Women’s Magazines greet you with pictures of poutingly pubescent girls, extolling a laudable desire to be comfortable with your body while deploring famous people for either being too fat or too thin. Magazines ask that you purchase and consume. There’s something out there that is just the thing to make you thinner, younger, more desirable.
I once said to a university friend: I’m never going to look like these women in the magazines. For starters, I’m Asian. The friend thought it was a joke. I wondered if there was something I could buy to make me whiter.
Now, there is diversity. Not only are we confronted with preteen white beauties (and the occasional black beauty), there is also the Asian teenaged beauty, whose skin is just barely yellow, whose eyes are rounded almonds, who’s as tall as those white girls.
And somewhere someone tells us it’s easier to keep the weight off, if you’re Asian.
Sure, it was pretty easy being a skinny kid. I grew up malnourished. Something to do with growing up in a refugee camp. But I now live in the minority, developed world and if I can afford to spend my money on these magazines, I also have full access to the smorgasboard of food high in cholesterol or sugars or fats or salt or all of those things. Being a teenager, physically active and with high metabolism, the weight was pretty easy to keep off. Then I was in my mid 20s, got an office job, was on oestrogen and progesterone for a few years, ate irregularly and exercised less. All the while, I remained Asian, and my tummy rounds out nicely, my thighs develop a fullness that I flatter myself Picasso would have liked.
I grew up. I stopped reading women’s magazines. I stopped watching television. I ceased to pay attention to advertisements. I forgot that I was supposed to be beautiful and got on with being myself – I stayed fit and healthy, and the belly bulge didn’t bother me. I am enamoured of the idea that Picasso would like my fullness (although I am not Blue. Would Picasso paint “Orangey-Yellow Nude”?)
And then, last week, I read a Women’s Magazine. I was at a little cafe for lunch. I did not have my usual armory of random novel. Someone else had taken the daily paper. So I took the first Women’s Magazine to hand. It was a foolish, foolish thing to do. It took me barely any time at all to flip through the entire 100-odd pages, but by the end, a creeping sense of dissatisfaction lodged itself below my heart (above the not-flat tummy). The feeling – like the belly – won’t budge. I don’t look quite right. I’m short. My clothes are shabby. My hair is shapeless. My eyes are too narrow. My skin has imperfections: a mole above my lip, blackheads scattered across my forehead like watermelon seeds spat out onto a barren field, and wayward freckles on my nose are falling onto my cheeks.
Picasso’s women are not fashionable.
When I was a teenager, I could dismissively say: oh, they don’t represent me, those white girls. But now, these magazines have something on me – they are inclusive. Bai Ling, Zhang Ziyi and Lucy Liu glare out at me. Asian is in (it might even be the new black). If you’re skinny, and accord with their notion of perfect, product-selling beauty, they won’t care what your skin colour is. Isn’t that admirable?
Instead of succumbing to the easy availability of the Women’s Magazine, I will confront my abibliophopia and sit, eating my lunch with no reading material. Or I will keep novels like I keep band-aids – at work, in every bag I carry, in the car, hidden along the streets I walk regularly. Or I will read the detritus of receipts that gather in my wallet.
I will not pick up another Women’s Magazine.
And I will, eventually, repair my damaged sense of body-worth.