Dear Recover(ing) From Anorexia,
First off, many thanks for sharing your situation and for your question. I am sorry to hear that your family makes light of your battle with your weight. It must be very difficult to receive such disparaging messages from people who are close to you. I applaud your efforts to recover from anorexia and to differentiate yourself from the comments that you’re receiving.
Eating disorders have been debated to be potentially culturally bound. What does this mean? People who are more exposed to Westernized cultures tend to be diagnosed at a higher rate than those who are less acculturated to such societies. Therefore, it’s possible that your family may not be familiar with anorexia (or other eating disorders). You may want to consider providing educational materials to family members who could use some practical information regarding what anorexia entails – especially the risks. Some cultures respond better through indirect modes of communication (e.g., sharing of brochures vs. placing direct blame). You’ll want to consider the most effective way of letting your family members know what you’ve been facing.
At this point in time, I want to make a comment about cross-cultural ways of conveying care for one another. For some reason, some cultures allow family members to comment on one another’s weight as a personal greeting. For example, it’s not uncommon for my aunts to let me know if they believe I’ve gained/lost weight. In the past, I would become extremely offended and was oftentimes tempted to let them know whether I believe they’ve gained weight in return. I came to realize that this was a more acceptable means of them showing their concern for those around them. In other words, my Asian family members had difficulty saying “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.” Instead, a less direct means of conveying care was for them to say: let me feed you with food. When I learned that this is the Asian way of expressing affection, I allowed myself to be less preoccupied with my interpretation of their comments about my weight. Instead, I would answer to my aunties: “I care less about how I appear, but am thankful that I am healthy.”
Best of luck to you and hope you are able to combat the messages that bombard you. May you find the strength you need to “feed” yourself the positive signals you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Michi Fu is a clinical psychologist licensed in Hawaii and California. She specializes in working with Asian American children and women. She has published articles and book chapters regarding play therapy, cross-cultural psychology and Asian American mental health issues. She is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Alliant International University and is the Statewide Prevention Project Director of Pacific Clinics. She also has a private practice devoted to working with those who can benefit from her Taiwanese and Mandarin language skills.