“Why you so fat, lah?”
I’ve had this question posed to me not once, but several times since moving to Singapore from Chicago seven years ago. What is politely considered off-limits in most Western countries – commenting negatively to a stranger about his or her body size or shape – is often fair game in Southeast Asia. The level of judgement on those of us who can’t fit into “regular”-sized clothing here can be palpable, such as when a sales assistant says, “No, don’t have [your size]. Too big.”
I was three months pregnant when I relocated to SG with my husband, and 41 when I delivered my daughter. Prior to my pregnancy, I was an athlete in tip-top shape for rugby and boxing, and teaching Body Pump, spinning and power yoga classes. My mode of transport was often a commuter bicycle, and I worked out all the time (and got paid for it, too!). I was not skinny, but I had defined muscles and big legs – reminiscent of an Olympic speed skater. I was happily a size US14, sometimes 12, and I Rocked. It. Out.
After the baby? My body tanked. I tried to work out, but had ligament strains, bursitis and the resurfacing of old rugby injuries to my hips, wrists, feet and even rib cage. These setbacks kept me out of the gym, and I was barely able to do yoga. One Singaporean doctor told me my knee problems were due to my obesity and suggested I get a gastric bypass (I was then 220 pounds, or about 100 kilogrammes). Another said that I should “not eat rice, bananas or durian.” Um, I never ate those things.
My story isn’t so dissimilar from other expat women I’ve met in Singapore. Over the years, many fellow moms have shared that having children here knocked them off their fitness game – away from familiar workout routines, or that they feel uncomfortable exercising outdoors in the tropical heat. Other people have simply gained weight while adjusting to the climate or lifestyle.
These days, I realise I cannot get back to that “perfect” (for me) 185-pound mark. Currently, I sit at 225 pounds, and I’m stuck. However, I am glad that – over time and with some self-care – I’ve recovered from most of my previous injuries.
I’ve also returned to teaching yoga, and actually like wearing form-fitting yoga wear and sundresses – I don’t try to hide behind too much material. But, it’s still a struggle to weather the comments in yoga class (“You don’t look like a yoga teacher”), and I’ve taken to not getting in the front for group photos. Sigh.
Despite the fact that I continue to deal with some of these issues and critiques, I have dug deep into my heart and found what I love about myself – and know that size and weight are just numbers. I am proud to have a strong, large American woman’s body. And, I try to project that positive outward attitude for both myself and my now-6-year-old daughter’s sake.
A last tip? I’ve learned to shop back at home or on sites where the sizes and styles reflect my own beauty – and give me a much-needed ego boost!
By Andrea McKenna Brankin, From The Finder Kids (Vol.24) , August 2018
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