I don’t like clothes shopping. Inevitably it ends up like this: I see some item on display that I like. Upon trying it on, I realise that it looks terrible on me. Seething with the disappointed anger that only results from realising that a shop mannequin is more physically attractive than you are, I leave the store muttering to myself: “Who looks like that? Who are these clothes designed for anyway?” Well, Cambodians apparently.
I have on occasion, despite all sensible advice urging me to do otherwise, looked upon myself in a mirror. I would not go as far to say that I was mortified by what I saw, but I did find myself gazing on an object of anatomical curiosity. I found myself asking, “where do my shoulders end and arms begin?” and “is my chest and stomach meant to [pardon the pun] roll into one like that?” However, it appears most Cambodians have (to quote the imminent feminist for our generation) all the right junk in all the right places. Shoulders, arms, chest and stomach are all clearly demarcated and this is usually topped off with fantastic hair, amazing cheek-bones and a disarming smile. I have found it hard not to feel like an amorphous behemoth crashing through Cambodia, like a monster from a 1950s B-side horror movie.
My own mother only added to such feelings. After seeing a Facebook post in which I was tagged, she commented, “that’s a great photo, but it seems you’ve put on weight.” I pointed out that being pictured next to a particularly slender Cambodian was enough to make even the most willowy Westerner look like Jabba the Hutt. Upon seeing me recently me, she conceded that the mixture of profuse sweating and an unstable digestive system that accompanies living in a developing, tropical country was, indeed, an effective weight-loss plan.
If you are worried about my self-esteem, fear not. Fortunately, Cambodians are not only generally attractive, but also modest and lavish in their praise. They take every opportunity to find something to compliment and tell you how handsome you are. (I did find it hard at first to switch off the cynical British part of my brain: upon being told I looked handsome that day, I couldn’t help think they were implying I didn’t the rest of the time. However, Cambodians are genuinely nice, unlike us Brits.) So, if you do feel like the Blob, just find a Cambodian and they’ll tell you how good looking you are and you can’t help feeling better.