self-gratitude & body gratitude

BLOG, body image, Essays and Letters, LOVE

There was a time I was troubled by my inability to feel gratitude towards some people who were supporting me in huge ways, and perceived it as a dysfunction on my part. When I eventually accepted it as a reasonable result of those people also being the biggest source of my pain, any gratitude I tried to muster towards other things and people still felt superficial.

Then someone introduced me to the idea and importance of saying thank you to ourselves. I thanked myself for resilience, courage, patience, and for trying. It felt nice.

Lately I read about how trauma affects the body and the brain. I was brought to my knees realizing just how much our body and brain are infinitely more intelligent and complex than all my conscious thoughts and analyzing and problem-solving skills put together.

Over and over our body and brain go to work automatically, without conscious mental instruction on our part, to protect us, help us survive, and keep us alive. I think about every time the knife slips when I chop carrots and it hits the nail of a finger. I don’t tell my hands to move out of the way. They save themselves during 99.9% of my chopping accidents before I know it. Or when oil splatters from a hot pan and hits a quarter-inch away from my eye but never actually in my eye. Or like the other day I stumbled over a rock. By the time I registered that I was falling, my body had caught me. I was back in one piece and steadied by the time my thought was over. Instinct.

Too often we resent and punish our bodies for their shape, sensations, feelings, moods and emotions, and we forget the immense intelligence and power of our instincts and intuition. Neuroses, sudden flood of tears and even illnesses are often part of the body’s way of trying to regulate or remedy itself.

So, deepest thanks to you, my body. I’m so lucky to have possession and experience of this healthy, exquisite biological machine.

my inner Shrek

Beauty, body image, LOVE

For the first time in eleven months, my friends, who kindly read my blog, I got tired of believing that Everyone is Beautiful the way they are, with all their perfect imperfections etc. No I haven’t met anybody who’s making me think that, not anyone new anyway. Just myself, my good old self. And my feet’s love for tennis shoes. Let me tell you.

Last week I had my first business meeting. There was a fair bit of walking to get there so I wore my tennis shoes and carried my heels in my purse. After the meeting on my hike back to my office I realized: I was still in my tennis shoes.

I told it as a joke later but at that moment I realized just how far away I am from the woman I tried to be. The Professional Woman who not only does good work, but who looks Pretty and Polished and ideally Charming, Friendly and Memorable. 

The other joke is that out of that list of Professional Woman qualities I can ever only meet the first one. With the looks thing I can keep trying but as my feet tell you, it’s not in my biology. And the personality thing, well, my inner voice is saying “Oh honey, you know you’re not that person…”

With my big wide sweaty feet in my tennis shoes, I called myself a rather harsh name I would never call anyone. Unless you’re Shrek. You’d think I was being a bully to myself but actually it was liberating. Compared to the part of me who tries to convince me that I’m Beautiful, who pretends not to notice my aesthetic shortcomings, the name-caller is at least looking and acknowledging every part of me.

And my inner Shrek, whose Shrek-ness is only relative to the Professional Woman ideal, says “You may pretend not to see me, but it’s not like you can get rid of me. Might as well come up with a new plan that includes me so I don’t show up as a surprise to you!”

gentleness and attention = love

Beauty, body image, LOVE


“Beautiful” looks different to everyone. Let’s not be in denial: some of us really do appear more beautiful than a lot of us. But is that important? It might feel like it is because we can get so jealous about it. Actually it is not. Because more than being “beautiful”, deep down all we want is to be worthy, worthy of love, success, happiness, a good life. The moment we buy into the belief that we have to look a certain way before we can get love, success, happiness and a good life, we’ve distanced ourselves from those things.

Some days I still hear a frustrated voice: I can’t be happy while my skin isn’t clear. I’ll have to do something about it so I can be happy again.

The energy is criticizing and angry to start with but it can shift when I give myself more attention. Like when I look at myself, spend time to figure out what might cause flare-ups by paying attention to my body, or like when I’m physically gentler with myself. Even if I don’t find an answer, the simple act of giving myself this care and attention makes a lot of difference. It’s like, finally there’s someone who can help, someone to rely on who won’t give up or leave. This person says, I’m gonna be here with you on this, I got your back. And you completely trust and believe her because you feel that she’s telling the truth, because you and her are one.

It is a moment of bliss. I feel safe, rescued, redeemed, loved, loving, strong and powerful at the same time. My skin isn’t clear yet, but that moment is happiness.

We all look different but we’re the same.

We are perfect, not because we’re free of flaws, but because we are enough and do not require improvement to be worthy.

We are beautiful, not because anybody thinks so but simply because everyone is, by default of being a life on earth.

We are all equally worthy already.

back fat and relationships

body image, LOVE, relationships Gervert

In Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, there’s a section titled “It’s not about the back fat: men, women, sex and body image”. Brene interviews a group of college students, young men and women. A young woman is fired up about how men make women feel like she was never pretty, sexy or skinny enough. A young man makes the “never good enough” case against women too. A woman went on to say,

“It’s not easy to have sex and keep your stomach sucked in. How can we get into it when we’re worried about our back fat?” Then one man, “slammed his hand down on his desk and shouted, ‘It’s not about the back fat! You’re worried about it. We’re not. We don’t give a shit!’”

I don’t know how many women who haven’t read the book could even guess what this man was about to say. Would he say, sex is a pleasurable experience and a woman should just let herself go and enjoy the moment? Or possibly something sentimental like, when a man loves you he doesn’t care about your back or belly fat?

Instead, the man “took a couple of deep breaths and said, “Stop making up all of this stuff about what we’re thinking! What we’re really thinking is ‘Do you love me? Do you care about me? Do you want me? Am I important to you? Am I good enough?’ That’s what we’re thinking. When it comes to sex, it feels like our life is on the line, and you’re worried about that crap?”

We are making it up. We are worrying about crap.

I think women ask the same questions as the man too, it’s just that we reflexively associate being loved, cared about, wanted, important and good enough to a man is to look sexier, prettier and skinnier. If that is true, all those beautiful movie stars and models will always have a loving partner and never suffer from heartbreak.

If we just look around us, it’s easy enough to see that our looks is not the prerequisite or the key to being in a loving relationship. Of all the partners and wives out there, like our mother, aunts, sisters, friends – they all have their own unique combination of shapes and sizes. Their partners love them and we love them because they are kind, caring, loving, funny, brave, supportive, patient, feisty, warm, smart and all the things that they are and do that make them shine from the inside. That’s what matters. 

one way to self-acceptance and love is…

body image, LOVE

In Hong Kong we are quite harsh to overweight and unattractive people. We call them by the elementary school book terms, fat and ugly. Lately, the beautiful women are called Goddesses while their opposites have been called pork chops. Goddesses are rare. Pork chops can be used widely on all women, whatever their size, who is seen as unattractive.

The thing is, magazines and men are not the only culprit. We women are as harsh and mean towards one another, if not worse. To accept ourselves, let’s also accept others. When we make demeaning or pitying remarks about another woman’s shape and size, we’ve added to the poison out there and reinforced the bars of that mental prison. That prison for the crime of not being beautiful enough to be a good and worthy woman.

Can we hold off the conversations about someone’s looks and size, unless you have something good to say? Let’s try to find something else to talk about, like what she does and how she behaves. Let’s try to accept people and be kind. That’s one way to finding yourself to self acceptance and love.

laughing is better

BEING A MOM, body image

I have an eight-month-old baby girl. One of the things that makes me panic and mad at the same time is when a close relative, someone who is very much in our daily life, calls the Baby “ugly” or any supposedly endearing versions of it. Granted, the word “ugly” in Cantonese isn’t as harsh sounding as it is in English and while I don’t like it, it really isn’t all that uncommon among the older generations. It serves as a form to keep kids looking well-mannered, I guess. This is how it is often used:

“Oh don’t make that face! How ugly looking!” (remember this is talking to an infant, not even a toddler)
“You’re smiling too wide it’s not pretty!”
“Oh that pouty face! Don’t make such an ugly face Baby! Smile! Look pretty!” (our beloved infant does not know to pout on purpose)
“Oh look at her semi-smile! You’re a sly little one!”

One time Baby pressed her face against the net of her playpen. It has the effect of someone pressing their face to glass, which is pretty funny! A grandparent walks in, this time with a little more urgency than affection in his voice, “Stop, Baby! That looks horrible! Sit, otherwise I won’t pick you up!”

When they say these things, they say it with love and they are poking fun at Baby. With that in mind, I try not to get hung up on their choice of words (actually, no, I do object very much to this disapproving and unconstructive choice of words!), but I cannot get over even the slightest frown or tone of disapproval, and the possible implications for her self-awareness and self-esteem if this sort of remarks continue. On a regular day, if I’m in good enough mood, I’ll laugh and say “I think she’s hilarious!” (new choice of word). If I’m tired and mad, I’ll say “What’s that got to do with it? Baby you’re just playing, aren’t you!” And if a long response is required one day, I’ll say:

“Children remember what we say! When she’s older and she’s having fun, she’s joking and laughing her head off, what if your voice comes into her head at that moment telling her “Don’t make that face! Don’t laugh like that! It makes your mouth so wide! So ugly and un-ladylike!” What if she stops laughing because of it?”

Dear Daughter, you are amazing as you are. Don’t listen to them, even if they’re adults.

teaching positive body image to ourselves and our girls

BEING A MOM, body image

If I’d been becoming more aware of how we are influenced by the media and the people around us, our mothers especially, then it’s becoming a mom myself that pushes me into action. There is lots to learn to cultivate a healthy body image. The best type of body image is perhaps one that won’t even be a topic, because we won’t be focusing, commenting or judging ourselves and each other based on our sizes and shapes any more.

This PE-TISH-ION by a ten year old girl is what I aspire to. How her mom, Glennon Doyle Melton, waded into the insecurities triggered by the glossy magazines aisle with her daughter, Tish, is also what I aspire to. It is a must-read for all women, girls and moms. Read her whole blog, it will make you cry and fill you up!

I hope this doesn’t get me into trouble, but I really want to share this one sentence from Glennon’s post:

And I said, “That’s why this feels bad to you. Because this is a lie. There’s nothing wrong with you, baby. There’s something wrong with THIS.”


re-defining “lazy” and “ugly”

Beauty, body image

“There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.”
That’s a saying in Chinese that, when I was younger, I found to be encouraging. It was encouraging to know you don’t have to be born pretty, because you can work towards becoming it!

Now I find it to be one of the most useless and toxic things for a woman to hear. Sorry to bring it on you if you’ve never heard of such a thing, but there are a lot of fake-truths out there, or at least some are so dated that they should no longer have a place. By questioning one, I hope we can question more.

We are so prone to feeling not enough already. If by thinking we’re not pretty enough, which we do often because we’re comparing ourselves to those constructed magazine pictures of what pretty “should be”, we get the bad name of being lazy, that’s just unnecessary. We have enough suffering as it is, let’s not take up another one.

I also don’t believe in lazy. I think lazy is relative. I think it’s often an attack from those who think they work hard towards something they believe to be important, on those who make different choices or value different things.

 Recently there’s a new interpretation:

‘“There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.” What this means is not that you must work hard on your skincare, but that you must do all that you can to protect what you believe to be important. To fight for Hong Kong’s core values, the true core values shared by all humanity. When you keep shrinking back and being silent, that’s when you’re really making your city ugly.’

This was on a news clip produced by an independent online TV channel, TVMost, on June 8th 2016, about the French cosmetic designer brand, Lancôme, one-sidedly cancelling a music event in Hong Kong with Denise Ho (HOCC), a singer who is seen by Mainland China as a dissident. Lancôme’s action is allegedly for fear of offending their market in Mainland China.

The news clip for Cantonese/Chinese readers:


A Plus-Size Goddess

body image

This is Joyce Cheng. She is the first plus-size Goddess in Hong Kong. “Goddess” is a new word used in the media and on the internet for a beautiful woman, which by default is never an overweight woman in Hong Kong. Apart from being attractive, a “Goddess” has something extra, like an air of nobility or purity, or she is good in her profession.

Miss Joyce Cheng’s mother was the only overweight actress and celebrity in her days. She was a beloved comedian. Joyce has also been on television since a young age, though I remember only a lot of jokes and ridicule over her presence as a celebrity. Over the years she acted, sang and lost a lot of weight. Then she continued to work very hard under the media and the public’s scrutiny to keep her weight down. Until one day she said she’s done. She’s had enough. She’s had enough of dieting and losing weight. It does not make her happy. It makes her suffer, it makes her sad. Since then, she’s become a whole new other icon. She’s no longer the naturally large-size girl being laughed at for trying to fit into an industry full of skinny girls. She is now the only plus-size woman who doesn’t need to be funny to fit in. She is the first and only plus-size woman who, by her new song Goddess, becomes a Goddess, and even some of the public are now beginning to see her as such.

Dear Joyce,

It was a life-changing moment for me to listen to your new song Goddess. You have given it a new and now real definition to this title. It’s no longer a synonym to a standard pretty face over which people and the media agree or ridicule. A Goddess, by your definition, is self-coronated and recognized by people who actually know her and love her, and has nothing to do with what the rest of the world thinks. This makes it truly empowering to see oneself and others as Goddesses.

From what I’ve seen on the internet, there are many people who might have a story to tell about their relationship with you, though we’ve never met you. I too have one, which I believe is similar to most people’s. It’s about how your courage and confidence from a young age seemed to be a bit too bold and possibly a threat to people your age because we were too insecure and immature. At a time when I was barely skinny enough to avoid being called fat, and nowhere pretty enough to be lovable, I was secretly relieved that I was not you. I could have been. I weighed 100lbs in fifth grade. You’ve finally rescued yourself from the torture and prison of social expectations, while most women continue the battle with feeling not skinny enough and not pretty enough.

Thank you so much for showing me how this is done. The popularity of your song exposes how prejudiced and discriminating we’ve been about women’s size, and how we’ve all been waiting for someone to tell the truth about what it is to be beautiful. It’s much to do with confidence, love, kindness, courage and integrity, and nothing to do with weight.

You are a source of light. Not just now, but ever since I’ve known you on TV. Only now people your age, like me, are mature enough to see it. Thank you.


about shopping cosmetics…

Beauty, body image

The truth is, companies make the most money off of us when we feel we’re not pretty enough. There must have been a time when people who made those companies genuinely thought they were providing a service to women. Now I find it hard to believe. But what I believe and the intentions of the companies don’t matter. What matters is that, the more products there are to supposedly improve the way we look, the more it makes us feel the way we currently look is not enough. With their commercials and super models, they keep raising the bar towards an unattainable standard, the standard itself being an illusion of a possibility, because the commercials and pictures in magazines are not realistic portraits but artistic creations.

The cosmetic stores and make up counters are not selling an everyday necessity, or a social norm, or a solution to all your problems, or tickets to more popularity and love, though it can feel as if they are. With all the primers, brushes, pencils, and the most wonderful of all – a million shades and colors! What they are really selling is art supplies. And instead of papers and canvases, they also sell products that prep, prime and allegedly enhance our canvas which is our face.

To look pretty is a skill that each of us may or may not need at various degrees of competence. For some of us, it’s a hobby or a profession. To decorate, enhance and embellish is a human impulse; it’s wonderful to make anything look pretty! However, it is not every woman’s job or lifelong goal or anything like that.Sketch260171210