Unlike in the States where we’ve learned to be more accepting of different body types, in China commenting on someone’s weight isn’t unusual. My Chinese friends explained that these unsolicited “observations” weren’t necessarily an insult or to be intentionally rude. Nonetheless, as an American in China for 9 years, it’s a cultural difference I never understood but begrudgingly tolerated.
It wasn’t unheard of for Chinese locals (including complete strangers) to tell me plain and simple that I looked fat. Many of my Ayis (cleaning women) over the years would comment on my weight to a point I finally asked a Chinese friend to politely tell her to put a lid on it. Asking me if I was pregnant was also common. When I was asked ‘how far along are you?’ in my 30’s, it would just destroy the rest of the day for not only me, but for my kids, my poor hubby, and anybody else that had the sad luck of running into me. Now a decade older, I tend to just thank them for thinking I’m still young enough to get pregnant.
Last winter, my Chinese neighbor pulled me aside and said, “we absolutely must do something about your belly. It is too big. I help you.” Okay, okay, I’m in my mid-40s, have two kids, and after a particularly cold and carb-filled winter, my belly had seen better days.
It wasn’t the first time I had been told I could lose some extra pounds, but …OUCH! it still hurt to hear it. However, since she did propose a solution, I was up for it.
She sent me to a place called “Shou Ba” which translates to “Skinny Bar.” A small shop with pink frilly decorations, an 80’s throw-back to Dolly’s beauty shop in Steel Magnolias.
Lined with 5 massage beds in row and a big scale, front and center. They showed me the chart, and according to my height and age I had 6.5 kilos to lose.
One of the perks of living in China is ridiculously, inexpensive beauty treatments. I paid a lump fee of $100 USD to go anytime, even everyday if I wanted, for a whole year! Of course, they aren’t using frou-frou products or high-frequency- micro-current-CO2-fractionating-jedi-laser machines. I’m not sitt’n pretty next to Charlize Theron bonding over her interpretation to The Mommy Dilemma in her movie TULLY. I’m next to grandmas with their grand kids’ noses glued to their phones, women who work as cashiers at grocery stores, and the newly engaged trying to fit in their wedding dresses.
The massage tables are protected with a thin layer of saran wrap (that big box from Metro), clipped on with metal clothes pins, and later used to wrap around the belly to retain heat. And the actual products? Maybe it’s best I can’t read Chinese. If it’s good for these women, it’s good for me.
The routine was that they would record my weight every day. To decrease my appetite and to get some activity flowing, they’d stick a Chinese medicine herbal patch and a warm compression belt on my stomach for about 10 minutes followed up with a luxurious 5 minute belly massage. Purrrrrrrr.
But as I looked around, everyone else was doing way more than that. For lack of a better description, it looked like they were getting the shi*** slapped out of them, AND they were enjoying it. Umm…Isn’t this a beauty shop? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a little Fifty Shades during your lunch break, but I was a bit baffled and quite frankly feeling a little left out of the party.
The masseuse explained that this was a separate package treatment. For an extra $330 USD, I had access to a good dose of slapping for 5 months with the promise I’d lose weight at much faster rate. For the price of maybe 2 treatments in the States, I was definitely in. They dripped a couple different massage oils over my belly and then used an oversized infrared magnetic wand to electrocute the fat rolls.
After, they massaged a thick oily paste on the area and started some light patting. At first I was thought, “oh, this isn’t so bad!” But as it continued, the patting got faster and harder, graduating to hard-core slapping. I grit my teeth and squeezed my eyes to shut out the pain. This was unbearable! My mind went chaotic and layers of panic and pain consumed me. What was our safe word?! What was it Mǎmǎhǔhǔ….Jiǎozi?! HELP!!! But seeing the fear in my eyes, she lightened up on the blows. The whole thing only lasted about 5-7 minutes, but DAMN, it hurt.
If this sounds familiar, you may have heard of the controversial Chinese massage called Paida or slapping therapy. The technique is meant to stimulate your “chi” or inner energy by slapping out the poisons and bad blood, releasing them up the surface. The results however are some very disturbing looking bruises. In Paida workshops, the slapping could last 20 minutes or longer. It wasn’t nearly as intense at Shou Ba, but the results were still similar. I got some serious bruises on my body that took several weeks to disappear. I hid them from my kids so they wouldn’t assume the worse. My husband was too scared to touch me and couldn’t understand why I’d voluntarily choose to get whacked like that. “For the sake of beauty!” was always my answer.
I motored on, committed to going to Shouba as much as possible. My weekly rotation was Mondays: belly and love handles; Tuesdays: upper arms; Wednesdays: thighs; Thursdays: lower back and ass; Fridays: belly and love handles again.
As the weeks went by, my body did get used to the slapping, so I didn’t bruise as much and eventually hardly at all. After 5 months, my husband finally asked, “well? Is it working? Are you the losing weight?” That was his subtle way of saying, “I’m not noticing any difference.” And he was right. I hadn’t lost much weight from it. I think seeing my weight on a daily basis was counter-productive. The slapping may have toned me up a bit but seeing if I gained a gram here and there every day messed with me mentally. In fact, when there were weeks I couldn’t go at all, I’d actually lose weight. I gave it another month and finally Shou Ba and I said our goodbyes.
Will I ever do it again? No. I have to admit it is a little horrifying and a bit extreme even for me to look beaten up for beauty, aside from the fact that it’s not the message I want to convey to my children.
Were the lack of results and the slapping worth it for “the sake of beauty”? Sure, why not. It wasn’t a horrible experience, it was relatively inexpensive, and who doesn’t like a good belly rub? Slapping was definitely painful but I took it as a deep tissue massage. I also believe there is some merit to it pulling out toxins as my muscles did feel firmer and less sensitive.
So no, the slapping massage wasn’t the ancient Chinese miracle I was hoping for. I’ll continue my quest to search for it, but in the meantime, I’ll stick with a more gentler weight loss options like good old fashion exercise, clean eating, and oh…maybe resisting my go-to after dinner ice cream bar.