Why I must grow thicker skin about my wider waist
Updated: 2011-11-10 07:58
By Craig McIntosh (China Daily)
I bought my bathroom scales more than a year ago.
They were an impulse buy while scouring the aisles of some generic foreign hypermarket in Beijing - the kind of wasteful spending that inevitably results from being reluctantly dragged to the shops on a Sunday afternoon.
These scales sit in the corner of my bedroom gathering dust. I never use them. Why would I, when I get updates about my weight from my Chinese colleagues on a daily basis?
"You really need to exercise more," said a young female colleague in response to my offer of a hearty "good morning" the other day.
This she accompanied with a cheery smile and a slow nod of the head, as she looked me up and down.
Roughly one hour later, another workmate who was passing me in the corridor (this time male) lightly prodded me in the stomach, tutted, and then walked on without uttering a word.
OK, so I've put on a little weight. I get the message.
These examples aren't even the most, let's say, direct comments I have received, either.
Several times I've been confronted with sentences peppered with words like "heavy", "bulging" and "chunky", as well as been given suggestions on what I should be doing to halt my mid-30s spread.
"You should eat less," advised one, let's say, well-wisher. Another suggested I go on what was ultimately a starvation diet.
And it's not just at work.
As I dress in the mornings, I am regularly regaled with a chorus of Dafeizhu (Big, Fat Pig), a song my Chinese girlfriend lovingly composed one day in a fit of creativity.
She also cheerily passes on the comments her friends make the first time they meet me.
"She thinks you might be handsome if you lost a bit of weight," she told me once, translating something a classmate had directed at me moments before over the kitchen table.
A compliment that contained the word "handsome", but preceded by the word "might". It's like someone saying, you look like an "ugly Ryan Gosling" or something.
What am I meant to do with that?
Call me oversensitive, but the comments were jarring at first (and still can be, on occasion).
Where I come from, the weight thing is something people usually don't highlight about someone else.
There, if one of your colleagues noticeably gains weight, you do whatever is in your power NOT to draw attention to it. That's mainly for fear there may be some deeper emotional reason behind it than a fancy for pies and that by bringing it up you will be dragged into whatever drama may be unfolding in their lives. (Or is that just me?)
Looking back, when I arrived in China after six months of traveling through Southeast Asia, I weighed about 75 kg. In fact, at the time, my mother was writing me anxious e-mails about how gaunt I looked in pictures posted online by friends.
"Are you eating enough? Do you want me to send you some tinned corned beef in a care package?" she asked in one message. (For your information, I was tempted but declined.)
Three years on, I'm a tad over 87 kg. Not a huge increase, especially for someone who is average height - it's not like I've turned from Stan Laurel into Oliver Hardy. Yet, little in China goes unnoticed or unsaid.
I've managed to grow a thicker skin in recent months and now look to comments about my weight like basic pleasantries - the kind of polite conversation one makes while waiting for a bus.
That's not to say I've given up losing the weight. I haven't, but at least I don't need to set a target weight.
I'll know I've slimmed sufficiently enough when my colleagues get back to remarking on my bad hairstyle and irregular shaving habits, rather than my weight.