I can’t seem to stop thinking about food when I think about my family. I remember my childhood in flavors. With Uncle R, I think of salads. Uncooked ramen noodles substituting for croutons, iceberg lettuce, and thousand island dressing. Ground beef sauteed with packets of taco seasoning with tortilla chips and tossed with lettuce and tomato.
At the time, I didn’t think anything of all the salads he ate; it was exotic to me that he ate these concoctions instead of the Khmer food my grandmother cooked. I never made a connection between his vigorous exercise and eating habits and “body image issues.” Despite all of the ranting that I’ve done about the oppressive beauty standards women face, I’ve never thought about the way that men must also cope with society’s expectations for their bodies.
Uncle R always had a thick stack of men’s fitness magazines around. Glossy images of muscular men, some of them grotesquely so, along with instructions on how to burn fat and gain bulk. I never thought about how it was for him, a young Khmer adolescent growing up in LA, smaller than many of his peers, at one point heavier, too. I always thought that he was sort of vain and left it at that; I never took a step further to identify the social pressures that produced it.
Thinking of him and of this reminds me that one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to think that we are alone in our struggles.