Saturday, January 15, 2011

I'll never get used to this

So, there I was at work, feeling quite happy and excited about being back. It was fun to see my colleagues, to give them some snacks from Australia and to catch up. In fact, I was having a rather good day until a Chinese work mate suddenly popped into my room:

-Jonna, can I ask you something?


-Well, don’t be sad now, but you look… like… you look, quite a lot bigger than before!

-Eh… okay.

-Yeah, did you put on weight?

-Yeah, I did actually. Too much drinking and eating I suppose.

-Because I’ve been looking at you and you and you really look huge! And all round everywhere! It’s kind of cute… but… I don’t really understand why.

-Eh… what do you mean, why?

-Well, you were only gone for 2 weeks. Why would you put on so much weight?

-Well… I don’t know really…

-OK, well anyway, I have LOST weight! Can you tell?

-Eh… sorry, I haven’t been checking you out…

-OK, well I just thought I’d tell you.

What the hell is WRONG with this society?! I spent the rest of the day staring at my computer, feeling like a walrus. So what if I put on some weight (something that I am already fully aware of –I kind of felt it when I put my clothes on, and I intend to lose every single extra stone), why do people over here feel they should tell you? As if you didn’t already know?!

Actually, don’t bother answer that. I’ve blogged about this so many times before and sure, they have their reasons: it’s to show that they care, it’s just a cute little comment, a la the Chinese way… Anyway, Chinese way or no way, I’m sick of this. Four and a half years in this country and I’ve had it with these kinds of comments (and no, sorry, but you never get used to it). Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I wished I was living somewhere else. Somewhere less weight-obsessed. Somewhere where colleagues don’t comment on the size of your behind.

It also hit me how sad this is: 15 days into the new year, and I've already been told I look "huge" and "round." This does not bode well for the new year. Yes, I'm heading to the gym this arvo.


Anonymous said...

But presumably you won't mind when people make comments about your weight loss? It is only in the West where weight is such a sensitive topic. This is probably partly to blame for the obesity epidemic.

Canny Loh

Jonna Wibelius said...

Canny -u know what, I do mind. I hate when people start commenting on my weight, regardless if I've lost or gained. I'm perfectly happy caring about myself, I don't need other people to tell me that I look skinny or fat. I never make comments about other people's figures, It's up to each and every person to look after their own temple. I'm really looking after mine (but then maybe I let go a little when I'm on a holiday) so I don't need others to do it for me.

Anonymous said...

I brought this up with a Chinese professor in Beijing, and she said, "Chinese people are stupid." And she was right. When you tell them it's rude, they say, "It's because we care about you." Total bs! I haven't met a Chinese woman yet that likes it when other people, Chinese or foreign, comment on their weight.

Proper Yankee

Kate said...

**Huug** I feel you Jonna! I have felt so grateful that in my office - where I'm the only foreigner and also the largest, by far - they "only" make comments about my boobs and not about my weight. How sick is that? I've had to learn to tune out my trainer's comments on how much fat I have to lose, because I like everything else about him. It's so frustrating. I like what you say about taking care of your own temple. I also feel bad for many Chinese - especially women - that they are so single mindedly focused on being thin. It's no way to go through life! Sexy is an attitude, not a dress size or a weight, and it's really Chinese peoples' loss that most of them do not realize that! You just keep living the good life - and get to the gym when you want to, not because you feel like you need to. That way you'll have a healthy body AND a happy mind - and if that's not looking after your temple, I don't know what is!

TFHK said...

this whole "comment-on-your-weight-because-i-care-about-your-well-being" phenomenon still bugs me A LOT. i am always puzzled as to why chinese people think it's acceptable to say things like that. those (chinese) who tell u they dun mind to be commented on are LIARS! i encounter many occassions when a girl/boy's (chinese) face turn gray when said-girl/boy's weight got commented on.

somehow i got a feeling that, weight=beauty=success in the chinese society which is so competitive that the reason why people keep bringing it up is because they are basically judgemental people and even proud of being so "honest"!!!

weight/age/salary/relationship status/'s all personal and it's none of anyone's business. but i understand it's impossible to convince those chinese who think it's not insensitive to spill out casual comments like that. one thing i am sure, the chinese society is among one of the most weight/appearance-obsessive societies of all (i consider myself quite well-traveled and had lived in the US for a few years too!). cultural or not, it's not the kind of culture that i appreciate.

hey i am 100% chinese and have spent most of my life in hong kong. i know what i am talking about and i so understand why it annoys u, let me give u a virtual hug and tell u that u look great! (did i tell u i saw u on TV the other day??? hehe)

Hans Li Engnell said...

Yeah, why this obsession with weight? My girl friend told me that when she returned to China just the other day the first thing her colleagues told her was that she had put on weight. "Nice to see you too...!" Since I was worried she wouldn't like the Swedish food I do feel a bit relieved, though...

Anonymous said...

"I spent the rest of the day staring at my computer, feeling like a walrus"

Sorry, but that was laugh out loud funny. Nice line.

How about trying a different tack? Instead of going against the tide in these conversations and debating them, why not shock 'em a little? How about agreeing with them in an over the top fashion. Telling them your as big as a house, or walrus, or whatever comes to mind and just keep rolling with it. Maybe if you go overboard then it will all seem rather silly to the person making these comments and to you. Maybe you could then go on to talk about how you wish you were as thin as a toothpick or a straw. It might just put it all in the proper perspective for them, the ridiculousness of the weight obsession.

Definitely a recurring theme Jonna, but you seem to have such an excellent ability to adapt to so many other situations that I am sure you will eventually find a way with this one. A lot of the other English language China blogs are filled with people constantly talking about wanting out of the country and unable to adapt to the cultural differences. You on the other hand seem to have embraced and adapted better than just about any of the other bloggers I read. This issue though, lol, keep us posted! I want to know how you eventually overcome it.

ewaffle said...

I agree with Hopfrog that "I spent the rest of the day staring at my computer, feeling like a walrus" was brilliantly funny. Even worse, I immediately got an image of Jonna looking into her monitor and seeing the reflection of a walrus (tusks and all) looking back.

Good idea--often if you respond in kind and seeming agreement to a rude comment--"Yeah, you are right, I'm training for the Fat Olympics"--it will shock the commenter enough so that he/she shuts up.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonna,
You should challenge their perceptions of weight and ask them
"Well why are you concerned about me if i get fatter? "lol. Or you should say "well it's pretty much my businsess if i gain weight or not...WHY Are you Seriously WORRIED about me?"

Katie said...

Ah yes. I hate that. At least they were actually considerate of you and considered the "whys" and were somewhat nice about it. They didn't just come up to you, poke you, and say "you've gotten FAT." That's the Jamaican way, from my experience.

TG said...

Jonna, be strong. One day you'll laugh about these things when you'll be eating cupcakes in your sommarstuga and telling your grandchildren about the time in China in 2011 ;)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Yeah u guys r right.. I shouldnt take it so seriously. It's just not something Im used to hearing from other ppl, but I should just start relaxing, and stop feeling like a walrus.. :) f course, if this girl comes to me again on Mon w similar comment I think Ill tell her to stop it, and that Im simply not interested in her opinion. Could b as simple as that.

And yes.. One day I'll prolly laught bout all f this!

Anonymous said...

Sorry but obviously that person must know you are bothered by the weight issue. I personally think this workmate was extremely jealous of you spending your holiday in Australia and getting tanned and getting attention at the office with your gifts from Australia that this person just had to be mean to put you down somehow. It's the same thing here in Finland when my friend is jealous of me, she always attacts on my weight. I noticed one photo of you together with Chinese young women and men and you were the prettiest and the most slim in that picture! Besides I think Chinese women's body measurements are looking strange and my sister also thinks so, Chinese women might have short legs compared to their back or short arms compared to other body parts. Chinese heads look big in small bodies. Look who's being evil now.

Anonymous said...

Chinese people always ascribe their offensive behaviors to the culture difference. Actually a good chinese never talks that kinda shitty stuff, and there is no excuse to shirk responsibility.

U dont need to get use to that bullshit cuz it is not a part of chinese culture. I myself am 100% chinese and I never make annoying comments even to my chinese buddies.

So sad if that thing happens frequently around u. I cant deny that many chinese are retarded and careless persons. Dont be pissed, just kill em all.

Anonymous said...

inbreds breeds stupidity

Jonna Wibelius said...

Cheers for the comments, but I feel that it is becoming a bit too harsh. Words like hate, kill and so on don't really belong in this blog. So let's drop this topic for now.

Tom said...

Excellent story Jonna! I am actually sharing your blog with a friend of mine (White guy) in Toronto too!

On my way work, I am listening the piece from the book called "How to win friends and influence people". As a Chinese Canadian, I have to admit that I love this book so much!!!

It is actually true that fundamentally there is not that much differences in terms of cultures, well, maybe in the surface, or lengths of the arms, legs, or noses.

To share a line with you from that book "if I am allowed" (by the way, you may noticed not a lot Chinese will say this to you either): Your happiness is controlled by your thoughts, nothing else.

You got great sense of humor too! As a common Chinese, I appreciate it and laugh my head off too, just to let you know!

Keep writing and you may publish a book later on and I will pay for it for sure!!!


Anonymous said...

I have had this happen to me as well, but here in Canada, and I'm a guy. This only happens when talking to Chinese women. While it irks me to hear it, I do not think these women want to be mean. They are simply stating an observation and show concern for you. I still find it odd and insulting, though.

Ego and tact aside, they are right (as you admit), shrug your shoulders, lose some weight and forget the whole discussion. Life goes on.

flyingfish said...

Sorry this is still bothering you, Jonna. Not that it shouldn't. Whether the commenters genuinely mean to show their concern for you or not, from your perspective it feels rude and invasive.

And it's all particularly ironic since you are so pretty and so athletic!

I spent most of my childhood in a ballet studio and most of my adult life on prednisone, which makes you retain tons of water, makes your face all puffy and totally wrecks your metabolism. I've gone from size two petite to size fourteen, and back again. And again. My wedding dress (getting married next month:)) will be size 14. And you know what? It's a beautiful dress, and I am confident that I will feel great as I say "I do."

My, point is pretty simple and obvious, and one you already know: it's your temple, subject to all the gales of the world. There is no need to let it be subject to the opinions of others, whether malicious or well-meant.

One other thing: I love the idea of taking it over the top, as some of your readers have suggested, but another option might be to strip down to a dead- serious tone and say something like, "that hurts my feelings." if the person who made the comment tries to explain/ defend the remark on the grounds of culture, maybe you could just ask for an apology. You might get it, and it might make you feel better!

Jonna Wibelius said...

flyingfish -thanks for your nice comments and CONGRATULATIONS on getting married! I'm sure u r going to look like a princess in your dress!! :)

I have thought and thought and thought about this and although I like the idea of making fun of it, I don't think I can. If someone tells me something like this again I am going to let them know that I don't wanna hear it (and, I might throw in some comments on their looks at the same time). I am just over it. I've still got 2 kg to lose but I'm working on it and soon I'll be there.

bkbj said...


I was born and raised in China and studied/worked in the US and Europe. Every time I went home my parents and one of my aunts would comment on how big I've gotten since last time they saw me (truth is, I maintained the same weight for a good 5 years now). I had a fight with my parents about this and they don't do it anymore, now knowing how I feel; but my aunt still does.

Here's the thing, I think when most Chinese people interact (I am risking being essentialist here), not too much attention is paid to how their WORDS affect the other person, but rather how their ACTIONS do. You can see this in parenting, when the parents could say the harshest things to their kids, while willing to sacrifice a lot for them. Or between friends, you may not have particularly meaningful verbal exchanges with a Chinese friend, but if you asked, I bet most would be willing to lend you a helping hand when you're in need, i.e. helping you move, fix your computer...etc. In a sense, commenting on one's weight, size...etc is something to express (on a socially awkward level when looked at from a Western perspective) when they want to show that they care/pay attention to you, due to not really having something solid to say.

On another hand, contrary to some comments above, rather than hoping to ignore/forgive these weight comments, or wanting for the people to become more "civilized", I think we also need to give a bit of reflection on how come these weight comments bother us so much, while it seems not to concern many Chinese people until (or even) recently. I am sure you are well aware of the discourse about the beauty/fashion industry, media portrayal of the (non-existent) "ideal" image, how exploiting one's insecurity and turn into huge profit etc etc.

You are one smart, beautiful woman, and nobody should be able to take that away from you :)

Jonna Wibelius said...

bkbj -thanks for your comment and the effort spent trying to explain this to me. It has now been 2 weeks or so, and I don't feel as bad about it anymore. Maybe I should have pointed out that this colleague of mine has lived in Sweden for 9 years and speak Swedish and understand Swedish culture... and she STILL said it. Anyway, I don't know why she did, but one thing's for sure: if she ever says anything again I will not take it, I will tell her off. Now I can actually laugh about it -I'm not fat anyway (I just spent 1 week in Swe and realized how normal I am -here are plenty of fat people. I am def not one of them!). I am glad that u brought it up w your parents and that they finally stopped. Fat or not, it's not fun to get comments about your weight!!

bkbj said...

Jonna, your colleague's just mean/insensitive/insecure. case closed. yikes!

Unknown said...

yikes, yea, def not fun... i hate comments on my weight, positive or otherwise, as a kid i was raised to avoid this topic, as it's impolite.

i was at my fiancee's home during the chinese new year (he is chinese), and his aunts and uncles wouldn't stop asking me how much i weighed (during dinner, mind you). when i finally fessed up, all of his aunties were in hysterics - they said "oh my god, that means when you get pregnant you will definitely go up to 200lbs!" well, i can't say much, obviously, these are my fiancee's family, but it put a stop to my dinner, for sure. after that, i felt embarrassed eating!

i am 5'7", 130lbs: this is not fat by any means. but i cannot shake that comment, even several days later! ugh.

i know exactly how you feel.