Ladies, Shake Off the Social Pressures and Be Yourself This CNY
It's the first day of Chinese New Year.
Every year you stick to the same ritual, no matter whether you are 20, 30, or 40. You get up early in the morning and begin putting yourself together. You fix your hair, apply your makeup and slip on the new dress you picked out three months ago in hopes that it will arm you with the confidence needed to face your relatives' nosy questioning.
You're prepared for the social pressures every woman has to face during Chinese New Year. After all, you've exchanged stories with your female friends and read the online comments crowd-sourced from strangers' relatives. At every family gathering, there is a version of bingo being played out in your head as you run through your relatives' familiar comments about your body image, your love life and your family (or lack thereof)—handily recycled from the years past. By now you know the drill. Every woman does.
Body Image Anxiety
You are 20. At the buffet table, in a tone bordering on overzealous, your aunt eggs you on to pile more food on your plate. "I'm jealous that you're so skinny! You're lucky to eat without getting fat," she remarks. You retreat and eat silently in guilt.
You are 30. You just gave birth to a healthy, beautiful infant daughter five months ago. Naturally, your body has undergone some changes from your pregnancy and you're still recovering from it all. It is the first thing everyone notices about you. "Wah, you have gained weight!" a chorus of aunts chime in at the same time.
You are 40. Last year, you were diagnosed with malignant breast cancer and had to undergo surgery for breast mastectomy. Thanks to Lady 360, your female protection plan, you were able to cover the cost of the surgery. However, it doesn't change the fact that you've been feeling less comfortable in your body ever since. At large family gatherings, you avoid talking to your relatives so you won't have to be confronted with comments about your body image.
In a society where eating disorders are on the rise, especially among the young, women regularly have to deal with body image anxiety throughout their daily lives, regardless of their age. Blame it on unrealistic beauty standards perpetuated by the media. Women often feel the pressure for their bodies to live up to these standards and look a certain way.
During Chinese New Year, it's not uncommon for you to have greater body image anxiety since you might feel more self-conscious about putting on weight after gobbling down countless pineapple tarts. Meeting large groups of relatives whom you don't meet very often can also feel like the equivalent of making a "public appearance", which means subjecting your physical appearance to social judgment. This may feel overwhelming but, remember, you're not alone in feeling this way.
Your Love Life
When you are 20, your aunt teases, "Girl, got boyfriend?"
Past a certain age, however—say, 25—the same aunt might do a double take if you answer in the negative to their annual questionnaire about your love life. Eagerly your aunt will start reeling off the names of friends of friends who have sons single and ready to mingle. If you already have a boyfriend then the question becomes, "When are you BTOing?"
You are 30 and unmarried. At this point your aunt presents an angpao to you and says simply, "This is the last time I'm going to give you angpao ah?"
Often, at Chinese New Year gatherings, the social pressure for women to marry can feel exaggerated. Although your aunt might guilt-trip you into rethinking your single and unmarried existence, the truth is that more and more Singaporeans are putting marriage on the back-burner in order to focus on building their careers and earning more pay. This reflects a global trend of highly educated women tying the knot at a later age where they can enjoy greater economic security and be able to afford the significant financial investments that come with marriage.
If the nosy inquiries into your love life reveal anything, it is how changing attitudes toward marriage are throwing inter-generational differences into sharp relief. Whereas traditional views of marriage during our parents' generation had clearly defined gender roles, they no longer hold up as well in this day and age. So, the next time a relative asks you about marriage, tell them times are a-changing!
You are 20. In front of you, your mother laments to your relatives, "She doesn't even know how to cook! How will anyone want to marry her in future? How will she start a family?"
At 30, you are confronted with motherhood and its pressure-cooker of challenges. During house visits, you have your hands full from bottle-feeding your baby or keeping an eye on your active toddler. If you haven't started a family at this point, encountering such a sight will pressurise you into desiring a family, as will your relatives who make it a point to remind you what you are missing out on.
At 40, you are judged based on how well your children conduct themselves. A mother points at your daughter and says to her own child, "Do you see how well-behaved that girl is? You should learn from her."
If you haven't started a family or don't plan to, an elder relative will come up to you out of concern and say, "But who will take care of you when you get old?"
While social attitudes have changed toward marriage, women are still seen as the 'pillars' of their families. Though the roles of mothers have evolved to include building careers or caring for elderly parents, women still shoulder the bulk of household chores and caregiving. For example, government-paid paternity leave is two weeks while maternity leave is four months, proving that there still needs to be a more equal sharing of parental responsibilities.
On the other hand, childless women have been on the rise in Singapore. Starting a family involves a life-long commitment which requires time and effort that more and more women are unwilling to take on in favour of other priorities. When you come up against your relatives who press you into starting a family, you are really encountering the same generation gap that has allowed new social attitudes toward marriage to flourish. Make no mistake: these changes are here to stay.
In spite of all the social pressures that weigh upon women during Chinese New Year celebrations, this time of the year is also a time of joyful reunion with your loved ones. Instead of dreading Chinese New Year because of the questions, why not look on the bright side? Take this unique, once-a-year opportunity to embrace yourself for who you really are and remind your family and friends that Chinese New Year should also be a time to support modern women in all their multitudes.
Now, let's try again.
It's the first day of Chinese New Year.
You are a single woman, enjoying the freedom and focusing on the joys that come with it.
You are a new mother who has stretch marks and gained some weight, but you are going through an amazing journey of self-discovery.
You are happy with the lifestyle you have with your spouse, and there is no desire to have children.
Times have changed. Celebrate what you own, and not be pressured to go after what you don’t have.
We, as Income, celebrate you today.
This article is meant purely for informational purposes and should not be relied upon as financial advice. The precise terms, conditions and exclusions of any Income products mentioned are specified in their respective policy contracts. For customised advice to suit your specific needs, consult an Income insurance advisor.
This advertisement has not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.