Friday, September 2, 2011

Charming Bitches

The people of this island chain really are charming bitches. Ask any tourist or short-stay visitor and they will inevitably fall over themselves to tell you how nice everyone is in Japan. This is where I usually get tight-lipped lest I betray myself as a so-called "bitter lifer" minus the lifer.

People love to comment on your appearance here and like other countries in Asia, weight is not a taboo subject. Girls are not brought up believing that their partners should never ever comment on their weight or that they should tell others they aren't fat even if they are. I'm hesitant to even bring this up because it opens such a floodgate for me of a great number of things, so I will have to just promise you, dear readers, that I will dedicate a much longer post to this in the future.

As a butter-scented barbarian, you get used to the comments about how big you are (which in my experience tends to refer more to height but I suppose you never know) but how small your face is. And don't forget your tall (=big) nose. On a positive note, I've come to love my nose, which appendage I hadn't given much thought to before. I am totally rocking a tall nose and it's all thanks to uninvited daily commentary on my appearance.

When I spent a few months in China right after high school, I endured a comment from a nosy student who was twice my age in which she told me how perplexing it was that I was so "this" (as she spread her hands wide) and my boyfriend was so "this" (close up that gap). I told her I was sorry to have perplexed her so. She also asked me how much money I was making teaching English in the stix. At the time I wrote it off as an amusing cultural moment to be shared later with Westerners who would act appalled on hearing of it.

On the same trip, I ran out of a family dinner after my best friend, a gorgeous girl of Chinese heritage and with the biggest natural breasts you've ever seen on an Asian woman, fled from the table in tears upon an aunt's disparaging remarks about how fat she was getting in Canada (if slim is the new fat, then yes, I suppose she was right).

Despite often feeling like a big clumsy elephant when navigating certain Tokyo spaces, no one has called me an elephant. While remarks about my appearance coupled with unwarranted petting of my hair can wear thin at times, people are remarkably nice and I've allowed myself to feel vainly flattered even when the words received probably fall in the "empty compliment" category of stuff that comes out of Japanese people's mouths. When people praise the beau for finding such a pretty whitie, I am secretly pleased. Why am copping to all this? I'm starting to regret it. For starters, none of you lovely people know me and so questions of whether my compliments are deserved or whether I am an elephant will have to wait. For now.

It came to my attention several weeks ago that the beau's boss and one of his customers thought they should make comments to him on my weight. In short, they told him I had gained. I spent a painful week after that crying and trying to let it roll off my back. Full disclosure: I have recently gained 5 pounds give or take (possibly more give) and was already painfully aware of it. That they felt it was their duty to comment on this to the beau makes me incredibly spiteful. And yet, their conversation was perfectly normal in their eyes and I find myself not faulting them for it (his boss has also commented directly to me when I've lost weight). By way of reference to the actual conversation, they had been discussing the customer's wife's weight and I guess felt it would only be right to include me in the topic of conversation. For further reference, the wife and I are the same age while the customer is probably 15-20 years older, she hasn't worked since they married, has no children and stays at home all day playing some Internet computer game and polishing off two bottles of champagne by herself. Now there's a charming bitch.

So I've snuffled over Skype (hi mom!) and cried to friends in the middle of a fucking club, which for one of them must have been a flashback to our Waseda days except I was crying over a guy, not a piece of shit Japanese woman. I don't make it a habit to cry in night clubs but with some people you can't help but let your guard come all the way down. I also knew this particular girlfriend would have some snappy things to say (when I was crying over that boy, she told me I was a poodle during an elaborate analogy of dog pedigrees).

The hurt has now been replaced with mostly anger and resentment. I practice in my head what I want to say to the boss the next time I see her and she hopefully asks me if I've lost weight. I'm going to calmly and with light notes of shittiness tell her that I could hardly not lose weight after she had so kindly brought it to my attention that I had been overeating. I may then grow some real balls and let her know, sweetly of course, that it's considered rude and inappropriate in some circles to tell someone that their partner has gained weight, especially when one has so many flaws of their own.

I feel like I've run out of steam on this and no longer know why I even began penning it. I have so much more I want to confide in you but I can't just yet. In the meantime, chin up and eyes watchful for all the charming bitches up in here.

28 comments:

Dasia said...

Woah, living in a society that's so open about criticizing women's appearance really blows. I hope your light tones of shittiness hit that boss right on her freakishly short nose.

On a separate point: not working, gaming all day and finishing off two bottles of champagne by myself? I think I've just found a new definition of success.

Dasia has a Blog!

Natalie said...

My roommate at university was a Japanese exchange student and I remember being so indignant for her when I heard another exchange student (a guy) casually comment to her that she had ”太ったな!".. it really is a different cultural norm they have going there. And it does hurt, even if they don't mean it to.

Have you heard about the recent drama about weight gain/weight loss, "Rebound"? I blogged about it here... It's a show that's 50% awful and 50% funny but also I think depicts the Japanese perception of weight pretty well!

Chris said...

" the beau's boss and one of his customers thought they should make comments to him on my weight."

This would seem like bizzaro world shit if I hadn't lived here so long.
I get asked the salary question and reply "over 20man per week" which they find hard to believe till I break it down simply using their tuition as a starting point...it feels nice :)

BTW...

Someone is gonna title a Movie after this post title...zettai!! You should copyright the phrase ;)

kathrynoh said...

The whole "it's a different culture" thing is bullshit to me. It's a way of putting women down and keeping them insecure so you have power over them.

So many Japanese guys go on about their wives not wanting or enjoying sex. I wonder why when they are constantly told they are fat or gaining weight...

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Dasia: Thanks for commenting. Guys are also on the receiving end of weight comments so it's equal opportunity meanness.

Natalie: Weight comments are about as normal as commenting on the weather I'm afraid :) I haven't seen Rebound but will check out your post on it!

Chris: Me too, and I used to be shocked when I heard stories of it. On the movie front, I'm thinking a Japanese version of Mean Girls...

Kathrynoh: I could have written that a few years ago but I feel quite differently now. As I mention above, men are also getting weight comments here. I think it would be good to strike a balance between the fastidiousness over weight here and the blind acceptance back home. Someone shouldn't be told to lose weight when they don't need to but at the same time, if someone is overweight, I don't know why we should pretend they aren't. It's a complicated and emotional issue but I'm definitely finding myself in between the two extremes these days. Dan Savage (my sex and relationship advice guru) posits that we have a "duty" to do our best to stay in shape and attractive for our partners (in every gender combo). I agree with this for the most part and feel it applies in non physical ways too. I can't profess to be an expert on Japanese couples but I would tend to doubt the example below is representative of a large proportion of them...
Sorry for the book! Guess I have a lot to say.

Judith said...

My dad's aunt was like that. She had no problem coming up to me and my sisters (for some reason she did not do it to my brother) and comment on how much weight we gained (usually didn't matter whether it was true or not). After it happened a few times and reciprocated and told here that she put on some pounds as well, and actually looked really awful, maybe she should go to the doctor and get checked out. She left me alone after that...

Loco said...

You have the patience of a saint!

locohama said...

You have the patience of a saint...

Anonymous said...

Oh man. I still remember clear as day (6 years on) the time my best friend (who is from Taiwan) came back after a month home and announced in front of a party of people that I had gained weight. This, after I spent HOURS consoling her just before her trip, when her mom told her she had gotten fat in America.

AND I had recently also confided in her that I had long struggled with disordered eating & body issues. *sad trombone noise here*

It didn't really come together for me until another friend, who spent a bunch of time in Taiwan, happened to mention that commenting on weight was practically a greeting over there. Still, I agree it's not much of an excuse. My friend was really hurt by what her mom said, yet she still turned around and did it to me. Not cool.

On another note, I also totally share the view that we have a responsibility to our partners to stay healthy. Both my ex & current guy have joked with pride about how much crap they want to eat, and how they'll grow a big gut. I've told them point blank I don't believe in letting yourself get overweight & sick. I put in the effort to eat right/exercise/look good not just for me but to be the best partner I can be for them, and I feel I deserve the same. Its only fair if you care about someone to do that methinks.

Sorry for droning on, this topic just really hits home! Great post. -(long time reader/lurker) Andrea

Jen said...

I'm googling Dan Savage now.

L. said...

Much as I love Dan Savage, I don't agree with the concept that partners have a "duty" to maintain their weight for each other.

"Duty" is completely the wrong word. I think it's much more complicated than that, especially when the weight gain itself is because of health-related issues (I gained -- and lost -- 50 pounds with each pregnancy, and gained 30 pounds when I stopped running for a few years, and gained another chunk many years ago when I took antidepressants).

I wish my husband would lose his gut and work out more, and I am trying to encourage him to do this because I care about his health -- but I don't think he has a "duty" to me to lose it.

And I think I am going to post on my own blog later today about how I deal with the Japanese "YOU GOT FAT" comments, becasue it would get too long, but the bottom line is, I like to fuck with people's minds on that. :)

Lisa said...

:( I'm sorry. That's not cool.

karisuma gyaru said...

what a timely post...

i was actually just having a conversation earlier today with a fresh-off-the-gaijin-boat newbling about how most of the guys i've dated here have told me i should lose weight and she would not get over it...

it's so weird that i've come to accept it in an "it goes without saying" kinda way... i know it's different cultures but i just don't understand why people feel the need to put their noses in shit that doesn't concern them...

fortunately, i've never really had anyone i wasn't close to make a comment about my weight, unless it was to say "omg! you've lost weight!" which is fine by me. i think maybe they know that commenting on the opposite would get them punched in the face...

oooh, wait, actually a student of mine did once... but he's 13 and a freakin brat. first i threathened to punch him, then i teared up and he freaked out, and patted my shoulder and told me that he would help me diet. lol.

ELSN said...

Hey Geisha, that's awful. Be comforted by the fact that most people who know you and your pretty, age-less face would think 5 pounds on your frame is still nothing to fret over.

When I was a hostess every customer routinely let me know whether I had gained or lost weight in the period since he saw me last. But customers did make the same comments to everyone - other men, themselves, model-thin girls, bigger girls. Like you said, weight is a topic open for conversation here, men and women.

In Japan my favorite thing to say when someone tells me I lost weight is "mata futoru yo."

wakanai said...

I still remember our President introducing a new Marketing guy (who was a little chubby): 'this is blabla-san, and he is really fat'.
Nobody knew where to look for a few minutes...

I guess the more sexual oriented remarks fall into the same category? My ex-gf once told me her boss had commented on her boobsize, since 'they surely would not be big enough for a Western guy'. And she was ok with getting that kind of comments (I was steaming)!

Sarahf said...

I am so tired of being told my face is small, I feel like getting a measuring tape and comparing! Pet hate.
It might just be my experience, but after losing 3 stone while living in Japan, I noticed my Japanese friends feel the need to comment on it constantly, and not in a positive way, while my English friends stop at "you look great!".
You're right, it is an emotional issue, and I think we have to separate the health issues associated with weight and the self-esteem/image issues. It's OK to address your concerns about a friend's weight if you're genuinely concerned, but you have to be careful how you do it, "woah! You got FAT!" probably isn't the best way to deal with it.
Crikey, raw nerve, huh!

BiggerInJapan said...

でっかっ!Usually said in combination with a look of horror, and two steps backwards. Yes, I do feel appreciated, truly.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Whoa and here we goo...

Judith: Good call, I guess people sometimes don't realize the hurt (or annoyance?) they cause until the tables have been turned.

Loco: You're too kind, sir. Most of the time it's patience I lack.

Andrea: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. As with Judith above, surprising your friend didn't put two and two together with the weight comments, especially after being upset herself about them! As for the second part, agreed - some people seem to think men get away with more in the sloppy department but I think those days are over for the most part.

Jen: I highly recommend his iPhone app for daily doses of weird and wonderful sex/relationship advice.

L.: It is more complicated than that and I would hope most people reading would not assume I am some unsympathetic hardass who thinks everyone should be thin and pretty (not saying you think this, just saying...).

I certainly don't think gaining/losing (balding, whatever ails you) due to stress/health issues comes under this duty umbrella, that would just be bitchy and I like to save my bitchiness for things more worthwhile. What I should have perhaps explained was that several years ago Savage had a couple columns about staying fit and healthy for your partner (both genders I might add) as it relates to still finding one another attractive ("show me a beautiful woman and I'll show you someone who's tired of fucking her" aside). It hit home for me and I think extenuating circumstances aside, it's good for you and your partner to not let yourselves go where possible (or if you do, know there may be negative fallout). Also in relation to these particular columns, there was some interesting back and forth about whether it is OK to tell your partner you are losing your attraction to them because of weight gain. I would have said a resounding NO a few years ago. I now say yes.

This is getting far too long for a comment so I will leave it here, suffice to say weight is a complicated and tangled issue for most!

Lisa: yeah, bitches up in my business and all that...

karisuma: I think someone close to me would be better if it was caring/constructive. I was more fucked off that one of them brought it up and thought it would be OK to mention it to my partner. I used to be shocked too - when hearing about friends' bfs telling them to lose weight - for the most part they didn't need to. If you need to, that's a different and complicated issue, but telling someone to lose when they don't need to isn't on.

ELSN: You're very kind. Part of the reason I even dared to write about this bullshit is because most people don't know me. So true about everyone being a target - really makes me want to be light-hearted about it but it also happens to be the one thing I am most sensitive about.

wakanai: Any marks of that nature in the workplace are off-limits, regardless of what happens outside of work. But we are in Japan, which feels like it's trapped in the 50s/60s at times. Your ex should have socked the guy in his mouth.

Sarahf: haha I LOVE the small face comments, if only because they make no sense. Agree with all you say. How were your friends negative about your weight loss? I find people to be ecstatic when they think I've lost weight here and I feel all gross when they beam at me over it like I am a child who finally did something right.

Biggie: You should start snarling at people. I first learned dekkai when someone was referencing me. I can't recall whether they were talking about my nose or my personality :)

Kelly said...

What a bitch :( *hugs*

Rydangel said...

i would have said my recent weight gain was due to my conservation efforts. in order to reduce my carbon footprint and energy consumption, i was storing up body fat for the wintertime. by using natural insullation i would not only keep myself warm,protect the environment,save money, i also double as a healthy alternative to the cancer causing electric blankets for the beau. 8p
but on the real, do people really believe we, the weight gainee, don't know we've gained weight? like we don't know that and it's only until it's been pointed out,usually in public places to us,that we realize we got fat. how rude. and while i wish i could chuck it up to the cultural differences between asians and westerners, that doesn't explain why americans(some of whom are complete strangers) feel the need to do the same thing. you have to put up with the insensitivity of your family because blood is blood, but why do you have to hear it from outsiders too? wherever you live it's rude. whatever happened to "if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all"?

JAPAN BLOG DIRECTORY said...

Thanks for regularly writing about your experiences in Japan. I am here fore more than 12 years too and really enjoy it. You often mention points I somehow knew but never though about - such as the openness to talk about body weaknesses.

Thanks again and keep posting.

Ugeda said...

I spent a while in Japan some years ago when I was still in high school.

The comments about weight used to make me really uncomfortable too (actually all comments about appearance did), no matter if it was "positive" like 痩せたね or the standard 大きいね! I knew it was a cultural thing, but I could never get used to it... I think you have to be born and raised asian for that.

Anyway, I just stumbled across your blog and I think it's great. :)

Anonymous said...

"On the same trip, I ran out of a family dinner after my best friend, a gorgeous girl of Chinese heritage and with the biggest natural breasts you've ever seen on an Asian woman, fled from the table in tears upon an aunt's disparaging remarks about how fat she was getting in Canada (if slim is the new fat, then yes, I suppose she was right)."

There are many Asian women with naturally large breasts..

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Man I could've sworn I replied to these more recent comments...guess it was only a draft in my head!

Kelley: Thanks :) that's one of my names for her.

Rydangel: Long time and always good to hear from you! So true on all counts. Yes I know I've gained weight, that makes me feel bad enough. I don't come from a family where it's OK to say that sort of thing so I can't speak to that end, but if anyone can say something, it's the beau, not his cuntata boss. Will try out the electric blanket theory :)

JBD: Thanks! It's always good to hear from people who probably know more than I do :)

Ugeda: Thanks for commenting! So many of the body comments here are directed as if we are objects or pets...bit strange really. I work with someone who tries to pet my hair when it's in a new style while I would never dare to touch hers.

Anon: Thanks for setting me straight. I'm aware there are naturally busty Asian women but as I simply said in my post, my friend has the "biggest" you've ever seen (not that she was the only Asian woman with big ta tas). Perhaps I should have said "I've" to indicate I'm not trying to speak for you or say all Asian women are concave.

Anonymous said...

My opinion, you need open your mind and more sugar and honey in your life!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Anon: Open my mind to what, pray tell?

Anonymous said...

Hello!

Sorry I didnt read your whole post it was a little bit long ...so little bit exhausting (I'm not native speaker) but really love the way you write! I've just found your blog by chance, so allow me to post my 1rst comment.

I work in a kaisha full of japanese women, we are only 2 gaijin me and a 40 something german.
Just for the setting, there's a super good atmosphere and we all get along very well.

So, 1rst of all the german is considered by everybody "ooki". Just because she's 1.70m.
The 1rst time I heard it I found it very arsh, so I told them right away that was too straightforward and could hurt her feeling. To which they responded..."but she's big"!!
So, lets say OKI is only descriptive and they absolutely have NO intention to hurt anyone feeling.

Then they already told me stuff like "waou you look super tired today" or "you got fat"...and other charming comments. When telling them it was actually hurting my feelings they got SO surprised!!
And explained it was their way to show me they cared about me and were worried.

...waou, so different right?

In my kaisha, I'm used to tell them they have shiny hair today, or nice haircut, or nice clothes...well any compliment we naturally do, right? Well, I realised it made them VERY uncomfortable and they never, ever do that to each other.

So, enough blabla.
The only thing I understood from that is, most of the time, their geniune comments are sole mark of interest and they have absolutely NO intention to hurt our feeling.

Tam said...

I've been asked twice if I was pregnant (I'm 5 feet tall and 125 pounds).

The neighbor lady across the street and I sometimes chat, even though she's a crazy bitch. I commented about how I keep getting bitten by mosquitoes (this was summer)and she told me that's because I'm fat :)

Sincerely,
Tam

tamdoesjapan.wordpress.com