances were I’ve been called fat. It took a couple months but it finally hit me, in the front seat of that car, and I had to smile it out. Choke back my tears and wait until I was in the safety of my own room to let it all out.
I have struggled with my weight my whole life. It is more of a crutch then I would ever normally let on. I’ve yo-yoed up and down my whole life. Even at my smallest, 129 pounds wearing a Size 7, I still thought of myself to be fat. It’s just an insecurity that has never gone away for me. I worked really hard this past summer to lose some weight. I went down 25 pounds. But then I moved to Thailand. The land of rice and eating 5-8 meals a day. I’ve avoided the scale because I’m scared to see what number pops up. The insecurity is there. But I’ve tried to let it go and let myself just live in the moment. I am, for the most part, happy with who I am and what I look like.
However two nights ago it was the last straw for me. All of my weight insecurities came flooding back in. It was like I was in high school all over again. I felt terrible. About myself, about being here, about everything. Terrible to the point of not even wanting to try. The day after I went through all the motions, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was emotionally worn out.
But then today something wonderful happened. A fellow volunteer told me she had spoken to one of our Language Teachers and he had mentioned me. She said that he had asked me once how I always seemed to be in a good mood and how I always appeared to be so happy. I told him because I chose to do this to myself. I knew the journey would be hard and there would be a lot of adjustments, but I would not allow myself to complain or the struggles to get to me to a point where I would show it, because I chose this journey. She then told me that he said whenever he’s upset about something he thinks of me and what I said.
That conversation, although short, hit me in a very deep way. Right now I’m tearing up just thinking about it. I had let myself revert back to my high school insecurities and almost let it ruin my experience here. Hearing that my Teacher was using what I said to help him through reminded me that I needed to do the same. I know what I am here for, I just let some of the cultural differences let me get a little lost.
I will undoubtedly get called fat 100 times over while I’m here in Thailand, but I know that it is not to be cruel. It is merely an observation. I will not let these things affect my time here. I will smile and brush them off and continue to do what it is I set out here to do. If I can continue to influence people along the way, even in the smallest way like I did with my Language Teacher, then I will have the strength to push on.
Sorry for the serious nature of this post.. I do have a lot of photos to share along with a lot of pleasant experiences. I just needed to get that all off my chest.
Peace, Love & Thai!