Popular culture and traditional values often differ when it comes to perspective on healthy weight for girls. In this commentary, Edison High School Student Mai Chong Vang tells her story of self-acceptance while belonging to cultures that promote opposing ideal body types and how Hmong and American perspectives have challenged her to accept who she is.
My name is Mai Chong Vang, but I go by Chonny.
I’m from East Central Fresno, my family is Hmong and we practice Shamanism.
Living and growing up in my family we feel that each person’s health and happiness is a reflection of their spirit. Your looks, actions, attitudes, emotions, and perspectives can be interpreted as a symptom of the condition of your spirit. For me, my size concerned my family.
The issue began at birth. I weighed 6 lbs and 3 ounces and that was just too small. I was considered one of the two smallest children in my family. Since then my weight has fluctuated from year to year. One year I’d be skinny and the next a bit chunkier.
When I was in middle school my parents tried to convince me to eat more. I was always the last one to finish eating dinner and my mother would sit across the table waiting and watching to make sure I’d clean my plate.
In my early teens I began to notice the way my traditional parents and other Hmong elders expected me to look was different than the standards my American friends at school live by.
It seems to me that in Hmong culture thick girls are seen as more attractive than skinny girls, which is opposite from what I see in American culture. In their perspective, thick girls – not skinny girls – are healthier, stronger and have more potential to do hard labor and produce healthy children.
On many occasion I’ve overheard my parents describe my male cousin’s brides. If the bride is thick, they would happily describe her as stunning and strong. But if the bride is thin, they would describe her as scrawny or not as attractive.
Because both Hmong and American cultures influence me, I am impacted by each set of expectations. I’m continually trying to figure out what’s right for me and I tend to try to follow American culture. I would prefer to be skinnier than thick because American society judges people by their weight and wants you to be skinny and feel thin.
I’m not super slender but I feel healthy. If I were any smaller my parents would judge me and convince me to eat more.
At the moment, I feel like society is accepting me the way I am. But for other young Hmong women I know, they feel pressure to be skinny because they think it’s healthier.
I’ve noticed that many young women feel bad for not being as “skinny” as a runway model. They feel judged because they’re not as thin as other people think they should be.
For me, I feel like I should decide what makes me happy and proud of myself. My body’s shape shouldn’t be dependent on the expectations of others, whether Hmong or American.
I’m Chonny Vang, I’m Hmong and the way I look satisfies me.