Thailand has been amazing so far- waking up at the sun peeking through the curtains, breakfast of fresh papaya and mango pancakes, walking the streets and buying intricate handcrafts for all my friends. I have had some incredible experiences in just the four short days I have been here.
There is one thing, though, that I hate about Thailand. The Thai bluntness- or the freedom to comment about any aspect of a person’s appearance. We hadn’t been in Bangkok for five hours before a man asked when I’d have the baby. I told him “I’m not pregnant, just fat.” He laughed heartily and changed the subject. I was wearing a billowy dress, so I shook it off, embarrassed, thinking my flowy maxi dress was maybe not a good choice. Several hours later, we were browsing the night market and I asked if a pair of sandals came in my size. The vendor looked me up and down and said, “No, you too big…big all over.” To prove his point he held his hands out wide, emphasizing the expanse of my hips.
Tears stung at my eyes but again, I brushed it off, listened to sweet words of encouragement from my husband, and tried to forget. It’s no surprise to me that I am a big girl. I see myself every day, along with the XXL tags that line my clothes. There is not an hour that goes by in my life that I don’t think about my weight. You know this as you read about my life all the time- I am fat. It’s no surprise. What’s a surprise is that in Thai culture, your appearance is fair game- something to laugh at.
Today we took an elephant riding expedition. I was already nervous about this excursion, not knowing if my weight would be an issue. Our excitement mounted as we chugged along a dusty path in an ox cart towards the platform where our elephant waited.
As we climbed atop the Howdah, a wooden seat on the elephant’s back, the driver turned around and said “Ohhhhh my Buddha, very big body!!! Oooof!” My self esteem shattered once again but I swallowed back the knot in my throat and tried to enjoy the majestic mountains and the unreal scenery around us. I mean, c’mon- I was riding an elephant!
Eventually, our elephant lumbered into a river, and the elephant mahout (driver) on the elephant behind us took his hook and started to poke at my back. He was laughing as he poked at me, and said “Big!” I said, trying to just go along with it to get it over with, “Yes, big like elephant.” His reply was “Elephant not big, you big!”
I sat there in shock, completely taken out of my comfort zone. As I sat there I became furious, and humiliated. I may be obese, I may be big, but I am not an animal. I am a person and I do not deserve to be prodded at with a hook for the sake of a cheap laugh.
We got off the elephants and I tried to keep choking back my tears. As we stood in line for our lunch buffet (guess what? I wasn’t hungry), the great dam I had been holding back broke through, and my eyes unleashed like the river we had just been riding. I went off to the bathroom, where I sat in a smelly, dark stall with no toilet paper, sniffling, wishing for my hotel room, my bed, my mom, my cat. These things are comfortable with my fat. They know it, they understand it.
It’s like I said. I can’t deny the things they’re saying. When you’re fat, you can’t hide. Your flaw is exposed and you can’t tuck it away out of sight. All I wanted to do was run away and be alone, perhaps hug the giant sweet creature I had just ridden, tell him that unlike him, revered for his size, I am ridiculed.
Sadly, my day at the elephant camp was ruined afterwards, and even as we floated down a serene river on a rickety bamboo raft, I was hoping for it to end so I wouldn’t the subject of any more jokes. I tensed every time our guide laughed in Thai, wondering if they were making fun of the Ouan (fat) girl on their raft.
I am trying everything I can do to not let these remarks ruin my vacation, but it’s really hard to just let it go when it’s so blatantly rubbed in my face. I knew I had to write this because writing is always my therapy- my safe place.
So I ask you, dear readers, how do I avoid letting this cultural quirk ruin my vacation? At this point I want to hide in my hotel room, away from the observant eyes of the tiny Thai people. In the back of my mind, where the hurt lurks but hasn’t yet burned in, I know that I should just say “Fuck em!” I’m on vacation in Thailand and I love my life. I have not and will not let my weight stand in the way, nor repeated tactless comments. So I guess I just answered my own question. But ouch- whoever said words could never hurt you must never have been fat.
Edit: it’s been a couple days now since this happened, and the very best thing for me was going to Patong beach in Phuket. Bodies of all sizes were livin’ it up- including women much larger than me in bikinis. It made me realize at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what three people think of me- because my weight is just what’s on the outside. The things that define ME cannot be measured by physical standards Happy New Year!!!
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