Mother-Daughter Chitchat

The other day in the subway I couldn’t help but overhear this mother-daughter “dialogue” as I was going up the stairs.

> Mother: 男人要胖。女人要瘦。 (Men need to be fat. Women need to be thin.)

> Daughter:

> Mother: 你胖得已经像男人了。 (You’re so fat you’re already looking like a man.)

> Daughter:

I couldn’t help taking a look at the daughter. She wasn’t skinny, but she wasn’t either obese or manly. She was probably not much above average weight. She also didn’t seem very bothered by her mom’s comments.

It’s more than just the food….


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Poor chinese daughters… it must be really tiresome to deal with those chinese mothers. Ofcourse that might apply to other countries, but i think the mother-daughter is special…

  2. Da Xiangchang Says: June 22, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    Haha, that’s a very Chinese exchange. I have two cousins who used to live in China where they were small and cute. Then they came stateside and on American food, they ballooned like you wouldn’t believe; I mean, I haven’t seen such a rapid weight gain since that kid lost control of his body in Akira. A few years ago when they were maybe 10, they would go to my aunt’s house, and everytime they’d go inside, my uncle would say, “Why have you two grown so ugly?” to both girls. Now, he’s saying this in an affectionate way, and he’s the nicest guy in the world, but I was like, Damn, those are harsh words! But, again, I’m not quite sure how much it has destroyed their self-esteem. It can’t be good, but the negative effects might be overrated. I mean, I think America’s the only country obsessed with this concept of “self-esteem,” using it explain everything from why some women stay fat to the poor academic scores of inner-city youth!

  3. One thing that gets left out of the discussions of weight is the fact that while very few Chinese are obese, very few are physically fit. I’m not convinced that this is better than the situation in the US. But its nice to see someone taking the time to plant the seeds of future psycho-sexual neuroses in China’s youth.

  4. DXC: the way every single post of yours on Sinosplice has to include a dig at minorities is bizarre and boorish and bizarrely boorish. Especially when it’s a complete tangent not just to the topic at hand but what you yourself are talking about.

  5. Da Xiangchang Says: June 23, 2006 at 2:19 am


    I was trying to figure out what you meant by “minorities” when I realized it’s the “inner-city youth” comment that got your panties in a bunch. And I remember you foaming at the mouth about John’s Center of Civilization topic too. Truly, I’m curious where you learned your racial oversensitivity–the NAACP A Racist Behind Every Corner seminar?!

    All I’m saying is self-esteem is an overrated concept, and probably the only objection a person might have to a mom berating her daughter for being fat is that it destroys her self-esteem. But again maybe it’ll prompt her to lose weight. In the end, HOW a person feels about herself only partly explains her subsequent behavior. A woman might be fat not because she feels bad or was criticized by her mom but rather she likes to eat too much. I mean, ALL the fat people I know personally just loves food too damn much–and I don’t think it cuz they’re using it to fulfill some emotional need. And inner-city kids might suck at grades because they find books boring. Self-esteem has nothing to do with it.

  6. I thought Da Xiangchang was Chinese. How can he be making a dig on “minorities” if he’s speaking about his own culture. I apologize if I’m mistaken. In any event, I don’t see anything wrong with what he wrote.

  7. @Jeff: Minorities? Over-weight people? Chinese? As 64% of the US is over-weight, and about 1/5th the world’s population is Chinese… not sure where the minorities angle comes in – we’re definitely talking majorities. (no matter what country you’re speaking about).

    @DXC: I agree man. There definitely seems to be a lot less of a self-esteme issue in China. It’s at the very least not tied in to identity as much. Which I guess makes sense in a more communal culture that the idea of “self” just isn’t as important or relevant, making it easier to state and accept things like “you’re fat” a bit easier than in the west. For what it’s worth, I don’t at all see the racism in your comment.

  8. Ah… missed that poor inner-city youth bit… still don’t see how it’s offensive.

  9. Chinese, especially Chinese young girls, are thin. But some of them are so thin that actually get extra attention not because they are pretty but rather because people think that these girls are too fragile that people should try to avoid accidently hitting them.

    I think the mom is mean to her daughter. My mom was never like that. She was always afraid that I didn’t eat enough, though I was of average weight when I was a student. Now I gained some weight. It seems that I am bigger than most southern girls. But I am fine with it.

  10. and since when does the term “inner-city” mean minority? dunno, i used to live in chi-town and i saw a couple white people in the city. and some of them even lived downtown! and some of them even lived in the poor areas!

  11. I had similar conversation with my mother/grandmother back in China. They would point at random fat boy to prove their point, “See? He eats a lot and looks good! He’s very strong man!” while teasing me for being thin, wussy, and girlish.

  12. Here’s Lu Yuchun in today’s Youth Daily:


    Last night during a break in our recording session everybody was watching Germany vs Sweden. As I snacked and watched, I felt like this was a happy moment for humanity. Just then, one of the staff members reminded me: “Chunchun, have you noticed that you’re getting fat?” “I noticed a long time ago,” I told them, and kept eating. Then I thought, if I blew up to “He Jie”-size and then dieted back down, it wouldn’t matter, would it? Suddenly, I was thinking about He Jie again, and I realized that I missed her. Lately we’ve been so busy that even when we’re both in Beijing we don’t have time to meet up. I saw her a few days ago at the contest in Hangzhou, and she really was looking thinner! The mystery birthday present I gave her must be working, hehe.

  13. Oh, and the above passage is part of a World-Cup-themed guest editorial that is labelled “版权文章,拒绝转载,违者追究法律责任。” So… don’t copy and paste 🙂

  14. I am a Chinese girl, it seems that most Chinese Mothers like to interfere theirs daughters’ life. I don’t know if this cases will happen in your country?

  15. Da Xiangchang Says: June 29, 2006 at 12:01 pm


    Of course! Less so than Chinese mothers, but meddlesome mothers are worldwide.

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