Curves In My Eyes and Sides
In typical NYC fashion, summer came and went leaving us with 40 degree days. I decided to finally swap my closet for winter. As I unpacked and packed boxes of clothing, I tried on a few pieces. I looked in the mirror and saw my curves lovingly. Not just on my sides, but around the almond shape of my eyes.
It wasn’t always like this. I didn’t always love my height, the way my eyes were monolid, or feel comfortable in knowing I was a size 10. Being an “in-betweener” of both American and Filipinx culture, I never felt I physically belonged to either.
Growing up as Filipinx and in the Bay, there was no shortage of Asians all around me. Even in East Side San Jose, with its predominantly Hispanic population, there were pockets of Asians and Asian Americans at every corner. If you wanted a crash course in how to feel like “the other” even within your own community, start here: I remember hitting my growth spurt around ten years old and feeling embarrassed to be 5 feet 3 inches, a rarity in own circle of Filipinx family and friends. My height became a striking feature; I thought about the cramped, studio “photoshoots” my friends would have and felt insecure that my height would throttle the usual symmetrical group photo. There was no way I could be part of the “Lil Mizz” group if I wasn’t little. There was definitely no “Tall Azn Miss” group anywhere - not even on Asian Avenue, the Xanga-adjacent blogging platform specifically for Asian and American Americans. I know, I checked. Even in my own family, everyone in my family was 5’2” or below. I was the proverbial sore thumb in every photo.
And if it wasn’t my height, it was my weight. Being a teen is already hard enough with the subsequent pressures of learning to love your body; and the added, often unnecessary, commentary from my family didn’t help. My family acted as if their opinions were helpful, maybe even motivational. It wasn’t necessarily said in a way to make me feel bad, but inevitably made me feel horrible. And you know those family nicknames? Yeah, it’s only cute to be called fat in Ilocano so many times before it actually stops being cute.
“Oh! You looked like you gained weight!” or “Wow, are you eating? You lost weight! You look good.” These almost-compliments and insults drove an insecurity that still continues to pain me to this day. Every visit to an auntie’s home or family event was a reminder that I wasn’t little, wasn’t skinny enough, or I was too fat and dark. The irony of being told these comments about my weight directly next to pork lechon wasn’t lost on me either.
Layer in America’s media-obsessed version of beauty that circulated around Eurocentric features of wide eyes, snow-white skin and thinness; my family’s critique was rooted in whatever was highlighted on TFC, which inevitably was white, too. They fawned over the latest starlet: how thin she was or how maputi her skin was (likely attributed to Likas Papaya soap or you know, good ol’ mixed European heritage). It seemed as if the lighter-skinned actors were seen as funny and charming and deemed leads and stars, whereas the darker-skinned actors were often featured as less attractive or just side characters - irrelevant to the plot. Every time I looked at these starlets, I felt less and less beautiful. It seemed that any Filipina starlet or American “it” girl could never look like me. It seemed in either world, I wasn’t good enough.
These insecurities continued to manifest all the way to college when I finally took emotional rein over my body. An internship brought me to New York City where my concept of beauty finally transformed. Maybe it was age or exposure to others outside of the Bay, but it was the first time I realized how beautiful I was. It felt like by breaking out of the homogenous communities I was part of, I found beauty in my own skin. The insecurity of my eyes being monolid and small transformed into praises of uniqueness. My weight was no longer just a qualifier but amplified who I was and growing to be: a confident, curvy womxn.
Now, well into my 20’s, I’ve tried to make strides with my family about their “beauty” commentary and renavigate their impressions of beauty, especially to the new generation. Sometimes, they don’t “get” it nor do they connect to how it’s impacted my entire life but to some extent, they’ve made less fuss about my weight. Signs of empathy pique every now and then. Small victories.
Self-love and acceptance are ever growing and transforming, lessons I continue to learn. It’s important to continue to break the preconceived notion of beauty in both cultures so that we all emerge better, stronger in our perception of ourselves.
I’m not saying every day is going to be perfect where I walk strong in my convictions around beauty but as I venture into my 30s, I feel proud to love my curves on my eyes and sides.