Family dinner
Art by Brian Campise

Respecting your elders vs. respecting yourself

By Kaleen Luu


“I haven’t seen you in so long, you’re looking so much fatter to me.”

It’s the opening line for so many family gatherings, but I force a smile and bow to my elders. They point out my weight out to everyone and a roar of laughter breaks out. I feel my face get hot.

“Stop teasing her, she’s just been eating good cooking! Come eat.”

I cringe inwardly, I feel tears burning in my eyes but I don’t let my smile falter.

They mean well. It’s a cultural difference. Don’t take it so personally. These are all things I keep chanting in my head as I swallow the tears back. If I cry, I lose.

I know my relatives are only making good natured jokes and there is a cultural difference, but I hate it. The expectations of respecting your elders and never speaking back has kindled a resentful fire in my soul and the embers are burning down my self respect. 

I hate that this kind of dialogue has been prevalent in my life since childhood. The offhand remarks are crushing to my self esteem and I can never speak up for myself in any capabilities because that would be considered rude. I have to go along with it or be labeled a spoil sport.

The line between respecting my elders and respecting myself and this body of mine is something that I’ve struggled with, and still struggle with, drawing. I can’t firmly stand my ground and must teeter carefully not to offend my relatives while still somehow maintaining dignity with my body since that is who I am. 

I don’t fault my family for their remarks. The dialogue is  natural and meant to be lighthearted, but I wish I could speak my mind without needing to break expectations. To smile and be obedient. Though, I wish I could shout and cry and beg and plead for them to just stop! They don’t know the constant battle I have with myself, the calculator in my head that never stops. I don’t want to cross a line but it’s difficult when my own boundaries are crossed every time.

Where can I draw the line between having respect for myself and respect for my family while still maintaining some kind of  dignity? 

I’ve never admitted to it because I know it sounds ridiculous, but I don’t chew gum because I don’t want to waste the five calories. I fork dip my salad dressing instead of drizzling some on so I don’t consume too much accidentally and I struggle with calculating every meal automatically. 

All that frustration and internal struggles with myself comes to a breaking point at these family gatherings. Of course I know what words are coming. They’re the same as it’s always been, but even if I spend days and weeks preparing myself with words of affirmation, that I am good enough and I like myself as I am, it feels like all my work is broken down in a matter of seconds. As soon as a relative makes a passing comment on my weight I can feel my self doubt and insecurity creeping back in like an uninvited visitor come to crash the party.

I don’t want to be a drag on the festivities so I don’t cut in and tell them to stop, but this isn’t good for my mental health. I hate that I have to put up with it. I wish I could say I grew up and had an epiphany— I woke up and loved myself and suddenly I can eat without punishing myself for it later… but it’s an ongoing battle. 

I don’t know where this began but the first time I noticed I obsessively counted calories was when I was 12 and my friend told me to stop freaking out. 

“Just eat the cookie, who cares how many calories it has?”

I hate that it’s like this. 

The toxic dialogue has permeated my childhood and poisoned my mind. Now that I’m older, I find it more difficult to bite my tongue. I want to stand up for myself. I want to be able to laugh it off. I want to beat them to the game and make the joke about my body first. I wish I had some wise words of advice about how I stopped beating myself up but I’m a long way from there.

Though, I have to say. I look in the mirror and I really believe my reflection is someone I’m proud of.


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