I have been a UK 8 (US size 4) for as long as I can remember. Until five months ago, my lifestyle had been fairly sedentary and my idea of exercise involved a mat on the floor and some half-hearted stretching, plus the occasional uphill hike up LKF. I wouldn’t say I was overweight, but since moving to Hong Kong I’ve probably indulged a little more than I should have. Generally speaking, I eat healthily, although I have the occasional lapse (usually after a night out). To make matters worse, two of my favourite fast food joints – McDonald’s and KFC – offer door to door delivery. You see where I’m going with this?
After about 6 months in Hong Kong, I could see that I’d gained a little weight. My clothes were a little too tight, my silhouette distinctly curvier. I wasn’t fat per se, but I wasn’t thin either, especially when compared to the typical Hong Kong female. What gets my goat, however, is how everyone felt it was their public duty to inform me that I’d gained weight. It wasn’t as though I was inhaling more oxygen or snacking on endangered animals or whatever.
It started with a little gentle ribbing in the office – “you looked a lot better when you first came to Hong Kong”, “that skirt looks a little too tight on you”, etc. Soon after, I was asked how many months pregnant I was. I don’t know which of us was more embarrassed – me or the poor, unsuspecting girl that had tried to make casual conversation, who then found herself inadvertently committing a social faux pas.
After the ‘pregnancy’ scare, I capitulated and joined a gym. The psychological effect was immediate: I felt thinner just holding my membership card…Except the effect wore off after a day or so and I was left with a long, contractual relationship.
Then came the tipping point: I’d made an appointment with a personal trainer to get a fitness assessment. Throughout the entire session, he referred to my need to “lose fat”. In Cantonese that is a perfectly acceptable term, I am told, but something was lost in translation here. Under fitness goals, I saw him write “lose fat”. Even the machine designed to measure my weight spat out a roll of paper accusing me of being “fat”. I hate being discriminated against by machines, so I suggested to the personal trainer that his machine might be judging me based on Asian standards (OK, so I omitted the fact that I am half Asian). He made no adjustment though, despite my protestations that some fat is good, while gesturing to my womanly curves for good measure.
Since then, I can’t help wondering about perceptions of ‘normal’. Clearly, different cultures view fat and thin differently. Has Hong Kong gone too far though? Is it fair to impose your own cultural norms on others – particularly on such a personal, sensitive issue? Have you been told you need to lose weight? How did you react?