On being plus sized in Thailand

I have never been a slender human—pre-puberty, I was a chubby kid and in my adult life, little has changed. I had DD breasts in 8th grade. My ass is like in that Mos Def song—you CAN see it from the front. Your girl has some serious curves and rolls. Yet unlike for some people, this has never been a point of fixation for me, but rather a fact of life. I am not ashamed of my body. I don’t feel unhealthy– I enjoy exercise. I love vegetables more than the average person. My annual checkups are positive. So being big is not something I’ve historically struggled with—it hasn’t flavored my experiences negatively.

Flash forward to January 2017. I made the decision to join the Peace Corps and move to Thailand. I’m about two months in to my training and woah woah woah—my body is all anyone wants to talk to me about. “Why is your top so small and your bottom so big?” “Why are your calves the size of my thighs?” “Why is your butt the size of two people’s butts?” People will even touch my body as they are asking me these things. If you think I could make this up, you need to visit Thailand and see for yourself.

In Thailand, commenting on others’ body types is perfectly normal and I knew this going in to my service. The idea is that by commenting on your body, Thai people are expressing their interest in you—it’s a different way to show they are paying attention and by extension, that they care about you. I tell myself this every day when someone says something to me or when they mime a curvy body in front of my face. I grit my teeth and smile and joke about it because that’s what Thai culture demands of me. “Yes, my body is very, very big,” I say. “Yes, big butt! Big butt.” I smile. I play along because I’m a Peace Corps volunteer goddamit and I’m going to be the most culturally sensitive person you’ve ever seen. Yet it hurts me. It doesn’t feel good to play this game every day. I find myself feeling really quite shitty about the whole situation.

Which brings me to the realization that I’m slowly grasping more and more: it is NOT my job to like (or even agree with) every cultural difference I experience during my service. If I’ve given something a fair shot—tried to remove my pre-conceived notions and observed before judging—and it’s still not something I enjoy, then that’s okay. It’s really okay. I cannot and will not enjoy everything Thailand has to offer—the same can be said back home.

And this seems like such an obvious realization but it’s taken me two months to fully appreciate it. I don’t like when people comment on my body. It’s annoying and hurtful. And that’s okay because Thailand is not just a country where people go around touching other people’s butts and telling them they are fat. Thailand is so much more than this one thing I don’t care for– just like I am so much more than big/fat/plus sized. Damn. That feels nice to know.

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