Saturday, May 06, 2006

Women's Magazines

Women's Magazines greet you with pictures of poutingly pubescent girls, extolling a laudable desire to be comfortable with your body while deploring famous people for either being too fat or too thin. Magazines ask that you purchase and consume. There's something out there that is just the thing to make you thinner, younger, more desirable.

I once said to a university friend: I'm never going to look like these women in the magazines. For starters, I'm Asian. The friend thought it was a joke. I wondered if there was something I could buy to make me whiter.

Now, there is diversity. Not only are we confronted with preteen white beauties (and the occasional black beauty), there is also the Asian teenaged beauty, whose skin is just barely yellow, whose eyes are rounded almonds, who's as tall as those white girls.

And somewhere someone tells us it's easier to keep the weight off, if you're Asian.


Sure, it was pretty easy being a skinny kid. I grew up malnourished. Something to do with growing up in a refugee camp. But I now live in the minority, developed world and if I can afford to spend my money on these magazines, I also have full access to the smorgasboard of food high in cholesterol or sugars or fats or salt or all of those things. Being a teenager, physically active and with high metabolism, the weight was pretty easy to keep off. Then I was in my mid 20s, got an office job, was on oestrogen and progesterone for a few years, ate irregularly and exercised less. All the while, I remained Asian, and my tummy rounds out nicely, my thighs develop a fullness that I flatter myself Picasso would have liked.

I grew up. I stopped reading women's magazines. I stopped watching television. I ceased to pay attention to advertisements. I forgot that I was supposed to be beautiful and got on with being myself – I stayed fit and healthy, and the belly bulge didn't bother me. I am enamoured of the idea that Picasso would like my fullness (although I am not Blue. Would Picasso paint “Orangey-Yellow Nude”?)

And then, last week, I read a Women's Magazine. I was at a little cafe for lunch. I did not have my usual armory of random novel. Someone else had taken the daily paper. So I took the first Women's Magazine to hand. It was a foolish, foolish thing to do. It took me barely any time at all to flip through the entire 100-odd pages, but by the end, a creeping sense of dissatisfaction lodged itself below my heart (above the not-flat tummy). The feeling – like the belly – won't budge. I don't look quite right. I'm short. My clothes are shabby. My hair is shapeless. My eyes are too narrow. My skin has imperfections: a mole above my lip, blackheads scattered across my forehead like watermelon seeds spat out onto a barren field, and wayward freckles on my nose are falling onto my cheeks.

Picasso's women are not fashionable.

When I was a teenager, I could dismissively say: oh, they don't represent me, those white girls. But now, these magazines have something on me – they are inclusive. Bai Ling, Zhang Ziyi and Lucy Liu glare out at me. Asian is in (it might even be the new black). If you're skinny, and accord with their notion of perfect, product-selling beauty, they won't care what your skin colour is. Isn't that admirable?

Instead of succumbing to the easy availability of the Women's Magazine, I will confront my abibliophopia and sit, eating my lunch with no reading material. Or I will keep novels like I keep band-aids – at work, in every bag I carry, in the car, hidden along the streets I walk regularly. Or I will read the detritus of receipts that gather in my wallet.

I will not pick up another Women's Magazine.

And I will, eventually, repair my damaged sense of body-worth.

No person's body image was permanently hurt in the writing of this post.


sume said...

Oanh, I've heard the same thing. Oh, if only the the myth were true. Growing up, I was often told Asians never get fat and age so very slowly. Liar, liar, pants on fire. The funny thing is that after all my hard work get back down to my pre-baby weight, I don't even get the credit. No, that goes by default to that magical Asian weightloss gene.

The standards of beauty in glamorous world of tv and magazines are impossible to keep up with unless you have a team of plastic surgeons, makeup artists, exercise trainers and time and let us not forget MONEY. They also have the magic of photo editing to airbrush out every flaw, make them look thinner and taller in their photos. Reality blows.

I remember how I wanted to bleach my hair when I was younger, how I had dreams of "fixing" my eyes and my nose. Blah! I've learned to love my eyes. My nose is another story.

I worry about my daughter falling prey to the standard of beauty pushed by teen magazines and hollywood. It's an impossible standard and the source of so many eating disorders. It's funny how something that claims to celebrate the beauty of women can make us so hate ourselves.

Hoa said...

Yeah Sume- you're right- I'm now 33 and have a round tummy- I read somewhere that Asian women go pear shaped and I certainly am! Accepting that I'm not going to look like a pre teen or have that figure again has taken a while but I'm there now. I also bleached my hair when younger and someone told me it looked like the color of baby poo - so much for blonde glamour!

OTT said...

Sume & Hoa -

I'm of the opinion that body image is the last bastion, and most personal, feminist battle. It sounds so superficial but body-image and ideals of beauty are so invasive. I might be an empowered and outspoken feminist lawyer but my personal views of my appearance continue to disturb me, more so than ideological confrontations.

re the next generation, Sume - I feel the same way about my nieces. One can only impart one's love and one's own experience. The rest is up to the child. I am sure that you will provide a wonderful example for your daughter!

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