Sunday, October 19, 2008

BIG, FAT GIANT in Shanghai

After I flew in from America a few days ago, I was too jetlagged to write. Apparently, not jetlagged enough to stay home and sleep as I should have. I went shopping instead. (I have another trip to America looming in November--a trip where I get to see my most awesome of Library Marketing team and my editor! I need to bring them presents!! Yeah, yeah, I hear my husband saying. So why did you bring home two purses for yourself? Shhhh...)

So there I am--jetlagged--in the surreal underground market beneath Shanghai's Science & Technology Museum. I'm beelining my way to two vendors my friends have assured me are trustworthy, when I hear a chorus of shopkeepers call out to me: PANGZI!

Translation: FATSO!

Okay, then! Fatso. Nice.

This, after I had spoken at the WLMA conference about the notion of true beauty as filtered through my next novel, North of Beautiful. I'm up there in front of all these librarians, unwittingly baring my (apparently big fat) belly, as I gesture emphatically: What does it mean to be beautiful? How do we define beautiful? How come we can't see it in ourselves? And isn't it terrible that we are so impacted by our very narrow definition of beautiful...only to be sidelined myself in Shanghai by PANGZI!

My good friend, Mitali Perkins (who just won the Jane Addams Award!), quickly assured me that in some villages in India, fat is beautiful. It means being wealthy! Healthy!

Ummm...I'm in SHANGHAI. Fat does not equal Beautiful. Or wealthy. Or healthy.

On the way home, I thought to myself: how sad is it that of the 100 or so words I know in Mandarin, one of them is PANGZI. How is that even possible? Is our global culture so focused on a woman's looks that we simply cannot escape always being evaluated? Judged? And found WANTING?

If anything, this has made me even more impatient for my book to come out so I have a platform to talk about BEAUTY. To point out that really, every one of us is beautiful. We just need a different definition of Beautiful, one that's COUNTER-CULTURAL. One that's REAL. One that's revolutionary.

To obsess otherwise--with our scales and mirrors--is a Big Fat Waste of Time. So here I am, CHINA: You may think I'm Big and Fat. I think I'm Happy. (And I found presents for my peeps at Little, Brown Books!)



  1. No way, Justina - you are the definition of beautiful and I can't imagine a place exists in the world where you would be called fat.

  2. Truth is beauty. Being true to oneself, and to others. Valuing, appreciating, and respecting yourself and others. Reaching for the stars and believing in your dreams, even if no one else does, because you know you can make things happen. Being HAPPY. Simply, truly happy.

  3. THANK YOU, c. leigh and Little Willow! I've realized: I'm 40, for gosh sakes! I don't have the time to waste on what other people think of me!