Friday, August 2, 2013

Relatively Overweight: New York and Jakarta battle it out as one girl struggles to define herself between shifting paradigms

Avocado + Chocolate

When I land at Soekarno-Hatta airport, especially from a twenty-hour journey, I could feel my eyelids close on itself. Left with sleep-deprivation and a wave of expectations, I drag my luggage through the halls that I know so well. Battling through, I sense ripples of familiarity rushing through me.
The scent. The humidity. The lights.

Although my eyelids are basically shut, I rely on three indicators to welcome me home: 1) the scent of humidity clinging to the wooden figures that line the hall, 2) the squat toilet at the newly furbished restrooms, and 3) the quick scan for accumulation of body fat by my family members. Yes, we have a routine. Quick 'hello', perhaps a hug, followed by the ever so subtle full-body gaze. At that moment, I usually either stare at the crowd or cross my fingers for what comes next. Of course, from time to time one receives a "healthy" mix of negative and positive responses, but after awhile I stop believing in their responses. Perhaps, this is one of the largest culture shocks that I encountered as I shuttled back and forth between Jakarta and New York. 

Perceived to be a superficial city, New York, unfortunately, continues to carry remnants of Sex and the City. Many of my friends in Indonesia focuses on the fabulosity that many TV shows portray, i.e. wearing Louboutins and a size two dress on 5th Avenue, followed by a stop at Magnolia's. Rarely do they expect the group of hipsters that trail on their bikes with their rainbow colored manes. Fret not, New Yorkers are definitely as appearance-centric as Jakartans, however in very different ways. Weight in Jakarta is, perhaps, a larger focus than it is in New York. 

Women in Jakarta indulge in the idea that happiness comes at a certain size, preferably a small since we don't really go by size 2s and 4s. On the other hand, women in New York appear to embrace their size, whatever it may be. As a result, the range of ideal measurement and beauty is defined differently. In addition, the concept of the person within is also altered. 

The attitude towards eating in Jakarta contrasts the ones held in New York. In both cities, young people spend their weekends looking for the next big culinary hit, however New Yorkers tend to wolf down their meals, while Jakartans choose "healthier" and "skinnier" cuisines, only to stop halfway through. The responses to finishing a meal also differs, when I am eating with a new friend or acquaintance they often question my appetite, some even label me "The small eater" or "Little Robyn" for my lack of appetite. In Jakarta, my friends would either stop me a quarter way through or tell me to have a healthier outlook on food, i.e. taste it but don't finish it. A bowl of rice is often shared between two people to prevent overconsumption. 

For the record, there's a bit of green in that Pistachio Gelato! Tee-hee 

The attitude on food varies, perhaps, due to the perception of the ideal measurement. In the U.S. the scale ranges from a size 0 to 24, I believe. Plus size ladies are lauded for their shape. Being fit is key, even though this has almost nothing to do with the one's size, rather it is associated with the tautness of one's body. New Yorkers are encouraged to love themselves, both physically and emotionally. To change is not as big of a deal as being healthy. For instance, I have never been critiqued for having belly fat. No one has told me to suck it in. However, many of my friends have berated me with information and advice when they learn that I don't consume most vegetables. Health can be achieved at any body size and it rarely has anything to do with weight loss. 

In Jakarta, many friends have critiqued the lack of greens on my plate, but they often continue on by saying how fat I look or another person looks. Acquaintances have greeted me with "You've gained weight, haven't you." Or "You look prettier, but still need to lose weight," and "Exercise and dieting will help you lose weight, which will, in turn, make you a happier person." All my life, I have become accustomed to these remarks. Nevertheless, once I started studying in the U.S., both for pre-college summer school and after being enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College did I become aware of how abnormal those comments are in the U.S. Being called fat in the U.S., especially in New York, is an insult and ample reason to hit someone or blacklist them from your contacts. I finally learned that I the insecurities, as well as the rage I experienced when told to lose weight or labeled fat are far from exaggeration and insanity, instead they are normal and quite reasonable.

You calling me fat?! Well... Wait, why am I mad? Why don't I just move? I'm in a zoo, dammit!

Switching settings every few months can be hard, especially as it plays with your mind. In one place I am considered overweight, while in another I am considered lean. What's worst is that I am not a big fan of the food in NYC. Yes, they are an experience, but they are not as fresh and familiar as food from home. As a result, I tend to eat very little in NYC and devour tons in Jakarta. With jet lag and the change in environment, I often forget to alter my eating mindset, as well as control my tastebuds from salivating at the site of krupuk or ayam goreng

Even so, having to constantly adjust myself and be aware of the changes have certainly molded my views, as well as expanded it. More importantly, it has made me become increasingly excited on the dinner table, as I scan for different behaviors and responses to food, others, and the conversation. However, what I have realized is that there is no need to define ourselves, especially based on weight. To focus on our weight, is to gradually creep away from our passion and the chance to live a full life. Yes, the flip flopping ideas of weight, the ideal measurement, and food might have proven to be rough, glorious and depressing at times, but as one wise man said, "It is all about perception."

*All personal photos 

More articles to read on weight and the paradigm of "ideal weight":
The Beauty Bias: How our views on female bodies shape us -
Body Culture and When "Healthy" is the PC Guise for "Skinny" -
Regurgitated Headlines: Stop body shaming celebrities -

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