My Chinese-Japanese Heritage and Body Image Struggles
Long story short, I was born and raised in Japan from Chinese parents, and spent several years of my childhood in Oklahoma and Finland. And while it all fits in a single sentence, this background of mine has brought about many challenges, some even risked my mental and physical health. I have practically spent most of my 19 years of life trying to figure out what was so “wrong” with me. My all-time goal was to be “the same” as everybody else, and belong somewhere, wherever that is. We don’t have a Chinese-Japanese community here.
I’ve always felt myself being insufficient, that I was not Japanese enough but not enough to be Chinese either. Though I was born and brought up in Japan, I hold a Chinese passport because that’s my mother’s home country. This is how it works in the Japanese system; your mother’s nationality automatically becomes yours, and China doesn’t allow for double citizenship. So on paper, I am just “Chinese” even though I speak elementary school-level Chinese and have never really lived there except for few visits to my grandparents’ house.
Everyday I look at my alien card (foreign resident card) in Japan and wonder who this person is. Since this convinces me everyday that I am not one of them, i have tried every other attempt to force myself to believe that I am a perfect Chinese. But every attempt has failed in various ways.
In middle school, I begged my parents to allow me to go to school in China, which they were very happy about. But this ended up exacerbating my identity crisis, because I literally was shut away from China. My Chinese was not sufficient to go to a local school, and I was denied enrollment to an international school in China because enrollment there requires a non-Chinese foreign passport, and the only passport I have is a Chinese one. So I went on to a Japanese middle school, where together with my relatively shy personality, I was alone most of the time. I spent most of my time binging on sweets, crying myself to sleep, or trying to find out what was wrong with me. I would finish the lunch my mom made way before lunch time, together with a whole lot of other food, and go to first period bloated everyday. Almost all of my allowances went to snacks, which replaced proper meals. I even habitually stole my younger sister’s snacks, which I secretly replaced with new ones I buy after eating them. Whereas I spent most of my time eating, I was at the same time malnutritioned because I only ate sweets every day. They were the only things that kept me mentally alive.
In high school, I went on to a school with many native Chinese students doing study abroad in Japan. I had thought that this is going to end all my challenges. I was certain that i would find a place I belonged, because since I was “Chinese,” they should find me as one of them. What I didn’t know was that this experience would further worsen my situation. I didn’t blend with “real” Chinese. They openly showed me how different I was from them, convincing me that I have nowhere to belong. I felt then like I had lost my imaginary and spiritual hometown.
This was also when my physical health started to be even more at risk. It was when I developed anorexia nervosa losing half of my weight and most of my energy. On the two hour train ride to school everyday, I would very often faint, and find myself in the emergency room in the station. I couldn’t concentrate. I was always cold. I was wearing sweaters in July, and in the hot August, the heat deprived the very little energy I had left.
The somewhat stereotypical image of Chinese women in Japan is long legged, tall, slender women, none of which I fit with my height. Neither do I actually identify with the petit image of Japanese women; I am short but always saw myself to be overweight. Adding to this is my Chinese relatives’ remarks about my body. They would openly call me fat and overweight, and still force me to eat when I was not eating “enough”.
It was a gradual process, but when I realized, I was scared of the food that I had loved so much. But thinking back, I may have needed a better fashion sense, or a better hair dresser, but not a diet. Thinness is very valued in Japan, which was very stressful to me.
To be honest, I still suffer from my identity crisis, and while I now have enough food to keep me active, the anorexic mindset still haunts me at times, and I would resort to binging to deal with whatever stress. But I try at least to change the way I deal with those negative thoughts. I used to spend my nights crying because of questions about my nationality. Now, when someone asks about my nationality, I try to answer that I am a very proud citizen of Earth. And when old eating habits haunt me, I try to remember how beautiful and powerful Lynn and Lisa are, and maybe I can reclaim my life as well.
Together with their dumpling skin (I am also a reader of The Actor’s Diet), I hope that I would be able to enjoy food the way Lynn seems to.
This Fall, I will be studying in California, and as a big fan of The Actor’s Diet, I hope to explore many of the places Lynn shared.
I am extremely grateful for having found Thick Dumpling Skin, The Actor’s Diet, and the inspiring Lynn and Lisa. Theses really kept me alive. Thank you.
Contest Details: Birthdays are special and we are giving you the opportunity to help the National Eating Disorders Association celebrate the birthdays of our wonderful supporters. Here is the chance to have your creative artwork or photograph featured in NEDA electronic birthday greeting cards. NEDA intends to send electronic birthday wishes to our supporters using the top five winning birthday card designs on a rotating basis. Only individuals who have submitted their birthdates to NEDA will receive birthday wishes featuring one of the winning designs by email. In the future, our plan is to have the winning designs available for our supporters to purchase from the NEDA online store. Spread the word to everyone you know and get involved in this exciting contest!
This contest is open to everyone. Experience in arts or photography is not required.
The first ever Mothers and Others (M.O.M.) March will take place in Washington DC on September 30, 2014:
The inaugural M.O.M. March will be a historic unification of moms, families, advocates, sufferers, and eating disorder organizations collaboratively marching on our Nation’s Capital. The mission of the M.O.M March is both simple and powerful: raise awareness of the prevalence, stigma, and devastating consequences of eating disorders; unite people from around the country to advocate for those affected by eating disorders; honor those who have lost a loved one to an eating disorder; celebrate those who have struggled and recovered and unite our voices to educate Congress and influence federal policy related to eating disorders.
The M.O.M. March is about collaboration and our goal is for all eating disorder organizations to unite with moms, families and advocates in the fight against eating disorders as we demonstrate to Members of Congress that we are a large, united and powerful force that will continue coming to Capitol Hill, raising awareness of eating disorders and their devastating consequences, until change is effected. The M.O.M. March culminates on October 1, 2014, in a day of advocacy at EDC National Lobby Day and their Congressional Briefing that will be dedicated to moms. The time has come for us all to join together in the fight against eating disorders. Together, through the M.OM. March and advocacy, we will make a difference and ensure that not one more precious life is lost to these treatable diseases.
Here are some of the responses from others who also want to change the way they talk about food/body image - join in on the discussion/share on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram or in the comments below with the hashtag #DietMyDiet.
"It’s normal in our culture to obsess about food this way and to judge our choices and to label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’" says Michelle May, M.D., author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. “Here’s the problem: When we judge food as being ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ we also judge ourselves and other people as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ depending on what we ate.”
The more we listen to this food shaming—whether it’s coming from ourselves or someone else—the more detrimental it becomes, say experts.
"That belief that ‘I’m a bad person’ has a really negative consequence because the truth is that if we believe we’re a bad person, then what the heck—why not keep overeating?" says May. Then, after over-indulging, many people will try to earn their way back into good standing (as mandated by our culture’s food rules) by restricting and depriving themselves—which is one of the most powerful triggers for overeating, says May. The result is something she calls the "eat-repent-repeat cycle."
Ultimately, spending so much time focusing on what you “should” eat and beating yourself up about consuming things that don’t fall into that category gives credence to the harmful belief that you can’t trust yourself and your body to make your own food choices. Eventually, it can lead to an obsessive and dysfunctional relationship with food and, in some cases, even more severe problems like disordered or secretive eating, say experts.
They’re baaaaack! And we are too - as a Media Sponsor - once again. Get tickets for the Los Angeles Anniversary show of DisOrientEd on Saturday, July 12th by entering discount code THICKSKIN for $5 off (UPDATE - Extended through Thursday July 10, 11:55pm).
KEEP LOS ANGELES DIS/ORIENT/ED (AND LAUGHING)
Disoriented Comedy Los Angeles 2nd Anniversary Show + Benefit for Tuesday Night Project
Friday, June 12th - 7PM Community Mixer - 8PM Standup Comedy Show
The David Henry Hwang Theatre in Little Tokyo Los Angeles
7 Cups of Tea offers “Free, anonymous, and confidential conversations with trained active listeners. All conversations are deleted.” You can check out profiles before connecting, or support forums if you’re not ready to talk. You can even train to become a listener yourself.
In the latest episode, listener Michael H. opens up about his family and culture. Hearing an Asian-American man talk about his struggles doesn’t happen too often, and we thought our readers would get a lot out of it.
On Our Radar: Elliot Rodger Wasn't Interested in Women
Here, we talk a lot about race and gender in the context of body image. We talk a lot about being a woman (and sometimes men), and how we can “protect” ourselves through awareness.
The recent Elliot Rodger shooting at UC Santa Barbara shook us up. This openly type of violence and anger towards women is something that we’ve certainly known (just look at the way we talk about women in media), but haven’t seen displayed in such an unapologetic manner in the United States.
Our friend Dexter Thomas wrote this piece over at Aljazeera and provided his take on how the shooting actually didn’t have much to do with women. It had to do with men and the “system” that we’re each perpetuating that has a long-lasting, regrettable effect:
Recently, we’ve been hearing a lot about Elliot Rodger’s supposed misogyny. Some say the killings were a hate crime. Other people prefer to steer the conversation away from the topic of women.
This is fair, because really, Elliot wasn’t talking about women at all. He was talking about men.
Specifically, white men.
This is obvious if we take the time to listen to him. If we read his 140-page “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger” with the same seriousness that we read other “stories”, we can see that women were generally irrelevant to Elliot. With the exception of those in his immediate family, Elliot writes about women as flat, faceless characters. They rarely have names, and never have personalities.
Actually, Elliot spends about as much time describing women as he does his new BMW 3 Series.
Men, on the other hand, are described in detail. They generally have first and last names, especially if they are white. Elliot tells us about their skin colour, their personalities and hobbies. When Elliot talks about a woman he had a crush on in his math class, he doesn’t really tell us what she looks like. Instead, he describes her boyfriend, who is a “tall, muscular surfer-jock with a buzz cut”. Even men he passes on the street are given more detail than women: He tells us about how tall they are, about their jawlines, their clothes.
This is to say: like most misogynist literature, “My Twisted World” isn’t really about women at all.
It’s about men.
That’s actually the most difficult thing for many of us to understand. Misogyny, or sexism in general, rarely has anything to do with women as people. They are symbols, only relevant when discussing intimate and complicated relationships between men: Alpha vs Beta, say.
Fault Lines - Death in Plain Sight
Like many men, Elliot was only able to understand women as status symbols. His obsessive quest to lose his virginity had less to do with a desire for pleasure and more to do with a need to show other men that he was a white man, or as good as one. To him, his failure to seduce a white woman was embarrassing proof of his inferiority to his white peers.
Elliot’s main problem was that he was not white.
A lot of people seem to think that Elliot felt that he was entitled to sex and attention from women. I don’t think this is quite accurate. Elliot’s descriptions of himself as “beautiful” or “magnificent” read like desperate attempts at self-delusion. He is much more honest and vulnerable when he refers to his racial background.
Elliot clearly believed that his being half Asian stained him, and ruined the entitlement he would have had if he were pure white. His most clear anger was directed at those lower on the racial totem pole - “filthy” blacks, “low-class” Latinos, and “full-blooded Asians” - who were having sex with white women. He fully accepted that he did not deserve what his white peers had, but he could not stand to see those with even less pure blood than him get the rewards that should have trickled down to him first.
Look. Since she competed on Sunday’s Miss USA Pageant, a lot of articles have been written about Mekayla Diehl’s bikini body. You can google them and see the stories/stats/theories/etc. but this is all I have to say about the matter.
You are not your weight. You are not better because of your weight or worse.
I’ve been blogging about food for 5 years, today. One thing I’ve learned on this journey is that there is no “common standard” when it comes to diet. Between all the chefs, farmers, recovering anorexics, actors, food writers, and all that are in between who I talk to on a regular basis - nobody does it the same. And every body is vastly different. And the way we all feel about our bodies changes, daily, depending on what we eat.
AND THERE IS NO NORMAL. So why give that word power?
This project documents and celebrates the lives of the last remaining women in China with bound feet. In the past year alone, three of the women I have been documenting have died and I feel it is now imperative to focus on recording their lives before it is too late.
Jo Farrell has reached her Kickstarter goal, but with four days left, it’s not too late to support - additional funds will go towards more photography.
“When I Grow Up I Want To Be Just Like Yuri Kochiyama.”
It’s with a heavy heart that we acknowledge the passing of long-time activist, Yuri Kochiyama. Yuri has been and will continue to be a role model for many.
Thank you, Yuri, for showing us what it means to be a strong and fearless woman who has constantly looked outside of herself to bring about real change in our world. Your legacy is sealed and will not be forgotten.
Yuri Kochiyama, a civil rights activist who formed an unlikely friendship with Malcolm X when he was still promoting black nationalism and later cradled his head in her hands as he lay dying from gunshot wounds in 1965, died on Sunday in Berkeley, Calif. She was 93.
Her granddaughter Akemi Kochiyama confirmed the death.
Mrs. Kochiyama, the child of Japanese immigrants who settled in Southern California, knew discrimination well by the time she was a young woman. During World War II she spent two years in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Arkansas, a searing experience that also exposed her to the racism of the Jim Crow South.
A few years after the war, she married William Kochiyama, whom she had met at the camp, and the couple moved to New York in 1948. They spent 12 years in public housing in Manhattan, in the Amsterdam Houses on the Upper West Side, where most of their neighbors were black and Puerto Rican, before moving to Harlem.
The couple had become active in the civil rights movement when Mrs. Kochiyama met Malcolm X for the first time at a Brooklyn courthouse in October 1963. He was surrounded by supporters, mostly young black men, when she approached him. She told him she wanted to shake his hand, to congratulate him, she recalled in an interview with The New York Times in 1996.
“I admire what you’re doing,” she told him, “but I disagree with some of your thoughts.”
He asked which ones.
“Your harsh stand on integration,” she said.
He agreed to meet with her later, and by 1964 Mrs. Kochiyama and her husband had befriended him. Early that year Malcolm X began moving away from the militant Nation of Islam, to which he belonged, toward beliefs that were accepting of many kinds of people. He sent the Kochiyamas postcards from his travels to Africa and elsewhere.
One, mailed from Kuwait on Sept. 27, 1964, read: “Still trying to travel and broaden my scope since I’ve learned what a mess can be made by narrow-minded people. Bro. Malcolm X.”
The following February, Mrs. Kochiyama was in the audience at the Audubon Ballroom in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan waiting to hear Malcolm X address a new group he had founded, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, when there was a burst of gunfire. She ran toward the stage.
“I just went straight to Malcolm, and I put his head on my lap,” she recalled. “He just lay there. He had difficulty breathing, and he didn’t utter a word.”
Mrs. Kochiyama was born Mary Yuriko Nakahara on May 19, 1921, in San Pedro, Calif. An outgoing student in high school, she played sports and wrote for the school newspaper. She said in interviews that she was mostly unaware of political issues until her father, Seiichi, was taken into custody by the F.B.I. shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Although ill, Mr. Nakahara, a successful fish merchant, was held and interrogated for several weeks before being released on Jan. 20, 1942. He died the next day. By the spring, the rest of the family was among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps across the country.
In the 1980s, the Kochiyamas sought government reparations for Japanese-Americans who had been interned. In 1988, Congress approved a plan to pay $20,000 to each of the estimated 60,000 surviving internees.
Besides her granddaughter Akemi, her survivors include a daughter, Audee Kochiyama-Holman; three sons, Eddie, Jimmy and Tommy; eight other grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Another son, Billy, died in the 1970s, and a daughter, Aichi, died in 1989.
Her husband died in 1993. He had been interned in Arkansas before he joined the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became one of the most decorated units in American military history.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the sofa in the Kochiyamas’ apartment was regularly occupied by activists in need of a place to sleep. Years later, Mrs. Kochiyama helped organize campaigns to free activists and others whom she believed had been wrongly imprisoned, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther and radio journalist sentenced to death in the killing of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. In 2012, his sentence was reduced to life without parole.
Mrs. Kochiyama, who never graduated from college, read constantly and widely. On Tuesday, her granddaughter Akemi opened for the first time a journal of favorite quotations that Mrs. Kochiyama had collected and given to her several years ago.
“There were so many different writers and thinkers,” said Akemi Kochiyama, who is pursuing a doctorate in cultural anthropology. “It’s Emerson, it’s Keats and Yeats and José Marti. It’s political thinkers. It’s Marcus Garvey. It’s everything.”
Mrs. Kochiyama was an inspiration herself. For its 2011 album “Cinemetropolis,” the Seattle hip-hop group Blue Scholars composed a song about her. The refrain: “When I grow up I want to be just like Yuri Kochiyama.”
As a food blogger, one of the questions I’m always getting asked is, “How do you eat so much and not gain weight?” I discuss this, plus Filipino food and more, with the latest guest on The Actor’s Diet Podcast, Nastassia Johnson.
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size But when I start to tell them They think I’m telling lies. I say, It’s in the reach of my arms The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
I walk into a room Just as cool as you please, And to a man, The fellows stand or Fall down on their knees. Then they swarm around me, A hive of honey bees. I say, It’s the fire in my eyes And the flash of my teeth, The swing of my waist, And the joy in my feet. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered What they see in me. They try so much But they can’t touch My inner mystery. When I try to show them, They say they still can’t see. I say It’s in the arch of my back, The sun of my smile, The ride of my breasts, The grace of my style. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
Now you understand Just why my head’s not bowed. I don’t shout or jump about Or have to talk real loud. When you see me passing It ought to make you proud. I say, It’s in the click of my heels, The bend of my hair, The palm of my hand, The need of my care, ‘Cause I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
Lisa: You know, I definitely - I understand I think that body image issues is something that a lot, a lot of women experience and a lot of men too. But I definitely feel that the issue affects people of color a little bit differently. And in my specific case, I’m thinking about, you know, East Asians, like Chinese-Americans, Korean-Americans, Japanese-Americans. You know, I think there are two issues. One is just I think there’s - the lack of representation and misrepresentation of Asian-Americans in media - right? - that informs us how we should behave and think about ourselves. And unfortunately because we are not seeing a lot of ourselves on media, we kind of go to the depicted stereotypes to again inform us about how we should think about ourselves and of course our bodies. And a lot of the stereotypes out there are that, you know, Asian women are fragile. They’re demure. They’re wall flowers. They’re pushovers. And that’s a very real stereotype that I think is then internalized.
And I think from, like, the cultural and familial standpoint, as well, I think just, you know, throughout history we’ve been taught, you know, what is the accepted sort of westernized beauty that we should desire? And I think that goes, you know, even beyond body size. I think that has a lot to do with, like, skin color, the way that we, you know, want our hair to be a certain way. So I think there are issues kind of, you know, internally, you know, within the culture as well as what is projected onto the culture.
You can listen to the interview and read a full transcript here.
Chinese people didn’t see therapists. Spend $100 to tell a stranger your problems? Are you crazy? Why, yes, maybe I am. But I don’t know because my mom won’t give me the money to see a shrink. Western psychology and “seeing a therapist” (especially one that you have to pay megabucks by the hour to tell your secrets to) is still a completely foreign concept to people of my parents’ generation who believed seeing a therapist would prevent you from getting a job. And mind you, my parents were born in America.
I ran across a statistic in 2004 that reported Asian American women as having some of the highest rates of suicide in this country. I decided I would make a theater show about it and call it “Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” When I received major arts grant funding to make it, my mother said, “I’m so proud of you. Just don’t talk about me or the family in your show.”
Doing a show about Asian American depression without mentioning your mother is like making a porno movie without sex. A curious thing happened when I announced in 2005 that I was “working on a show about depression and suicide.” A lot of women came out of nowhere to tell me that they had been depressed and contemplated suicide. These were total strangers who found me by email — college professors and women I had known as professionals, all telling me things I had not imagined could be shared.
Every time a woman shares her story with me, I think the same: Where were you when I was younger? How would have things been different if we were there for each other?
“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.”—Epictetus (via azspot)
Full disclosure - we know a lot of people involved with this project (listen to co-founder Lynn talk to Randall Park about prepping for this role) but we’d be super excited about this even it wasn’t personal. For the first time in two decades, an Asian-American Family will be the focus of a TV Show. Plus, you know there’s going to be a lot of dumplings, since it’s based on Eddie Huang’s life!
Know something that should be On Our Radar? Contact us!
A few months ago, I left a job that I loved to explore new horizons. It was a job that felt like home, and it was hard. I retreated into the comfort of familiar spaces and the company of loved ones to get used to the change, After all, seven years is a long time, but I was more than ready. I also took a few months off to think about what’s next.
I used my time wisely. First, I caught up on Scandal, every single episode. I then went to Australia, Japan, and Spain. I saw many wonderful things and tasted many new discoveries. However, I never stopped thinking and (re)evaluating. I thought about the past, the present, and the future. I thought a lot about self worth and how I can continue to make a difference in the world.
A clear theme that emerged was the idea of boundaries. I thought about the things in my life that I considered to be bad habits and how I can use this time to make some changes. Some of these things were quite trivial, for example, going to bed by midnight during the week and leaving my work computer at work if there are no reasons to take it home. Some were more monumental, at least for me. For example, I decided to take a break from my phone. Well, let me clarify, I decided to take a break from social media, aka all those apps that help you connect to everyone and everything. all. the. time.
Many friends laughed and joked that I wouldn’t be able to stay away. “You? The social media person? My feed would be so quiet without you.” As much as I am an advocate of the power of social media, I must say, the quiet time has been much needed.
But, I didn’t write to discuss what boundaries I drew, or what boundaries we should draw. These decisions are personal. I’m sharing this, because I want you to know that boundaries are not for teenagers. It’s not an outdated idea that a lot of us life-loving free-spirited people look down upon sometimes. Having boundaries in our life don’t make us boring, or “square.” Superficial or not, boundaries give us an idea of where the line is and when we can confidently say no. Like Robin Thicke puts is, in this day and age, “I hate these blurred lines,” that can often cause compromise that might not be healthy for us.
Just because some things have been habitual in our lives don’t mean that they have to continue to be habitual. Since I’ve started to draw the line somewhere, I’ve been feeling healthier about everything. I regularly eat breakfast in the morning, I wake up feeling rested, and overall, I feel less anxious. With a new job, I know it’ll be hard to stay firm on the rules that I have outlined for myself. I know that there’ll be days when I stay up until 2 am watching The Good Wife or reading a really juicy book, but hey, making good decisions are not always meant to be easy.
Lisa’s taking a (short) break from traveling and will be speaking locally in San Jose at the Sister-to-Sister Leadership Conference this Thursday, May 8th, thanks to the Asian American Recovery Services Inc.!
For nearly two decades, Asian American Recovery Services has provided a unique experience for young women from San Jose high schools to spend a day sharing their experiences and celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander culture. On May 8, 2014, the 19th annual SISTER-to-SISTER Leadership Conference will once again build confidence and spark inspiration for 150 young women participating in a day filled with workshops, activities, and speakers that directly address issues that affect them today.
This year’s keynote speaker will be Lisa Lee! In addition to her work as a publisher and self-proclaimed social media geek, she is the founder of Thick Dumpling Skin - a community forum dedicated to discussing body image issues and eating disorders in the Asian American community. We are honored that she is taking the time to join us, and we are excited about the positive impact she will have on this year’s participants.
“Share Your Voice” is the theme that has been chosen for this year’s conference, demonstrating a focus not only on educating participants, but on providing a platform for these young women to teach one another and to find strength in their shared experiences.
With the generous support of community members, this event has always been free of charge for the young women who participate. Every year, we receive letters that demonstrate the direct impact of the SISTER-to-SISTER shared experience - stories of increased self-esteem and empowerment, of new friendships forged between attendees who both teach and learn from one another.
Please help support this incredible experience. Every $100 gift sponsors one young woman’s full-day experience, including transportation, meals, and programming.
My parents espouse, in addition to the virtues of self-improvement through formal education and the return on effort, the merits of conformity, tradition, and deference to elders. They believe in work and the importance of discipline. They recommended if not insisted on the study of a scientific or technical major, seemingly objected to relaxation never mind fun, and regarded failure as shameful. They do not promote complaining or making much of a fuss.
They are right. Yet they are wrong.
I have the utmost respect for my parents. Without the standards they set and the support they may have expressed in a manner unfamiliar to my friends’ parents, I would not have accomplished anything at all.
It’s something we commonly hear from 1st Generation Asian-Americans with eating disorders - this struggle to accept that we have to evolve past ways of thinking that just don’t work for us anymore - as we are here/today/now.
Over the years, I’ve been learning to love myself and realizing that beauty shouldn’t be held to a standard. I’ve met countless other Asian women that struggle with the concept of the Perfect Asian Woman, aka thigh gap, porcelain skin, and petite.
To be quite frank, there is no such thing as the Perfect Asian Woman/Man. We need to stop comparing ourselves to freaking KPOP stars or Asian celebrities that happen to fit this “perfect Asian” bill.
For the first time in a long time, I feel okay with myself. I’m tan, bridge-less nosed, and quite curvy Asian woman. Granted that I am a quarter Spanish, i still embrace all of me. I can honestly say that I love myself better now than I have before.
I am not perfect, but because I’m not I am so much happier and feel more freedom from stereotypes and preconceived notions of what an Asian person should look like.
Whenever I’m at family reunions and my aunt or uncle say to me,
"Hey you got a little chubbier!"
Now, I can proudly and boldly retort back,
"Hell yeah I did and you can go f**k yourselves because I am beautiful despite my weight. You are setting a disgusting example for your children and those around you. Stop body bashing and making weight take precedence over the other qualities your children and loved ones have to offer."
I am beautiful and I am more than the number on the scale. I know it has taken me a while but I want to shout it to the world that I am happy with who I am and that we as people should stop pointing out peoples’ flaws and magnify their strengths instead.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want every man and woman to be able to realize that they are so much more than what people say and how they feel.
I’ve chosen to be healthy, but more importantly happy.
I know it’s a hard road to follow but I know that everyone can choose to be happy.
Ridiculous headlines like this one over at the New Haven Register:
I’ve been mainly disappointed that some people, including those in the Asian community, have called this story - the story of Frances having to “stuff her face with cheetos and ice-cream to pacify school officials” - an “Asian problem.”
Let me be clear. This is NOT an Asian problem, and the fact that we think it’s an Asian problem simply perpetuates the stereotype that Asians are supposed to be petit, slim, and that we can eat whatever we want and not gain weight.
This is simply not true and we are only doing our community a disservice by laughing this story off as if it’s some joke.
Grace Hwang Lynch shares her thought about this issue on Blogher and asks the question of whether or not being “underweight” means having an eating disorder because she herself was there once as a college student.
Like Frances Chan, I was self-conscious about the attention I received for being so thin. I ate three square meals a day, including ice cream after every dinner at the dining hall. But unlike Chan, I wasn’t advised to do so by medical staff and there was no threat of being suspended from the university.
While I’m impressed by Yale’s vigilance about the potential for eating disorders, I have so many questions about the way the university handled the case. According to a 2010 article in the Yale Herald, an incoming student must submit medical information, from which her body mass index (BMI) is calculated. The newspaper reports that a BMI below 18 is cause for concern by university officials.
Our bodies change, especially during periods of high stress and especially during our college years when we’re transitioning into adulthood. This is certainly a journey that I experienced. However, let’s call this story for what it really is: “Nobody can tell you if you have an eating disorder except for yourself. So much of it is not about BMI or weight but the obsession,” says TDS cofounder Lynn Chen.
The obsession, of having the “correct” body, whatever that is.
Is BMI causing trouble again? Yale student Frances Chan had to meet with Yale clinician for weekly weigh-ins and was threatened to be put on medical leave if she did not comply to gaining weight.
"You’ve gained two pounds, but that still isn’t enough. Ideally, you should go up to 95 pounds." I hung my head in disbelief. I’ve already shared with you the memorable exchange that followed.
She had finally cracked me. I was Sisyphus the Greek king, forever trapped trying uselessly to push a boulder up a hill. Being forced to meet a standard that I could never meet was stressful and made me resent meals. I broke down sobbing in my dean’s office, in my suitemate’s arms afterwards, and Saturday morning on the phone with my parents. At this rate, I was well on my way to developing an eating disorder before anyone could diagnose the currently nonexistent one.
It seems Yale has a history of forcing its students through this process. A Yale Herald piece from 2010 told the story of students in similar situations. It’s disturbing how little things have changed. “Stacy” was “informed that if she kept failing to reach [Yale Health]’s goals for her, she would be withdrawn for the following semester.” Unfortunately, “the more she stressed out about gaining weight, the more she lost her appetite.”
Furthermore, a recent graduate messaged me saying that her cholesterol had actually gone up due to the intensive weight-gain diet she used to release herself from weekly weigh-ins.
It is clear that the University does care about students suspected of struggling with eating disorders. And it should. Eating disorders are particularly prevalent on college campuses and Yale is no exception. However, because the University blindly uses BMI as the primary means of diagnosis, it remains oblivious to students who truly need help but do not have low enough BMIs. Instead, it subjects students who have a personal and family history of low weight to treatment that harms our mental health. By forcing standards upon us that we cannot meet, the University plays the same role as fashion magazines and swimsuit calendars that teach us about the “correct shape” of the human body.
I was scheduled to have a mental health appointment at 9:00 a.m. and a weigh-in at 10:30 a.m. this past Friday. But I’m done. No more weigh-ins, no more blood draws. I don’t have an eating disorder, and I will not let Yale Health cause me to develop one. If Yale wants to kick me out, let them try — in the meantime, I’ll be studying for midterms, doing my best to make up for lost time.
“It seems like assumptions were being made based on her appearance, and that it was very discriminatory. Low BMI doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy,” clinical psychologist Maria Rago, vice president of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, tells Yahoo Shine, adding, “Even if you have an eating disorder, you have a right to go to school.”
Rago notes it’s clear the university means well. “But eating disorders are more about your behaviors and your thoughts than your weight,” she explains.
Finally, though, after Chan’s struggling with weigh-ins, pleading with doctors to not place so much emphasis on her body mass index, and eventually writing to university President Peter Salovey to apprise him of the situation, officials relented.
“Just visited Yale Health with my parents and met with a new doctor. She apologized repeatedly for the ‘months of anguish’ I went through and admitted that BMI is not the end all be all,” Chan posted to her Facebook page on Friday. “She also looked at my medical records since freshman year (which the previous clinician had not done) and noted that she saw that my weight had remained around the same. So she trusts that I do not have an eating disorder and admitted that ‘we made a mistake.’”
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Geena Rocero, a Filipina transgender model, talks about her powerful story at the most recent TED conference.
We love this part in particular:
"All of us are put in boxes by our family, by our religion, by our society, our moment in history, even our own bodies. Some people have the courage to break free, not to accept the limitations imposed by the color of their skin or by the beliefs by those that sit around them. Those people are always a threat to the status quo to what is considered acceptable."
Sexuality is fluid. Gender is a social construction, just like how race is a social construction as well.
Thanks Geena for sharing your story. You go girl.
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FREE Eating Disorder Support Group for Asian Americans in the Bay
Super excited to announce our sponsorship in Living Arts Counseling Center's FREE eating disorder support group just for Asian Americans. Aileen reached out to us a while back about wanting to do something like this and we chatted up a storm.
If you know anyone who can benefit from this support group, please help us spread the word!
The group meets on Saturdays from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm (begins March 15th, 2014) at 1265 65th St. Emeryville, CA 94708.
This ongoing free and confidential support group is open to all ages and genders who identify themselves as Asian or Pacific Islander and are struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, compulsive overeating, overexercising, eating disorder NOS, chronic dieting, and other disordered eating and body image issues.
Eating disorders are more than merely about food, weight, and body image. They involve serious emotional and physical problems that can have life‐threatening consequences. Eating disorders also do not discriminate—they affect us all. For Asian‐Americans, the struggle is also social, racial, cultural, and familial. Come and find support on your journey towards recovery in a safe, non‐judgmental, and welcoming environment and feel less alone in your struggle. The group will be process‐oriented and address topics such as: Eating Disorder Symptoms & Warning Signs, Stages of Recovery, Coping Skills, Relapse Prevention Techniques, Managing Triggering Situations, Reducing Isolation and Shame, Building Peer Support while gearing towards the culturally specific, complex, and unique experiences of Asian‐Americans.
Dis/Orient/Ed is back in the Bay Area, and once again, we’re a community sponsor! Use special discount code THICKSKIN for $12 Tickets.
UPDATED 3/26/14 - we are giving away 2 tickets - all you have to do to enter is say you want to win by leaving a comment here, on our Facebook Page, or twitter. We’ll pick a random winner the morning of April 4th.
…my intent with my subject matter is not to discuss American over-consumption per se. The paintings, on a literal (and slightly narrow) level discuss women’s issues with food and compulsive eating. In a broader sense they discuss compulsive behavior in general - the distraction that’s involved in the act of it, the waste (both in regard to actual material waste and to energy/time waste) that is the result of it. I do believe over-consumption is a compulsive behaviour - a behaviour that we use to “check out”; to distract ourselves from sitting with discomfort…I think society plays an enormous role in regard to the aspect of my paintings that is concerned with how women relate to food. Often women are brought up to control their appetites. Not just for food but in many areas of life. We are taught to be givers, to nurture others at the expense of our own needs (in a way that men are not). I think food, for some reason, is one way we have chosen to give back to ourselves- to attempt to nurture ourselves. This, mixed with the pressure to be thin, has caused many of us to consume in secret.
It has been almost a month since I boarded a plane in San Francisco and left for some personal time off. During my trip, I slept, wandered, and ate. Oh I ate.
I was fascinated by all the different kinds of goodies both Australia and Japan had to offer, savory or sweet. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see some of the amazing foods I encountered. Red bean paste in pretty much everything, pickled vegetables, and all different kinds of ramen, just to name a few of my favorites from Japan.
However, week two of my vacation I started to feel guilty. Real guilty. I started to feel terrible about myself. One, because I kept on putting things in my mouth that I knew were not as “healthy.” I was not eating all the different colors of the food pyramid/food board/whatever that thing is called. Two, I would eat even when I wasn’t hungry for the sake of trying new things, like the two dinners that I had the other night. Three, because I was totally and utterly out of my usual fitness routine.
Despite the fact that I would walk all day due to sight-seeing, I felt horrible about my exhausted body at the end of the day. I would think back on all the things that I ate and silently feel ashamed. It also didn’t help that a friend remarked kindly, “you haven’t been eating very healthy at all.”
… Accurate statement.
Sea urchin croquette. How do you not try this?!
It took a few days for me to stop feeling shameful. I had to really remind myself that I am on vacation and out of my element. I admire those people who bring their running shoes with them to Egypt (ahem I brought mine too), but what I was doing was quite normal for a tourist. Of course, I miss sweating it out at yoga down the street and going for my usual jogs, but hey, I won’t be gone forever (although that sounds amazing). I’ll be back at it in due time.
I say when in Rome…
How do you deal with travel guilt? Are there particular things that you try to do or fit into your itinerary so you can stay above it?
Think you know what models eat? Lynn chats with model/commercial actress Rachelle Wood about body image and maternity modeling (she’s done the Target AND Old Navy campaigns) in the latest episode of The Actor’s Diet Podcast.
Lisa’s heading to Boston! Well, she’ll be heading to Boston once she’s back from Japan…
Boston College where you at? It’s time for the Boston College Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM)! Every year, BC celebrates Asian Pacific American heritage throughout the month of April with events that promote the richness that is APA diversity, history, and culture. If any school is NOT doing this, well, it’s time to get with the program (knowing that APAHM is not just about one month out of the year, of course).
This year, Lisa will have the honor of speaking at the opening ceremony on April 1st, 2014 at 7 pm in the Heights Room. Click here to RSVP, and do it now as reservations will close this Friday.
Do you want Thick Dumpling Skin at your event? Contact us!
I’m sure by now, some of you have seen the infamous (sexually suggestive) American Apparel ad. Which one? Right. I’m beginning to lose count myself too…
The ad features a topless model of South Asian descent, with the words “Made in Bangladesh.” boldly printed across her chest and a detailed account of her background. Read more about the ad here.
For a few days, I wasn’t quite sure how to wrap my head around the ad. Even though I admired Maks, the model, for embracing this photoshoot and unreservedly showed off her body in what I dare to say, a graceful fashion, there was just something about the text and the image together that made me uncomfortable.
Well, my friend Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed responded today and she couldn’t have articulated my thoughts better:
Shunoh, I think it’s great that you felt fully comfortable to express yourself. I want to be clear, there’s no “slut-shaming” to this. I’m all about radical forms of feminine art. I think brown is beautiful, and when you are raised in this vapid city of Los Angeles where White standards of beauty are pushed down our throats, it takes a certain kind of strength to fight all that and declare, “I’m brown, I’m an immigrant, and I’m beautiful too.” Brown skin is underrated in this society and baring breasts when making a political statement has the potential to be that much more profound.
But it’s a fine line between self-expressive and being exotified and commodified.
You think you chose to be creative — but in actuality you were plucked by your employer to sell an object. I believe the object you are selling is high-waisted pants, but it’s unclear from the photo. They are rolled down so suggestively. What American Apparel is selling is sex, and in this case, by having “Made in Bangladesh” across your bare breasts, you are selling fetishized sex. One where the brown woman is objectified.
American Apparel is a known American-made clothing company that prides itself on being sweatshop-free and paying “fair” wages (albeit with questionable sexual harassment allegations against CEO Dov Charney). They are selling their clothing. Thus, we can ascertain that the message in the photo implicitly rejects the notion of buying Bangladesh made “objects.” The implication is that Bangladesh is bad, and American is good. Burka-ed Muslim women are bad, and bare-breasted “former” Muslims with newly found American freedoms are good. Right?
But you’re fine with that rejection, right Maks? Because in the press release you state that in high school you distanced yourself from your Islamic upbringing. That you don’t identify as Bengali or American, and you don’t fit into conventional narratives, and that’s why you are essential to Los Angeles.
The thing is I’m Bengali, American, a Muslim, a non-hijabi woman, and I’m also an Angeleno. I work constantly to break the mainstream conventional narrative I’m constantly placed in. And I don’t think that makes me any less important to the mosaic that is LA. In fact, LA is littered with women like this, like me. My Los Angeles embraces this diversity and my mosaic is beautiful. Whereas the LA in this marketing campaign is tinged with Islamophobia and xenophobia.
Did you know that the garment industry in Bangladesh is built on the backs of women? And
We live in a global economy where we need to apply pressure to large corporations like GAP and Wal-Mart to require international factories to hold to a certain standard of safety. We are beyond the point where buying only American-made is the simple solution. Boycotting Bangladesh made products means we’re boycotting the Deshi-made women that helped get us here — our Ammas and Khalas and Chachis. Amadher bhon, our sisters. We just want to make sure they are safe and can survive.
Don’t you see, Appu? That by having “Made In Bangladesh” splayed across your breasts,American Apparel is commodifying a recent tragedy that has killed thousands of people. They are taking the death of thousands of people in Bangladesh as a marketing opportunity to sell their clothes in America. Don’t you see how morbid that is? Don’t you see how your image has been exploited and how you’ve been manipulated?
How we utilize our bodies to express vs. being exploited without realizing it is a fine line. When I say that, I’m thinking about Miley Cyrus, the recent news about the outing of a Duke freshman porn star, and many other day-to-day examples.
In this specific American Apparel ad, the objectification of the female body, or maybe even the showcase of the female body (if Maks doesn’t feel like she is being objectified) is not the way to change a nation that we are too privileged to understand fully AND that we are all benefitting from, whether we like it or not.
I love Taz’s last paragraph, which is about how we can encourage real change:
All Amy wanted was a thigh gap, to fit into a size 2 dress before prom. My eyes twitch with disdain, and I shut my laptop. I couldn’t even finish the article on anorexia, as if the elementary prose didn’t already kill it. Once again, fine journalism showcasing anorexia as a female-teenage disease for white girls with Bieber obsessions and overly-tanned helicopter moms.
Eating disorders, especially anorexia, are heavily female-biased and described as a lack of self-esteem and positive self-image. Anorexia in particular conjures up an image of a skeletal white girl—clad in her undergarments—glaring unhappily at her obese reflection. But eating disorders don’t always stem from issues with body image—people develop anorexia for many reasons besides physical dissatisfaction.
In fact, I was happier at a much higher weight. I never saw rippling mounds of lard in the mirror—I saw exactly what was there: bones, skin, and a lot of unhappiness. I hated being anorexic. I bruised upon contact with anything remotely hard, my thick oily hair crisped into wispy strands, and I could barely regulate my own bladder. Depression blanketed my days and weeks with unrelenting cruelty, and I wept constantly. I lost all sexual impulse. For me, eating disorders was not about body image nor perfection—it was about control.
Control—that sweet, exquisite ability to mold my body into whatever I desired, and consequently, the reactions I elicited. The hunger-laced discipline of food restraint was my cocaine, my heroine. I cared less about the detrimental physical or mental side effects because for the first time, my parents didn’t comment on my thunder thighs or suggest I adopt some kind of diet. For the first time, I could buy from “XS” sized clothes and fit into petite little dresses that only professional models wore. For the first time, I shocked my friends in a way that didn’t involve crude humor or youthful inhibition. I basked in the worried whispers, the awkward and halfhearted compliments, the staring as small t-shirts billowed over my concave abdomen and flat chest. Despite my physical figure, I exuded confidence, ate “normally” in front of others, and had a full arsenal of excuses. I’m just Asian, we’re all skinny. I’m just training for a marathon, that’s why.
This manipulation of my environment was so addictive that my days revolved around restriction. I became a cocoon of my past self, numb yet filled with a masochistic happiness so bitterly decadent, I could sink into its cold caress. In my darkest moments, I scribbled calories onto my wrists so I wouldn’t forget them later. My internet history was filled with calorie count websites and nutrition articles, and I habitually lied to my therapist. As I plunged further into my dark hole, I would often gaze up, squint desperately at the pinpoint of light, and wonder how I fell.
I fell because I needed more control.
Control. The holy grail of personality traits. Children better at delayed gratification perform better in school and exhibit fewer behavioral problems. As adults, they’re more likely to graduate college and earn higher incomes. Asian Americans, particularly those of immigrants, are notoriously skilled at delayed gratification, striving in the presence of pain, doubt, and unhappiness. Why stop at one hour of piano practice? Why become a photographer when you can attend medical/nursing/law/business/graduate school? Why does Sue Lee have ten medals and you have none? We learn early on the importance of filial piety, of sucking it up, of interpreting “insults” as motivation. Though many Asians refute the model minority stereotype, it was a strong reality for me. I was taught by my family and culture that I controlled my success through hard work, not some nebulous and capricious god. I controlled my emotions because those who cannot are weak.
So when one random attempt at weight loss actually succeeded, I took the reigns and sprinted off. I never once thought about looking back, forgetting the people and memories I shattered in my wake. I forgot every sense of propriety, every morsel of reason—for what? For that bit of control that lost me a few pounds? But I didn’t become anorexic because I’m Asian, though being one certainly exacerbated it. The stigma of mental disorders in the Asian community impedes discussion and recovery. Though honestly, I’ve always been (for lack of a better term) a control freak; I never procrastinated at school, scheduled “hang-outs” with my friends, made checklists for fun, and did my own laundry every week since I was 10 years old. But there’s a fine line between being a control freak and being a hyperventilating anal retentive—I was more carefree and outspoken than anyone I’ve ever known.
Recovery. Am I better? No. Because recovery is an incorrect term. No one recovers from an eating disorder like they recover from the flu. It is an eternal struggle, a war consisting of battles that ebb in intensity and frequency over the course of your life. Some days, life feels fruitless, and other days, I experience waves of optimism. But would I exchange pounds for happiness? No, I would not. But I suppose that’s the curse of an eating disorder.
Motivated by a strong desire to show that “average is beautiful,” Lamm has decided to make his designs come to life with a doll called “Lammily.”
Lamm decided to take matters into his own hands after being bombarded with questions about where to buy a Barbie of normal size. The entreprenuer is offering prototypes of his toy to the first people to donate to his CrowdtiltOpen campaign, but his plan is to eventually be able to distribute the doll widely online and in retail. The longer term vision also includes embracing diversity by creating dolls with different ethnic backgrounds and body types.
Com’on toy companies, get with the program. Oh and hopefully when Lammily is finally released, we’ll also see dolls of all colors in the same line so that Lammily isn’t the only good example out there.
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So… what DOES this day mean, anyway? Do you only celebrate if you identify as a woman? Is it only for “feminists?”
This day has been around since the early 1900’s and has grown to become a global day of recognition for the way gender equality is viewed.
Although we can celebrate how far we’ve come as a society, there are still many battles to overcome. In the subjects this blog deals with, we know that the private is actually extremely public. The reality is that eating disorders do not discriminate against gender, sexuality, race, or culture - and the stereotypes/stigma that continue to revolve around it affect how people are able to get help.
Take a moment today to think about how the women in your life are impacted by what we, as a community, do. Or don’t do.
Just a quick note to let you all know that I am currently traveling the world… well, more like Melbourne and Japan, so much thanks to Lynn for holding things down here! You can follow my footsteps on my Instagram account. Recs are always welcome.
Courtesy of Sindy Chan.
There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about this space. I have much news to give you all so here’s a promise that a more substantial post will come soon.
P.S. I’m currently working on a piece about Thick Dumpling Skin for OCA’s IMAGE Magazine, so stay tuned.
P.S.S. Boston, I’ll be in your area April 1st! More details to come.