#MyBodyStory is a series of reader submitted pieces about what it’s like to live in your body. Because every body has a story, and every story deserves to be heard.
Do you have a #MyBodyStory to share? Send it to [email protected]
And now, here is Bertha’s Body Story:
The opinions expressed in #MyBodyStory are the writer’s own.
Trigger Warning: Eating Disorder
Hello, my name is Bertha Chan. Do you ever wonder why Asian people always give themselves English names? Well, I didn’t choose this name myself, a priest did when I was 3.
Here is a little fact about Hong Kong before 1997. Back in the colonial days, almost everyone had an English name because we were somewhat Westernized! Being under great influence of the British school system and basically the society as a whole, we were taught in English and it is also one of our official languages in Hong Kong.
My Chinese name was chosen by my grandfather, it literally means “Chan Dawn Uranium.” He wanted me to be as energetic as dawn and as powerful as a nuclear weapon, hence the name!
So now, would you prefer to call me “Big Bertha” or “Uranium“? I don’t mind either, they are both lethal weapons just like I am! Strong and powerful!
Mind you, I was not always happy with my names. They were horrible for a teenager, it made me the easy target for bullying. I was very upset with my body as well…because just as my name describes, I was the BIG BERTHA in school.
I have always stuck out like a sore thumb amongst my peers due to my physical attributes. When I was around 8 or 9 years old, I had the appetite of a tank – I couldn’t stop eating and drinking. I consumed until my stomach wanted to explode and I would still continue, because eating gave me great pleasure to my brain. I was addicted to food and I didn’t realize I was actually eating to fill certain voids of mine; a story that maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to share.
At one point in high school, my mom couldn’t take it anymore because I was not the thin pretty girl she had always wanted me to be, so I was made to start on a planned meals and pill combination to help me lose weight. From being totally out of control with food, I was made to eat gummy porridge that filled up my stomach, and pills that killed my appetite overnight. She thought maybe I could finally be that girl who everyone adores and likes, gets a great job, marries a rich person, and could get a better life.
Ever since then, my weight has fluctuated up and down with my yoyo diet, and what’s worse, is that it was pretty normal for a high school girl to fluctuate because everyone was dieting to be a smaller size. At 21 years old, I was still struggling with food and I wasn’t the attractive slim pretty girl my mom wanted me to be.
My first proper love interest changed that for me though. I met this person over the internet and I was so concerned that I didn’t look as slim as I portrayed myself, despite the fact that he had always said I looked good.
The doctor said if I did whatever I was doing again, I would have to be hospitalized again. I didn’t want to die so I returned to eating, but I got back into my old habit of binge eating.
My struggle with food continued for another 5 years or so. But as I get older and wiser, I became more confident as a person, and realized that being able to hold a conversation with people was more important than being “pretty” so I stopped putting my body image as my priority.
Although my binging has stopped, it was still a long way to go from the woman I was in that hospital bed, because those societal beauty standards my mom tormented herself and me with for much of my life, still exist. They are so ingrained which make them so hard to get rid of.
Then one day, magic happened! Or, in this case, Instagram happened!
That’s when I met this circle of powerful women expressing their feelings and being vulnerable online. I watched them one by one conquer their fears and insecurities by talking about their stories and sharing their body image thoughts online. I’m glad I’ve joined the force in the end, instead of just watching them. I too now help spread the body positive message.
I even did a TEDx Talk about it!
Fast forward to today, I am still active online talking about women’s empowerment and what body positivity can do to turn a person’s life into something great. The #bopotribe is a powerful support system that we were lacking until the #bopo movement started. Support from friends is such a powerful thing, and not many people would say that friendships are more important than family, but they are in a certain way, and they certainly could supersede a relationship with a boy who may or may not like you.
Finally I dare to say, with all the support I have from everyone I surround myself with, I have conquered my eating disorder, my body image issues and I have completely accepted my body as it is.
Thank you. I hope you like my story.
(photography by Ernest Chang)
Follow Bertha on Instagram