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“You are stronger than your muscles.” — Gloria Latham

“Are you pregnant???”

I swiftly looked down at my belly, where she was staring, dead centre at the hump where my abs were supposed to be.

“Uh, no.” I knew there was a grimace on my face when I answered. But, I was getting fed up with cultural propriety.

For several days, I tried to get use to these blunted questions in the Philippines. My brain reiterated that observational questions like this were not frowned upon, but my flabby stomach felt otherwise. I sucked it in — to minimize the scrutiny.

After I left that country, I’d move onto the next one, innocently appearing at a store or a restaurant, to be met with the same bluntness.

Lately it’s been Panama. My female neighbour down the path speaks Guari-guari, a hybrid of English and Spanish, with streaks of the local Guaymí thrown in, a native language of the Ngöbe Buglé people.

My neighbour and I stop often on the path to chat. It took some adjustment to understand what she was conveying to me, but one day I finally caught it.

“Hey baby, when are you due?”

“Due? I’m not pregnant. You thought I was? Nah, I’m just fat.”

It even shocked me that I joked so nonchalantly. Sarcasm is a deft reflection for the barbs of hurt.

You may have noticed that I posted an article on my fan page by Meagan Collins:


She recounts
how an anonymous woman commented on a news article she was featured in, calling her “unfit” and “overweight”, that someone of her size doesn’t look remotely like a traveler.

Meagen was quite fair to this woman by emphasizing such a comment isn’t entirely her fault, and hey, look at all the images of “fit” that flood Google when associated with female travel. The level of brainwashing is astounding.

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Image: Five-Dollar Traveller

Meagen’s burning words called for size diversity in the travel industry. That there is none, and heavier women receive criticism or are simply ignored, deemed boring, unsexy, uninteresting. Sometimes outright losing potential work (e.g., a video web series) due to size discrimination.

There was shouting. And whooping. Stomping my feet with, “Yes, yes, yes!!”

Her post affected me so deeply because I was fighting a secret war with my own body.

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I’m 5’1″, and wear a US size 10-12, depending on the label or fit.

This sounds reasonable, but photos don’t hide imperfections. A camera literally adds 10 pounds of soul-crushing shitty esteem. Sometimes I am brave and post full photos of my body on this blog. But I pick very carefully. If there’s one bulge, that photo never sees the light of day.

In my family, I effectively failed as an Asian beauty — my own mother told me my arms were too large.

I made the mistake of looking up the BMI calculator and to my horror, discovered that I am technically overweight for my height range. I made it my mission to never look at it again.

So the assault on my body began. Spin classes, coupled with juicing, eating vegetarian, devouring five small meals a day, and of course, running.

Running became a mainline into being what my body couldn’t be — ultra skinny, bordering on unhealthy. Even when I blew both my knees, I still kept going.

Once. Only once in my life I’ve achieved a size 3/4. Suddenly my BMI was aligned with my height and men came calling. This overdue attention partially excited me, yet was confusing.

I gained admittance to some “in” club of hotness. When before, men barely even noticed I breathed.

The size 3/4 glory days faded after I made the choice to stop running — to accept that my body seriously couldn’t hack it anymore, nor did I ever enjoy it much either.

Those pounds returned, making me see that in order to obliterate them, I’d have to exercise for two hours a day, everyday. Nobody has that luxury — except celebrities.

Once travel entered my life, I thought, eureka! No mirrors to worry about (dependant on where I went), or North American cultural norms haunting me.

Here, in this thing I loved — I could just be me.

But that was naive, because every single culture has their own relationship to beauty or what’s appropriate to say or not say.

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Let’s tear down walls.

I don’t stuff my face with junk food. I religiously practice yoga everyday, leaving me strong and limber. My days are fairly active, with walking or exploring. I can hike, swim and sprint on a beach (if the knees let me).

Yet, even with all these activities, I stay the same. Which means only one conclusion: I am genetically meant to be this size.

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A little black dress. It was hanging in a major department store in Panama City when I spotted it, but my first thought was it’s too clingy, will glaringly show my stomach in 3-D.

Slowly, inch by inch, I am reclaiming what’s mine. To say fuck it, ignore the pregnancy comments, and flow naturally, do what feels good for my body. Size diversity should be bellowed across rooftops and over vast bodies of water.

The worst thing you could do to someone is not allow them to be who they are. This includes how they look and what they wear.

The last thing I want to even fathom is how saggy I am in a dress, when I should be concentrating on this rich, fulfilling life I’m crafting.

This is me, coming out. And I kinda like her.

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Sitting happily with my size

Sitting happily with my size

Other Resources to Inspire You

1/  Camille Nicole asks, what does beauty really mean?
Post here: Beautiful

2/  Finally! A documentary on size diversity in the modelling industry.
Trailer here: A Perfect 14

3/ My favorite Facebook page on what it means to be healthy.
Page here: Healthy is the new skinny

4/ I LOVE Chelsea Bonner’s message about size diversity in modelling.

5/  Edith Dohmen is my hero. I’d jump in front of a bus for her.
Site here: Style has No size

What is your body image journey?