I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Taiwanese people staring at me. Although I live in Taipei, city of foreign English teachers, I still get stared at quite frequently. My reaction depends on my mood. If I've had a good day, I tell myself that they find me interesting, and I relish the attention. During these "good days," I can understand how a foreigner can get used to this, even grow to rely on it as the barometer they use to measure how interesting and unique they are as a person. In fact, I believe that many foreigners are addicted to this attention and stay in Taiwan for this very reason (whether they are consciously aware of it or not). Once you go home, you just don't get those interested stares anymore.
Then there are the other days. The days when I've encountered one too many rude motorcyclists, or one too many bratty kids (I don't teach children, but just having them running around the halls outside of my classroom is enough to taint the day with negativity sometimes). For some reason, on these days the stares become malicious attacks on my very soul, deliberate attempts to make me feel "foreign," like I don't belong. On these bad days, when all I want to do is slip through the day unnoticed in a quiet state of sulkiness, the last thing I want is a reminder that I am indeed very noticeable.
Thank God, these bad days don't happen very often. Or if I feel one coming on, I try to snap out of it quickly enough. So usually, the staring doesn't get to me. However, I've discovered being bothered by staring on a whole new level -- being stared at while wearing a bathing suit that already makes you feel self-conscious! I just started swimming on a regular basis at the Zhongshan Community Fitness Center. The reason why I started swimming in the first place is because I need to lose some of that extra fat around my middle, so the last thing I want is people staring at me while I'm swimming in one of those ridiculous little bathing suits with a skirt attached to it. The stares are plentiful here though, because the pool is often teeming with old, gossipy women. You know the kind I mean, clucking at this or that. And the showers are even worse!
I have never been overly modest. In America, I did go to a naked women's day spa once with my cousin, comforted by the fact that over half of the women there would be as fat or fatter then me. Here however, that is not the case! The bodies of most Taiwanese women look significantly different than mine. So, if they already stare at foreigners, how much more would they stare at a naked foreigner?
In order to avoid this uncomfortable situation, I had been changing in a shower stall. But it's so annoying to try and pull dry clothes onto a damp body in a small, even damper shower stall. So today I took my first step in actually changing in the locker room area with the rest of the women. I tried to do this little "wrap a towel around myself and change underneath it" thing. It was quite difficult, and I probably drew even more attention to myself than I would of if I had just changed normally. I don't know if anyone was looking at me, because I was trying so hard to keep my eyes averted and appear natural. Now, looking back as I write on the experience, I realize how silly I was being.
Maybe the Taiwanese women will stare at me and think, "Wow, it's true what they say about Americans being fat," but so what? I should pray for the boldness to accept, even love my body as it is ... in all it's "plump foreigner" glory. So why do I still feel so inadequate?