Perspectives II: What Does it Mean to Love Yourself as a Woman in Thailand?
Updated: May 21, 2021
Perspectives is a column where we ask one Thai woman and one foreign woman the same question and publish their answers verbatim. For our inaugural issue, we asked two of The F Word's core team members, Blue and Becky, to talk about their experiences with self-love in Thailand. To read Blue's response to What Does Self-Love Mean to You as a Woman in Thailand, click here.
I'm a small town country girl from Ireland who moved to Bangkok over six years ago. This has been a city that I have grown so much in, but that growth has stemmed from the fact that I have experienced a lot of challenges in terms of loving myself and being true to myself in different situations. Coming from a small town, I was somewhat sheltered from the world and progressive views. During my time in Thailand, my own personal journey living here has involved growing into progressiveness, moving away from my traditional values and deciding on my own progressive ideals. Bangkok is a melting pot of cultures. There is no common culture, rules or expectations. Everyday you can meet people from every country in the world, from every socioeconomic and cultural background, and you can meet people with clashing ideals from radically out of touch perspectives to progressive ideologies. Living here, you're constantly re-establishing the ground under your feet, the context of which you approach your interactions with.
It is important to understand yourself, understand your values and who you are. It’s important to respect and be true to yourself because it's very easy to get lost otherwise. This has been a big challenge for me. I have learnt to be both assertive and adaptive. It's all too easy to go along with the crowd but I have found loving yourself as a woman in Thailand is about figuring out what your values are and making sure that you nourish them. Since living in Thailand, I have become more interested in feminist issues and gender equality. Being an expat woman in Bangkok allows me to have to be in touch with progressive issues happening in both the Western world and Thailand. I wanted to be part of feminist issues here, so two years ago I became involved with the volunteer based organization Bangkok Rising. Being part of this group has allowed me to foster my identity as a feminist, whilst at the same time organizing events and workshops to empower women and encourage gender equality. This group allowed me to be part of a group that was bigger than myself and to foster a community like-minded people. Community is important to me and being part of different groups in Thailand has been imperative for fostering my self love. Sometimes Bangkok can feel like a lonely city, but researching and reaching out to different groups has changed my experience. Reaching out and being part of women’s groups has helped me build up a network of supportive women friends. I don’t think I would have survived in this city without these connections.
Another value that I recognized in myself since moving here is my love of nature. I'm from the countryside and living in Bangkok in such a dense urban environment, I can sometimes feel the weight of the city on me, adjusting from country living to city life has its challenges. I just want to escape the city and just be in true nature. But for me, the way that I address this is to leave the city regularly, to go outside of Bangkok and get my nature fix. To be away from the traffic and pollution is important for me. I feel fortunate to be able to do this.
Coming from a big drinking culture in Ireland, and not being a big drinker myself, I found the social scenes that I first engaged in in Bangkok to be very drink friendly. Being somewhat introverted has led me to develop skills in establishing boundaries and saying no and making sure that I had my needs met. This assertiveness has ensured that I spend my time engaged in activities that preserve my energy, such as going for massages, Onsen spas, yoga, healthy cafes, the cinema etc.
Sometimes the clash of ideologies, aka Western versus Thai can be challenging. Last year, during COVID-19 I gained some weight. And in Thai society it is very normalized to comment on people's bodies and on weight gain. As a Westerner, I have to remember that it's part of their culture, and it's not always seen as a bad thing here. It can be hard to accept when someone says you look pregnant when you gain 10kgs. In Western societies, different body sizes are being promoted and accepted, which I think is great, but within Thailand there are still very thin beauty standards. So gaining weight as a Western body in Thai society has been challenging. Remembering that I am not my looks and my looks do not define me has helped me accept myself and love myself.
Loving yourself and setting your boundaries can be challenging for every person in society. Living in Thailand has brought out the best in me and I am grateful for all of the experiences that I have had living here.
By Becky O'Brien
Becky O'Brien heads The F Word's Rebellious X column. She is a member of the Bangkok Rising Managing Committee, an event organiser, passionate about gender equality and an aspiring storyteller; dedicated to finding untold stories and bringing them to light.
Illustration by Blue Rachapradit
Blue is an aspiring illustrator, sometimes poet, living in Bangkok. She is the founder of The F Word art magazine and passionate about the intersection between arts and social activism. You can see more of her illustration as well as her poetry on Instagram at @thisbluecreature