Being a woman, a farang woman, in Thailand has been an interesting ride.
When we first visited Bangkok, to find a house and school I was bombarded. By the busy, bustling, hot and smelly city. By the shear size and baffling number of neighbourhoods.
But what also struck me was the enormous number of billboards and ads promoting self improvement. And this was not the clean eating, yoga going self improvement. This was definitely the quick fix, surgical type.
These ads often portrayed a sad looking slightly out of shape person with the result being the happy, slender beauty. On occasion not even the same person.
Moving to Bangkok as a taller than average and larger than average New Zealand woman into a world where everything from bras to shoes are a size too small, was a complete minefield. Let alone clothing. In the train I stand a head above everyone, then there’s in heels.
Initially I struggled a lot. The constant bombardment of images and lack of shopping options lead me to feeling big, fat and oh so imperfect. I’d come from feeling taller than average but perfectly normal and thrust into a world where I just didn’t fit!!
This was two fold with eating so much rice and drinking beer (I behaved like I was on holiday for 6 months), the results not ideal.
Moving on from this and getting fit, healthy and surrounding myself with friends all feeling the same meant my mind shift was complete. Acceptance that I am different from most Thai girls, and this is ok.
I can’t buy my bras in Bangkok, full stop. My one experience involved being asked if I was sure what I’d selected was my size and being followed to the changing room for the shop assistant to check?! This was the largest size in the shop, tucked discreetly at the back. Not where I usually need to shop.
I’ve learnt to divert my eyes from the surgical enhancement ads but there are a couple classics. ‘ Bye-bye O. Hello S’ a particular favourite. The story seems to suggest you can shake off the round blonde farang and become a slender Thai woman?? I’m not sure if this promotes surgical work or possibly it’s simply suggesting a trade??
Walking around the mall even there is a floor dedicated to beauty from hairdressers to waxing through to liposuction and Botox. Explaining to my 6 year old what the picture of the lady with scissors aimed at her hips means is interesting!
The Ministry of Waxing ad is a humorous take on the joy of waxing. Lightens the mood a little.
Another recent billboard suggests that the clinic is ‘inviting inside’ though positioning of the blurb suggests something else? After possibly she’s had the list of non-surgical improvements on the left? Never mind she’s had her spine removed in edit.
A good dose of humour seems to be the only way to navigate this. Often either feeling or outright told that they don’t have your size. Even reliable Cotton On only goes to Medium!
Another curious layer seems to be the promotional ‘pretties’. These young ladies are employed to strut around malls, supermarkets, expos etc to promote everything from new cars (not that unusual) to pet food. The skirts are a little tighter and the heels definitely a lot taller than may be appropriate. I can’t help but imagine the crazed backlash that would be if these ladies popped up in New World selling Persil, in New Zealand.
Finding my groove and being content in myself has gone a long way to battling these over-whelming images. I can’t help but wonder how I’d feel as a young Thai girl brought up in this environment, the pressure and self-loathing when you just don’t measure up. Let alone ageing. Wrinkles are not permitted. The general concern over tanning at all and the shear amount of whitening products does suggest they have a better handle on sun smart behaviour.
As I approach a significant birthday I realise the value of being fit, healthy, accepting of the skin your in and surrounding yourself with positive people. The rest falls into place.