“Excuse me, but can I take a picture with you?”
All three of us spun around. My family and I were roaming the streets of Italy when a podgy, quinquagenarian tourist decked in a straw hat with a DSLR slung across his neck posed this query.
“Sorry, who?” my dad probed.
The man’s friends laughed as they pointed to my mom.
My dad and I exchanged a knowing glance before I proceeded with a casual eye roll. “This has to happen in Europe, too?” I thought to myself, shaking my head. It was literally as if I’d just been thrown into a scene from a Hollywood movie, where the gorgeous girl gets ogled and hit on by strangers on the streets of a foreign country while on vacation.
Standing at 1.6 metres, my mom meets, or perhaps even exceeds, conventional Asian beauty standards with her petite frame and shiny sheen of ash-brown hair. Not only does she possess a set of long, slender legs that would fit the ideal beauty standard, but she’s also what mainstream media would consider to be a “strong, independent woman.” Aside from running her own business, she always manages to fulfill her duties as a filial daughter while at the same time taking on the role of “super mom,” squeezing time out of her busy day schedule to wait on me and help me in any capacity that she can. She doesn’t have it all, but she’s pretty close.
The above scenarios are not exclusive to foreign countries that we travelled to as a family. Back home, strangers somehow also always take it upon themselves to comment on how my mom “looks so young,” or they inquire whether she’s my older sister. Initially, this joke tickled me. I mean, how could I not take this as a flattering comment? I’m proud that she’s my mother. However, after having encountered this repeatedly for the past 17 years of my life, this joke has somewhat lost its charm and gotten really old, really fast.
Sometimes, the assertions don’t just end there. Strangers would even come up to me and ask, “Why can’t you look more like your mother?” before proceeding to provide me with suggestions like, “You should lose some weight so that you can look more like your mother.” At first, these statements confused me. Why were these people, who knew nothing about me, offering criticisms on my physical appearance without my asking? Shouldn’t my body type be accepted for the way it is instead of being juxtaposed with my mother’s? Slowly, however, I started to feel a dwelling sense of gall in the pit of my stomach whenever I replayed these scenes in my mind. While these comments may have been blurted out without any malicious intentions, they are still deeply hurtful and wounding. The implications behind these words are profound because they innately cause the recipient of these vituperations to feel inferior and, more insidiously, inadequate.
Navigating through the precarious maze we call preteen years, with hormonal imbalances and capricious behaviour that sometimes engenders a lack of good judgment, is hard enough. However, telling me how I should look and constantly reminding me of what I am lacking in physical beauty — at least according to societal standards — resembles the analogy of adding fuel to the fire, especially to a growing teenager who has yet to gain a full grasp on who she is exactly.
So, if there was one message that I could relay to the perpetrators who continue to compare my physical appearance to that of my mother’s, it would be this: Please understand that thrusting these gratuitous remarks my way is hindering me from being my own person. I may not resemble my mother to a tee, but there are still elements of me that are reflective in her person. I have her small nose that will remain sensitive to the smell of opportunity and wide eyes that will continue to blaze with an untenable fire that thirsts for all life has to offer. Several of her traits exist in my blood, and while I may not have won the genetic lottery when it comes to physical appearances, I am my own whole, too. So stop comparing me with my mother, or anyone else, and let us live.
Let me live.
Ashley hails from a small, sunny island proudly known as the Little Red Dot and holds an uncanny penchant for all things pink. One day, she hopes to dominate the world in a princess dress and a sparkly tiara — because who ever forbade warriors from dressing in style too?