Food writer Clarissa Wei recently wrote this post about being Chinese-American, and her relationship to Chinese food:
I was born, raised, educated, primed, and prepped in Los Angeles. But behind my fluent English, my American brain, my citizenship, my philosophies, my outlook on life… is a child who was raised by the Taiwanese. I am my parents’ daughter and Chinese culture runs through my blood. Always.
Of course, I wasn’t always this amorous toward my heritage. Adolescence, after all, was a decade-long culture shock. The mannerisms and customs my classmates subscribed to were radically contrary to mine and I didn’t understand why I, born and raised in the same land, acted so differently.
And so without consciously doing so, I rebelled, opting for spaghetti and meatballs instead of pork pottage with thin vermicelli… choosing to bring Sprite to school over the grass jelly drink I loved at home. I neglected the Chinese songs and poetry I, at the time, had memorized, and slowly the lyrics drifted from my consciousness. Just like I wanted them to.
The only proof of my Chinese competence is hidden somewhere in the dusty piles of VCRs somewhere in my home. There’s a video of me, at 3, singing and jumping around naked in unbridled delight. “Mei mei!” my mom would shout. The Chinese word for little girl. And I’d respond, answering in a Mandarin song.
That image breaks my heart. …Because at one point I decided that that little girl –that plump obnoxious Chinese kid – wasn’t good enough for me. She was the subject of bullying and held me back, socially. And so I put her in a box, stripped her of her language and instructed her to never, ever come out again.
It took living in China for four months to realize what I had done.
I’ve come to realize, within the past five years, that my ethnic background is a beautiful blessing in disguise. Within me is thousands of years worth of cultural knowledge. My tendency to bow slightly when I see older Chinese folks, the way I can speak to a Chinese chef and get him to tell me about his passions and recipes without suspicion, my ability to blend in seamlessly in Taiwan and China — this all comes naturally. These habits, these small cultural adjustments I’m able to make in the right context, they are the gifts my parents passed down to me.
Read the full article here.
My sister discovered The Actor’s Diet Podcast and suggested that I listen to it, since she noticed that some of the things you’ve been through and how you reacted were similar to experiences in my life. After listening to your podcast, I felt relieved to know that I was not the only one struggling with body image and family issues. I felt (and still do currently) as though these issues are not outwardly spoken about especially in the Asian American community. I have been battling with body image throughout most of life (about 17 years) and now I’m 27.
It started when I was in 5th grade where I would sometimes deprive myself of eating lunch just because of the pressure to be thin. It never got to the point where I would have an eating disorder, but I would deprive myself of eating certain things as well as monitor the quantity. These pressures were mostly attributed to my family on my mom’s side, where the first thing they would say to me when they would come visit is about my weight. I was praised if I lost weight and I would be criticized if I gained weight. It got to the point where my grandmother would repeatedly tell me I was fat while my mother stood next to her without defending me and telling me I was beautiful. And that part was really hard for me to deal with knowing my mom wouldn’t even defend me. While I understood where my mom was coming from (the tradition of respecting your elders), it was extremely difficult for me to accept how she couldn’t support me knowing how much those words hurt.
While I’ve remained thin all my life, I was never really told that I was beautiful and smart, except from my sister. And that was hard for me, since I guess I’m the kind of person who needs that reassurance. So my self-esteem has always been fairly low as well. To make matters worse, I would butt heads with my parents since pretty much everyone in my family doesn’t communicate about their feelings and I do. I have always been communicative, but my parents didn’t know how to handle that. Instead, they put me in the middle of their fights and forced me to mediate their relationship, which growing up - even as a little kid - was traumatizing. My parents’ relationship has always been rocky and sometimes physically abusive. I promised myself even as a little kid that I would try my best to never have the relationship my parents had to make sure that my husband or boyfriend would know how much I love them. And that’s what I did with my first/only boyfriend so far. However, he broke up with me 3 months ago in a pretty nasty way. He broke up with me after it was my first time/our first time. And that traumatized me to the utmost as a woman, feeling disrespected. I felt as though he broke up with me because of my body. Since then, I have been healing and dealing with that issue however it still doesn’t take way the pain. I immediately went to see a therapist after the breakup which truly helped. I’ve been seeing a therapist for the past 4 years.
In a nutshell, I just want to thank you for providing this blog and also for being outspoken about these issues. It helps me knowing that I’m not the only Asian-American female struggling with body images and I’m sure it will help others.
Hsiao Chi | Massachusetts | U.S.A.
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I actually used the L Word pretty frequently as a kid - but as I turned into a teenager, it became harder and harder to say “I love you” to the people who wouldn’t allow me to date/drive a car, forced me to study/practice piano, and inflicted me with an earlier curfew than my friends. As I stopped saying it to them, they stopped saying it to me.
All three of us, as adults - we just stopped.
Then my father passed away suddenly. And I made a conscious effort to say, “I love you.” It was weird at first - and I must admit it’s not as frequent as it was that first year after his death - but it’s such a warm, fuzzy feeling to know my mother loves me, and that she knows I love her too.
Steven Lim makes YouTube videos focusing largely on Asian-American Issues. His latest one is entitled Asian Parents React to I Love You.
Maybe we can get Steven to do one about kids telling their parents “It’s not okay to tell me I look fat/skinny/need to lose weight or anything else about my appearance?”
P.S. I LOVE YOU MOM!
If you haven’t watched Emma Watson’s United Nations Speech on feminism and gender equality, we suggest you do so now…
… and then visit He for She.
Know something that should be On Our Radar? Contact us!
If you grew up Chinese-American, you probably know what actor Emily Chang and co-founder Lynn Chen mean when they talk about “pork carpet” in the latest episode of The Actor’s Diet Podcast.
Also discussed - body image in Asian culture and Hollywood, plus Emily’s food experiences while shooting The Vampire Diaries.
Listen here, or on iTunes/Stitcher!
Wanna stop feeling crazy about food? That’s Isabel Foxen Duke’s specialty. She’s got a series of free training videos right now titled Stop Fighting Food.
Watch episodes 1 and 2 (#3 to come) here.
Know something that should be On Our Radar? Contact us!
Savor Good recently featured our co-founder Lynn Chen!
She realized her eating disorder was at its worst and that she wanted to be at peace with her body, especially as she wanted at the time to someday have children. “I was like a zombie during those years. It had taken over pretty much everything.” She decided in 2009 to take a year off from acting and founded The Actor’s Diet blog with holistic health counselor and fellow actor Christy Meyers.
“My mission was to stop labeling, to stop being on a diet. I wanted each day to be manageable and not for it to be an unbelievable burden. I used the blog as an experimental ground. I ended up finding out in that year that I was fine with myself when I was 30 pounds heavier and fine with myself when I was at my skinniest. It really helped me learn how to deal with that ugly rejection piece and needing validation from others, which I think I still struggle with. Anyone struggles with needing to be told you’re ok. It didn’t disappear but it helped me to find my own voice and trust myself.” The blog – run solely by Chen since 2010 – has evolved from her daily food journal into a forum that highlights her restaurant reviews, places of interest, travel, fashion and beauty tips, recipes, daily life, and life on set.
During her process of coming to terms with her eating disorders, she became an Ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association, worked with the National Organization of Women, and co-founded the body image blog Thick Dumpling Skin featured in Marie Claire magazine. Rituals such as always having candy and tea after she eats and being aware of how certain foods make her feel has contributed to her recovery. She has learned to become open-minded and empathetic. “What I mean by open-mindedness is a willingness to see beyond the boxes that society puts on us and that we put on ourselves. I always try to give others the benefit of the doubt even if they’re not treating me nicely.”
Read the full article here.
This lady certainly needs no introduction.
Said Ling, “I have always believed that the more we know about each other, the more evolved we become. I am absolutely thrilled to bring stories of everyday people with extraordinary lives to the premier global journalism platform, CNN. I hope viewers will open their hearts and minds to the incredible worlds we’re about to explore together.”
“This is Life" premiers on CNN September 28th at 10pm. Also, check out her site Secret Society of Women - a community site to share advice, anonymously.