Ty Miranda, 127
Growing up, I had major insecurity issues. I would walk into Old Navy to buy some pants for the new school year and dread learning that I went up another size or two from last year. From single digits to double digits, my body image caused lots of anxiety.
When I was 19, I had a revelation. Maybe I should not call it a revelation, but there was a moment when I realized weight does not define beauty. No, no longer was I going to let the numbers on the tags or the scale define what I thought was beautiful. I finally accepted that this is who I am and I am going to love it. Even though I have gone up and down in terms of size ever since, my self confidence has remained unshaken.
Last January, at age 22, I officially moved to Thailand to work with Peace Corps. My childhood dream was finally coming true and I could not wait. In terms of body image and weight, the only thing I expected to deal with in the Peace Corps was losing weight because of the lack of Ben’s Chili Bowl chili cheese fries and BTS’s guacamole turkey burger, which I coveted. I never expected my self confidence or body image to be challenged like it has.
Body image and self confidence has tested many volunteers. My first taste of being called fat was during Pre Service Training (PST) when my host family blatantly said it the first day I moved in. It took me by shock because although PC staff had talked about it, I really did not believe it was true. How could such nice people say you are fat or ugly so casually? I let it go for awhile. I tried to be as respectful as possible until I said enough was enough.
I finally started saying things back. If someone said I was fat or that my skin was ugly, I rebutted very politely by saying “I think I am beautiful.” This confused the Thai people. My host family sort of smiled and went on with their daily lives because I think they did not know what to say or do. But, I kept saying that. Anytime someone said something unflattering, I responded.
When I moved to site, it was like the battle started all over again, but instead of “letting it go for awhile,” I started rebutting anything anyone said to me. It started with my host family to people at my Tessaban to people at the market. Except this time, I was not responding just for myself, I was responding to everyone who said negative comments. Anytime someone called another person fat or ugly, I would say, “No, they are beautiful” and smile. Eventually, people started to catch on.
It took about a good month before people just stopped saying negative things to me, and that is when the greatest thing happened. People started to yearn for more positive comments. Now instead of negative comments, my community looks to me to compliment others. I have coworkers ask me how they look and I always compliment something. The smile that I receive from them is pure happiness and it brings me even more joy. I hope that I am not the only one giving them a positive comment, but sadly, many times I am.
I do not think negatively of Thais who make these comments. You have to understand that this is the culture and that it is acceptable to say these things. I understand when Thais explain that it is not rude, but what person would prefer a negative comment over a positive one? Instead, I try to see it as a moment to turn a negative behavior into a positive solution.
Group 127 has now been in Thailand for about 6 months and I have changed. I have used exercise as a stress reducer and have become rather athletic. I exercise everyday, so not only do I mentally feel great but I feel physically good too. I have lost 30 pounds and instead of being called fat, I am now called skinny. So instead of responding to a negative comment with “I think I am beautiful,” I now respond with “I always have felt beautiful” to any comment about my weight. I reassure my community that no matter your size, everyone is beautiful. And to all the volunteers who are struggling with body image comments, just remember that you are donating 27 months of your life to your Thai community. To me, that makes you the most beautiful of all.