Some photos and rambling about our trip to China …
Overall, we had a fantastic time. It was amazing to visit places in person, like the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, that I had heard so much about for as long as I can remember. Almost surreal to see up close these things that have been around for thousands of years. It was great to catch up with our friend (we went over for his wedding) and have him show us around Beijing and Songyuan and take us to his favourite restaurants - the food was AMAZE! It was so cool to see the skyline of Shanghai and the beautiful architecture of the Bund and the French Concession. It was interesting to learn about China, in China, and a lot of my preconceived perceptions about the country were sent crashing to the ground. There were so many new things to see, do and experience that it was almost overwhelming, but in a good way.
However, there were also somethings about the trip that were less than good, and I wasn’t prepared for them. Well, not for the full extent, anyway. Our friend is Canadian and has lived in China for several years, so he gave us lots of tips before we arrived. One of them was that it was culturally acceptable to openly stare at people, but he urged us not to be put off by this, as it isn’t considered to be rude. He even said that people might grab my arms to get a better look at my tattoos - which aren’t as common in China, particularly on women.
But I couldn’t really imagine it, so there was no way I could have been prepared. EVERYWHERE we went, everyday, I was openly gawked at - by people of all ages. It was intense. I figured it was because of my tattoos, as well as the fact that I am a fat, white woman with big boobs, all things that added to my difference and foreign-ness. And I wasn’t being paranoid about it, the people we were with all noticed and commented on it too.
A lot of people seemed just genuinely curious and would smile and wave if I smiled at them first when I caught them staring. Some people were openly lecherous - I didn’t smile at them. And a lot of people were utterly disgusted and contemptuous, this was communicated quite clearly. These people did not smile, they just stared, pointed and conferred with their companions about me (I am glad I couldn’t understand what they were saying!). I must admit, this got quite annoying over the three weeks.
It seemed to me that it would be very hard to be a fat person living in China. I had a few people point at me and then blow out their cheeks and hold out their arms to indicate to me that I was fat. Fat was a topic of conversation with a lot of the people we met, about how they wouldn’t want themselves or their partners to get fat. One woman said to us in front of her chubby daughter that her daughter was too fat. And there did not seem to be ANY stores - and I went to a lot of malls - selling clothes in larger sizes, and straight sized stores only seemed to go up to a 16 or 18 at the most. Granted, I didn’t see many fat people in China, but there definitely were some - it’s a country of 3 billion people, so even if only 1% of the population would be considered fat by Western standards, that’s still the population of Canada.
Anyway, my questionable math aside, the sometimes hostile staring combined with the overabundance of fat hate took a bit of a toll on me while we were away. I had a few moments in the hotel room mirror that took me back to my pre-tumblr, pre-body acceptance days, and needless to say I didn’t like it. These moments weren’t helped by that fact that, due to the overwhelming heat, I felt crappy about my appearance in general - I was a sweaty, dripping mess most of the time, not a look I feel particularly confident about.
I realised how much I had come to rely on tumblr and the regular images of fat people I look at every day that help to normalise fat bodies - and therefore, my body - for me. I had decided to take a break from all social media while away - Facebook is banned in China so I decided to ban myself from tumblr too. When I started to have a hard time, I decided to keep to the ban and see if I could get back on track on my own, even though I had taken my laptop and could have easily accessed tumblr. But, as cliched as it may sound, I guess it was just another step in this journey of self love and acceptance - I feel like I keep coming to new hurdles I need to overcome, and this was just another one of them. It was a big challenge being in a place where not only did I stick out like a sore thumb, but also my differences were pointed out with derision on a daily basis.
After acknowledging to myself the step (or steps) back I had taken because of this, I was able to - without the assistance and good influence of tumblr - pull myself out of it. I just would not let myself think negative things, I would end any thoughts of that nature as soon as they reared their ugly head - literally by thinking, “No!” and changing the internal subject. That might sound stupid, but it worked for me.
And I realised that as intrusive and off-putting as the staring could be - especially when it seemed derisive - it wasn’t about me and shouldn’t have anything to do with my feelings about myself. So, in the end, I was quite proud of myself for getting through it and not letting it ruin my trip. Because as much as all of this was going on, I was also really enjoying myself - the conflicting, internalised moments were usually only in the hotel at night, after a day of mostly fun and amazing, eye-opening times.
So I guess the moral of my rambling is that I had an amazing time, despite some culture shock and feelings of self-doubt that cropped up along the way, and everything I experienced contributed to knowing myself just a little bit better.