30 May 2011


If life is about being happy, then how come so many of us are unhappy about things that just are what they are? I am talking about the “grass is always greener” mentality. While many of us, myself included, may be happy a lot of the time, I have not met a person who is truly, madly, deeply happy. One of my biggest struggles has been looking into my past and reliving all of my regrets from a decade or more ago. While I was certainly not the cause of my parents’ divorce when I was 12 and could not do anything to change it, ever since that time I have wondered what life would have been like for me if they would have stayed together. In my mind, I would have continued to be in the A crowd all through school, I would have dated Ben Peppers or Connor Maloney or both, I would have had a car in high school since my dad was one of the top guys at the dealership and I would have likely gone to the University of Tennessee because I slowly became a Vols fan over the years.

Instead, I moved to Ohio right before I turned 13, started a new school with no friends and fought my way up the social ladder. After falling to parental pressure, I started college as a pharmacy student even though I hated science from the time I first had to take the subject in elementary school. I ended up dropping out of the program my sophomore year and enrolling in the school of communications. I should have gone to art school to become an interior designer like I wanted. I should have looked more into that Ivy League college that sent me information. I should have visited a ton of colleges and applied to more than one school to see how many options I would have had. If I did, maybe I wouldn’t still be paying off college loans. But I didn’t. And, as much as American society and therapists tell us to do the obvious and blame our mother, I know that I own these regrets.

I recently read a book by C.S. Lewis called The Screwtape Letters, a fictional book from the point of view of a demon providing guidance on winning souls for the devil. A chapter in that book talks about how the devil tries to break us by bringing up the past and diverting our attention and our emotions to things that we cannot change. I completely agree that focusing on the past can cause false thoughts and false hopes relating to what we could have been. I also believe that there is also a bit of devilish affinity when we look at ourselves in the present and find displeasure in any part of ourselves.

When I lived in the States, a person’s appearance was always under scrutiny. People in the U.S. have to be thinner, tanner and taller, and not many women have a head full of naturally-colored hair. For one week in college I was a bit anorexic even though I weighed 110 lbs. because I didn’t think I was thin enough. Luckily, I also had commitment issues and a brain so that didn’t last long and I never had a thought to do it again. To be tanner, I spent some time in a tanning bed so that I wouldn’t look so pasty. I even tried the spray tan for a February wedding, which was totally worth the money. To be taller, I simply needed to buy shoes. I was so accustomed to wearing three- and four-inch heels that my boss and the company executives were baffled to see me in my 5’1” stature on the occasion that I wore flats. And no, I don’t quite know my natural hair color because the grey came at age 24 so it gets a bit lighter and darker every six to eight weeks. This is a trait I get from my mother. When I was around the age of 10, my mother bounced into the room, proudly showing off her new red hair. I remember telling her I did not know her natural color anymore, and that her hair was certainly red.

In the U.S., flat abs and a firm butt became an unattainable goal that we all strived to see on ourselves. Too bad we lacked the motivation and the time to realize that dream, though we often tried. In came the manufacturers who provided stupid ploy after stupid ploy. We can now buy shoes that tone our legs and butt while we walk, though we may look a bit ridiculous. I read that Europeans think Americans are odd for working out so much. In Europe, people walk, ride bikes and eat portion-sized, balanced meals. They have absolutely no desire to walk 10 miles in place on a machine.

My friends and I often joked over the years about how the American men had a thing for the Asian girls who were, of course, thinner and had a natural tan. They were exotic looking, not Midwestern pale with blonde or brown hair. Now that I am in Asia, I can tell you that it seems that nearly everyone here wants to be more American looking. I have not seen a single hair salon advertise pictures of Asian-looking people – the signs all show Western-looking men and women with blonde, brunette and red hair on top of their pale head. In the two weeks that we had a TV, I saw numerous television ads for products to bleach skin. Whitening agents are added to antiperspirants (do not ask why – I am still mystified). Even some of the men want to look like American women. Since Asians, particularly the Thai, have higher cheekbones, some men have a desire to grow out their hair, lighten it to more American colors and style themselves in the American clothes, shoes and accessories. One has to be careful here – women you think are women are not always women…

In America, plastic surgery has become so common that people are hosting parties at their home and inviting all of their friends to partake in the body-altering procedures. Though Americans are focused on looking younger, diminishing wrinkles, lifting faces and breasts, Asians focus on their appearance for a different reason – they want to look more like us. I saw a story on CNN the other day about a 14-year-old girl who underwent plastic surgery to lift her eyelids so that they appeared more rounded like an American instead of slit like the common Chinese person. The mother actually encouraged the surgery at her daughter’s barely-teen age. After studying the before and after pictures and watching the video, I could not see a significant difference, but the girl was thrilled.

The grass is greener in America when you are somewhere like Asia, even when you are unable to see the green on the ground buried by the snow. For me, whether or not all my dreams would have come true if my parents had stayed together is irrelevant. Let’s face it, if my parents had not divorced when I was 12, it would have likely happened later. Since my parents are still my parents, the same things that have happened in my life would likely have happened in my perfect scenario world, just with different people. When I graduated from my actual high school, I had never considered a career in communications because I had never known there was a field called public relations. When I become overwhelmed with all of the “what ifs” in life and visions of my past that spool up feelings of regret and wonder, I simply remind myself that I am here today. I am married to a guy with a wonderful family, I have a relationship with my mom’s family that I likely would not have had several states away and, oh yeah, I am living in Singapore. And I would not be in Singapore if I had not married a guy whose hobby is applying for random jobs online. 

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