Positive body image isn’t something that’s common amongst Chinese speakers.
Most Asian women grow up with their appearances nit picked by their parents and relatives. I too was privy to that.
The first thing my aunt would greet me with when I see her after I landed in Taiwan would be, 「你胖了喔！/ Nǐ pàngle ō / you got fat!」
Other comments thrown at me about my weight left me believing I was “fat” until about my mid twenties when one of my friends told me I wasn’t.
My friends words felt like they broke a spell and I can finally look in the mirror and see what I actually looked like.
Growing up, I had a Chinese American friend whose moms bought her a push-up and padded bra to “make up” for the lack of good looks.
Some of my friends I met in college had plastic surgery to get double eyelids and a nose job as a high school graduation gift.
It’s culturally accepted for parents and relatives to criticize your looks at family gatherings: “oh yeah, her nose is a bit flat” or “if only she has double eyelids like your daughter she would be much more pretty.”
Let’s Be the Change
Instead of perpetuating what brought us pain as young girls, we as parents have so much influence on our daughters through what we say to them and how we value ourselves.
Instead of allowing Chinese to be a language defined by criticism, negativity and defining a woman’s worth by her looks, let us be ones that speak words of life that call this generation of girls into embracing their indelible worth.
Ten Chinese Phrases for Building Positive Body Image
Apart from complementing their looks（妳好漂亮/美麗/可愛 pretty/beautiful/cute), we can be intentional about complimenting girls in their strengths, abilities, personalities and good character.
This helps girls realize that their worth is not based on their looks.
I list them in this order: traditional / simplified / pinyin / English:
- 妳好強壯好勇敢喔! / 你好强壮好勇敢喔! / Nǐ hào qiángzhuàng hào yǒnggǎn ō / you’re so strong, so brave!
- 妳好聰明 / 妳好聪明 / Nǎi hǎo cōngmíng / you’re so smart!
- 我好喜歡跟妳在一起 / 我好喜欢跟妳在一起 /Wǒ hǎo xǐhuān gēn nǎi zài yīqǐ / I love being with you
- 就是愛這樣的妳 / 就是爱这样的妳 /Jiùshì ài zhèyàng de nǎi / I love you the way that you are
- 妳好努力喔！/ 你好努力喔 / Nǐ hǎo nǔlì ō / You tried really hard!
- 妳是我們的開心果 / 妳是我们的开心果 / Nǎi shì wǒmen de kāixīn guǒ / You are our joy
- 我以妳為榮 / 我以妳为荣 / Wǒ yǐ nǎi wéi róng / I’m so proud of you
- 妳好專心的在畫那幅畫 / 妳好专心的在画那幅画 /Nǎi hǎo zhuānxīn de zài huà nà fú huà / You were so focused working on your art work!
- 妳越來越成熟了 / 妳越来越成熟了/ Nǎi yuè lái yuè chéngshúle / You’re becoming more and more mature.
- 妳好會關心別人 / 妳好会关心别人 / Nǎi hǎo huì guānxīn biérén / You’re so good at caring for others.
How You Can Model Positive Body Image
Girls learn a lot about their bodies from their mothers. How we talk about our bodies, their bodies and other women’s bodies will effect how they perceive themselves.
Be intentional about modeling positive talk about your own body. Let’s not shame our own bodies in front of our daughter (“argh, I gained weight,” “oh, I’m so fat!”).
Accept compliments when others compliment you about your looks to be a good example of receiving instead of deflecting compliments.
Read books about women that are smart, made achievements and advances.
Help girls be media savvy by talking to them about what media does to achieve the looks that they do (photoshop, lighting etc).
Encourage them in knowing that no one is perfect!
The Importance of Communicating with Relatives
Positive body image is a concept pretty foreign to those in Asia or the previous generation. That’s why it’s important that we as parents advocate for our daughters in an honoring but firm way.
Although this is uncomfortable for someone like me who tries to avoid confrontations if I can, it’s important to me and something I’m working on being more vocal about.
It may be a hard habit for some relatives to quit, but if we’re persistent, I believe we can make a change.
How About You?
What was it like growing up as a girl for you? What were some of the painful comments people made about your appearances? What do you do to help your daughter build a positive self image?
Don’t Bilingual Alone!
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