the beauty in differentiation

at age ten,
a weasel-faced blonde boy calls you fat
because you consistently get
better grades than him
& insists a brown girl doesn’t belong
at a school with (superior) white kids.
you quip that you live in
a nicer neighborhood than his,
but the real reason you’re better than him
is that he’ll always be a covetous jerk.

at age twelve,
a freckled ginger boy scrubs your arms
with a pool brush after swim practice
& claims that he thought the white splotches
(of sunburn) on your dark skin was dirt.
you shove him into the pool
& watch him sputter,
coughing water in surprise.
your coach’s punishment is that
you have to swim extra (victory) laps.

at age fourteen,
a thin brunette girl snidely snickers,
“you’re not pretty. you’re cute like hello kitty.”
you weren’t allowed to wear makeup
or dress like her eighteen-year-old sister.
after braces straighten your crooked teeth
& your only growth spurt sheds baby fat,
you decline her offer to be friends —
even then, you’d rather be alone than have
catty friends you didn’t like (& vice-versa).

at age sixteen,
(until almost a decade following)
a parade of basic white guys marvel
over the fact that you’re the first Asian girl
they’ve admired who defies stereotypes —
you’ve inherited your mother’s feistiness
& your father’s no bullshit attitude.
though your temperament mellows over the years,
you loudly continue to refuse to be fetishized
& mock white guys who should check their privilege.

at age twenty-three,
your handsome ivorian friend becomes more.
you’ll never look like models in magazines,
but you’ve learned to appreciate that
your black hair is unruly
& your skin’s base tone is deep tan.
the ways that you look different
no longer (solely) define you.
he knows all of you & loves you
because of (not in spite of) it.

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(permanently) a work in progress

in two hours, you turn twenty-six
(four years from thirty, not that you’re counting).
when your mother points out the “flaws” in your figure,
(breasts that can’t be contained by button-up shirts
& hips that never widened during puberty)
laugh & remember that
her spitefulness is only rivaled by her jealousy.
when you trip in front of the crowd
on the train platform & feel twelve again
(the era of an almost mullet & headgear)
look in the mirror & remember that
you’re not an awkward tween.
when a former party friend suggests
that falling in love rendered you weak,
(being the instigator of wild times
was the mark of a badass)
roll your eyes & remember that
you found strength in accepting yourself.
you are (permanently) a work in progress.

when patience isn’t a virtue

“Sometimes, I pretend to be retarded while in public.”

my hands curled to fists
(deep breaths)
ready to fight

“My little sister is autistic and mentally handicapped.
It’s really offensive for you to do that.”

don’t yell at this ignorant bitch —
you just met her; she’s your friend’s best friend.
surely she has hidden redeeming qualities.

“But I don’t do it to make fun of retards!
I love them — they’re hilarious!”

equally disgusted & incredulous,
i glanced at our mutual friend.

“Just watch — she’s so funny!”

i rolled my eyes & exited the room.
even at fourteen, i had no patience
for antagonistic bullies disguised as “cool kids.”

I used to believe that my mother and I were like the Gilmore girls.

I used to believe that my mother and I were like the Gilmore girls.

As with most kids, puberty wasn’t particularly easy for me. Angst and self-loathing plagued my middle school existence. In order to combat this, my mother and I talked constantly. She gave me formative talks on how to have self-esteem as a chubby kidthe importance of family, why religion is essential to being a good person, and how sex ruins an unmarried girl. I absorbed every word.

At the time, my mother and I were each other’s sounding boards. She discussed fights with my dad; I psychoanalyzed his motivations. I told her about petty drama at school; she insisted that friends came and went, but family was always there. We watched TV shows and movies together. We were best friends. Like Lorelai and Rory, we consulted each other on every decision. We had inside jokes. I idolized her.

When I met Andrea, I found a kindred spirit in someone my age. During high school, I made more friends of my own. My mother lashed out. She couldn’t understand why I would want to spend time with people who weren’t family. She didn’t comprehend why she wasn’t the only friend I needed.

By the time I got to college, I recognized that I had to escape this unhealthy codependency. It wasn’t fair for her to confide in me as a friend (about her and my dad’s marital woes) one moment and in the next moment, snap into mother mode, trying to dictate my every move. She always claimed she was psychic — that she would know when I was being disobedient. College proved that when I didn’t tell her anything, she had nothing to zone in on. She couldn’t interrogate me so that I’d crack and “confess.”

Though I’m the most stable and happiest I’ve ever been, my mother is always angry at me. She belittles every choice I’ve made without her. I’m the biggest disappointment of her life. These days, I’m like Lorelai (the supposed rebel) and she’s like Emily (the bourgeoisie housewife who insists that her daughter should have the best, which is her life).

We used to be like Lorelai and Rory, but I’m thankful that we haven’t been for years. It’s impossible to be friends (much less best friends) with your mother when she refuses to acknowledge you’ve grown up. It’s unlikely to get better until she realizes that we can have a relationship as adults. One day, I hope she understands that trying to control your daughter’s life isn’t the same as wanting what’s best for her.

Knowing how stubborn my mother is, though, I’m not holding my breath.

“There are starving children in Manila. Finish your food.”

“There are starving children in Manila. Finish your food.”

This refrain was repeated throughout childhood. At an early age, my siblings and I learned that regardless of the amount or type of food that was on your plate, you ate it. No questions asked. Kids who wasted food were rude — repugnant, even. Our friends were judged for being picky eaters.

It’s no surprise that the three of us have had weight issues at different stages of our lives. After years of hearing “clean your plate,” learning moderation was (and still is, at times) difficult. Even now, my mother is a relentless food pusher.

“I’m trying to eat healthier.”

“So? You can have ice cream. Then you can just run later.”

“I would rather just skip dessert.”

“Just listen to me, I know what I’m talking about.”

Except, my mother doesn’t know (about this, or anything she hasn’t actually experienced).

In elementary school, I was the chubby kid on the country club swim team. To say that the kind of girls who lived in that neighborhood were cruel shallow bitches would be an understatement.

“What size do you wear?” Maddie asked as I wrapped a towel around myself after practice.

“Why do you want to know?” I quickly packed up my tote bag.

“So I never let myself go like that.” She followed me to the parking lot.

“I have a slower metabolism than you do.” Don’t let her see you cry.

“Maybe you should lay off the fatty foods, then.” She flipped her hair and sneered.

We were eleven years old. I waited until I bolted out of my mother’s car and into my room before crying and eating a stack of Chips Ahoy cookies. I found solace in food and books. Though my mother insisted I was beautiful as I was, she added that I’d outgrow my chubbiness. I did in middle school, but eating my feelings was a habit that persisted.

Now, I’m unlearning the association that only wasteful assholes don’t clean their plates. I’ll never be a waif, but I’m working on being healthier. I’m not perfect and I’m okay with that.

I used to write Harry Potter fanfiction.

I used to write Harry Potter fanfiction (also known as fics).

Even before that, I wrote hilariously bad Gilmore girls fics. In my defense, it was middle school. I knew nothing about keeping characters’ voices true to themselves or what high schoolers’ lives were actually like. Rory Gilmore’s world was as foreign to me as Harry Potter’s. Despite encouraging reviews, I took the Gilmore girls fics down from my fanfiction.net profile.

I’ve always been an enthusiastic fangirl. During my Gilmore girls phase, I had a wall in my bedroom with magazine pages featuring the cast and a giant collage I made. While I began reading the Harry Potter books in fourth grade, I didn’t start writing fics until high school.

Oftentimes, fans write fics in anticipation of the next installment of a series (to predict what’s going to happen next) or to rewrite moments they found to be unsatisfactory. Typically, I wrote fics for the former reason. I never wrote the plot-driven fics; instead, I always focused on the ships I supported. In fandom terms, a “ship” is a relationship that you support (thus making you a shipper).

I wrote my first Harry Potter fic during junior year of high school, before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published. Like many fans, I was (and still am) a Ron and Hermione shipper. At lunch, I brainstormed ideas with my fellow Harry Potter fangirls (and fanboy) friends Gaby, Daniel, and Becca. I ended up writing sixteen chapters and over 65,000 words. Almost a decade later, people are still reviewing the fic and adding it to their favorites.

Any time I get discouraged about writing, I remind myself of two things:

  1. I wrote a silly Ron/Hermione fic in high school that got 854 reviews.
  2. If E.L. James could get published by rewriting a Twilight fic as Fifty Shades of Grey, I will get published by writing an awesome original book.

Three deadly sins

I. Wrath

When Brie was diagnosed with autism, I became her defender. I was an aggressive crusader against people who said “retarded” or “retard” in a derogatory way (or ever, really).

Tenth grade was the height of my belligerence. On a bus ride after a marching band competition, an obnoxious drummer was impersonating a boy with Downs Syndrome from a rival band.

“I’m a reeetaaaard.” He kept repeating as he intentionally tripped down the bus aisle.

I tapped him on the shoulder and slapped him across the face as he turned around.

“What gives you the right to make fun of that boy?! You’re pathetic — making fun of a kid who can’t defend himself.”

“Damn — I was just joking, Sam.”

“Did it ever occur to you that he’s someone’s brother? Or maybe, that I’ve got a sister who’s in special ed? Or that other people do, too?”

“No it didn’t. Shit. I’m sorry.”

II. Envy

When you’re a former chubby girl, it’s hard to overcome body image issues even after you’ve lost weight. Most days, I believed what I saw in the mirror and in photos. Every once in awhile, old insecurities crept into the back of my mind.

Andrea is lovely. She has long eyelashes and brown hair. Her favorite food groups are cheese and bacon, but she’s naturally slim. She’s also one of the smartest and quirkiest people I know. We’ve been The Ridiculous for over a decade, so it’s uncertain whether we react to things similarly because we’ve been best friends so long, or if that’s why we became friends in the first place.

In college, there were times when guys (acquaintances, not friends or romantic prospects) would say,

“Your friend’s hot. Hook me up?”

I would laugh. “You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Yet self-loathing mantras of days past persisted.

Your best friend is hot. You’re the funny, sassy one. Why would someone ever think you’re pretty?

III. Pride

When I was in middle school, there was no one more insufferable to have as a classmate than me. I went to a small Catholic school in Birmingham with less than fifty kids per grade (from preschool to eighth grade). I was the Filipino Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and due to the size of the school, most people knew it.

In eighth grade, my group of friends was constantly getting dragged into the guidance counselor’s office because of another group of girls. Our group was comprised of overachievers. We won the spelling and geography bees. We had the highest test scores. We genuinely liked and got along with our teachers.

The other group was comprised of the girls who were wearing full makeup in sixth grade. By eighth grade, they either were or knew people who were partying with their older siblings who went to the Catholic high school. The situation was a Taylor Swift song personified.

The other group’s queen bee and I would get into emailing wars. We accused each other of talking shit. Finally, our homeroom teachers staged an intervention, Mean Girls style. We gathered in a circle and each girl aired her grievances. Tears were shed. Everyone got along (for the moment).

Still, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself because the queen bee claimed that our group was put on a podium, not a pedestal.