Image from my Calendar Girls series
Ten days ago, I went from being a size L/XL to a Medium overnight.
It’s easy: catch a plane from anywhere in Asia to a western country, particularly an Anglo-influenced one like the US/Australia. It’s a shock as soon as you step into a new, more western mix of humanity: everyone around you is HUGE, compared to what you’ve gotten used to in Asia. The mind has to readjust to new version of normality. A new template. This new version’s often taller, and is always wider.
Last weekend I met an old friend Sydney’s Chinatown. We’d met during my time in Korea, and hadn’t seen one another in four years. “You look tired,” he said, a polite reference to how I’ve aged during my early 30s. [He’d aged too, but I didn’t say anything; I’d forgotten how forward Korean men were about appearance.] We walked through a warren of alleys dotted by fluorescent-lit signs of estate agents and restaurants, the bilingual traditional Chinese-English signs more familiar than those in our present west Sydney neighborhood.
As we speared meat into a reasonably-authentic Korean barbeque, he looked over at me and said: “How come you haven’t changed, but your husband got a belly now?” It was probably because I’d spent most of this year in Asia. Australia is as car-mad as America. Australian food, while as fresh and healthy as anything I’ve had in California, is in Texas-sized portions as in the States, with a similar emphasis on meat & dairy.
Numbers can do wonder for one’s self-confidence – and for clothing companies’ bottom lines. Take vanity sizing: since I began leaving the US frequently for the past 12 years, I’ve noticed that american sizes have been creeping downward as our waistlines fill out. This adds more confusion to already-baffling international sizes. When asked “What size are you,”by a salesperson, my answer is: “It depends”. It ranges from size 4-8 (U.S., depending on the brand) to size 38 (European) to XL (Vietnam/Thailand).
However, in urban Asia, sizes are also increasing along with a more modern lifestyle. This is particularly noticeable in China, a vast country where those with northern ancestors can be significantly taller than southerners. In a Kunming department store, I saw a row of festive brilliant red bras, of a hue I’ve never seen in a Western lingerie shop: they looked like a celebration waiting to happen under conservative clothes.
A closer look at them revealed that yes, indeed, some Chinese women even wear my size. So I bought a Chinese-red bra as a souvenir of the nation’s time of transition. And to make some more memories once I got back home.