Thick Dumpling Skin

[It's what's on the inside that counts]

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The Cult of Skinny Asian Girls

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I’m not sure if I would classify myself as having an eating disorder because I believe that I have a pretty healthy diet from day to day. However, I struggle everyday with constantly feeling insecure about my “broad shoulders” or “big arms” or lack of a “thigh gap.” I often feel like I’m not in control of what I eat because the simple fact of the matter is that I love food. I especially love Korean food like noodles, mandoo, and dduk bokkee. I have always struggled with hating my appearance ever since I was in 6th grade and I realized that the boys in the class were calling me a “cavewoman.” Since then I’ve grown to realize that so much of my obsession with my body image stems from being an Asian American girl.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Beyonce’s latest album lately. I think what really got me obsessed with this album was the feminist messages behind some of the songs such as “Pretty Hurts,” “Flawless,” and “Grown Woman.” While I love the message in Beyonce’s songs and I appreciate the increasing attention that TV shows and movies are giving to eating disorders I can’t help but notice that there is a glaring racial divide. Black women can celebrate their curves when they see Beyonce gyrating and showing off her muscular thighs. All the girls in TV shows that have eating disorders are almost always white. Asian women are hardly represented in the media at all and when they are, their characters are one-dimensional and serve as a foil for the main white girl character. Furthermore, Asian American girls are only represented in movies, TV shows, and magazines by impossibly thin girls with double eyelids and perfect porcelain skin.

I have noticed the growing popularity of K-POP in the U.S. (maybe even replacing J-POP) with girl bands such as Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, or 2NE1. While I am proud to see more attention to Koreans in the music industry, I always roll my eyes whenever I hear guys talking about how they wish they could have a girlfriend who looked like Taeyeon or Tiffany. I scoff when I hear other girls wish that they could be an Asian girl because then they would be tiny and petite and have perfect hair. It makes me sick to think that there is this perception that all Asian girls are somehow “blessed” with perfectly thin 100 lb bodies. It just makes it that much more difficult for girls like me who don’t fit this stereotype. It induces self-blame and self-hate for being “curvier” and actually having thighs. Why can’t I just be thin like my Korean cousins? Why can’t I fit into a tiny bikini like my mom did when she was my age? My mom brags about how she was so tiny – she has been collecting compliments about her good looks all of her life and all of my life ever since I can remember.

As I help her prepare dinner, I notice how she heaps a healthy portion onto my plate and takes only half for herself. I notice how when she takes my sister and me to a Korean restaurant in Flushing she doesn’t order anything and I am guilted into giving her half of my jjajangmyun, which is normally such a treat for me. As she nibbles on the side dishes of pickled radishes and kimchi she reminisces, “When I was in college I was only 100 pounds…” Whenever I ask my dad about their failed marriage he always blames his naiveté saying that he just wanted to marry an Asian woman and that my mom was the most beautiful one of them all. And she was beautiful. I look back on old pictures of my mother when she was my age and from when she got married and admire how small her waist was and how delicate her shoulders looked in her wedding dress. It’s almost an obsession that I look at her old pictures and think to myself that if I have children they will not have any of my old pictures to look at and marvel at how thin I was. I will never fit into my mom’s old wedding dress, which she only saves in the hopes that one day my sister or I will wear it at our own weddings.

It is 4 am and I am kept awake yet again by the nagging thoughts of why I can’t be a thin Asian girl like my mom. Was it because she grew up in Korea and I was raised here in the United States of America where children are lazy and suffer from an obesity epidemic? But no, it couldn’t be! Look at Julia or Alyssa or Jenny from high school! They are all second generation Asian Americans like me yet they’ve maintained a weight of 80 pounds since junior high. They were part of the exclusive cult of Skinny Asian Girls. What is wrong with me? Is it because I’ve always loved eating that second serving of rice? All the weight loss bloggers tell me that carbs are the number one cause of belly fat. My grandparents would always laugh and ask “masisseoyo? [delicious?]” whenever I asked for another bowl of dduk gook. My skinny cousins would giggle among themselves about how I eat so much. Lisa, the girl who loves food. Lisa is just big-boned. She’s a “healthy-eater.” This has been said about me all my life. They are not necessarily insults but I’ve always associated them with the looks of scorn cast at my stomach, arms, and legs.

These are things that I think about when I swallow another pill that promises to suppress my appetite or when I decide to cut my diet down to one meal a day. Why can’t I just be like the other Asian girls? Why can’t I have their delicate frame and be feminine like them? I’m so tired of feeling insecure about my body and my eating habits. I’m tired of constantly wishing I could lose 10 more pounds. I’ve had it with wasting time on the Internet researching how I can tone my arms or get “sexy abs.” I’ve made it my goal from here on out that I will look at myself in the mirror and appreciate my body as it is without always seeing it as something that needs fixing. Love your body! Right? Yet I still find myself flipping through pictures on Facebook of my skinny Asian friends or cousins and hating myself. Why couldn’t I have inherited the skinny Asian gene from my mom? No! Appreciating my curvy Asian body starts now. The blame stops here. 


Lisa (Reader)

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Keeping Your Wits

I wanted to write some brief thoughts that have been on my mind over the past weekend while I was visiting my friend in Texas. It has to do with the ubiquity of diet-talk and women’s shame in their own bodies, as well as the onslaught of messages (from friends, strangers, and the ever-maligned media) that make it seem like it is normal–in fact, a duty–to be dieting and watching our weight. And if we aren’t ashamed, we still possess notions of an ideal “me,” some physical manifestation of health and beauty that we are supposed to “kick our butts” into attaining, retaining, or retrieving.

In just one single day this weekend, I experienced:

(1) a vigorous morning walk which, in my own mind (accustomed as it is to my own abuses), was at least partly meant to “make up” for some kind of indulgence the night before–other good reasons for taking it aside;

(2) a very, very dear friend who means nothing but the best for the people in her life, making half-jokes about the names of diets to invent and then follow with her sisters;

(3) shopping at the airport newsstand for something else besides the novel I’ve been reading non-stop to distract me during my 4-hour layover, and encountering dieting and exercise advice to achieve a “hotter you,” photos of the “best and worst” beach bodies, and headlines about how Kim Kardashian was ashamed of her pregnant body;

(4) a flight into NYC during which I spoke with an extremely nice, well educated, poised, funny and strong single mother, who simultaneously informed me of all the things she can’t be eating on her 500-calorie-a-day diet, on which she drops half a pound a day.

Having lived with an eating disorder for upwards of six years, and having grown much more educated and attuned to negative, detrimental ways of thinking about nourishment, exercise, and body image, it still shocks me when I have days like this. There was a time when this barrage of judgment and unhealthy advice would have thrown me into a very anxious state. Even now, as far as I have come in understanding my relationship between mind, food and body, this kind of onslaught can cause anxiety. Many people who are trying to recover from an eating disorder have probably experienced the feeling that all surrounding conditions about food and lifestyle must be perfectly positive, in order to safeguard themselves from attitudes that might trigger old patterns of thinking. I used to be that way, and I would be lying if I tried to say that I am sometimes not sensitive that way. But I also have realized that, unfortunately, because of the way our culture has developed, it is pretty impossible to avoid all talk of dieting, “feeling fat,” extreme juicing lifestyles, excessive exercise, and the mantra of “body perfection” that sets the standard for how so many people (young, old and in between) decide what to eat, how to move, and even how to cope.

The expression “keeping your wits about you” feels especially fitting here. It can be an enormous challenge to learn how to brush the conversations, comments, headlines, photos and advice columns aside–especially when they may come from a source you trust. Somehow, you have to learn how to trust your own wisdom, and the head on your shoulders. It helps to recognize that the fixations with dieting are just that: fixations. I get very nervous when I hear about people being on a diet, or wanting to go on one, even if the comment is made flippantly. I know all too well from experience that even the most grounded, seemingly self-confidant feminist woman can develop a serious eating disorder from restricting calories for that purpose, under the mantra “I’m getting fit.” And I worry, now that my friends have started to marry and even think about having kids of their own, that these kinds of anxieties and values will get passed down to their sons or daughters. The world around us is more a trigger to us than we know. I wish that we could keep our wits about us, and assert self-love, and try hard to recognize the fears and criticisms we can pass to others without even meaning to.


Kate @ LiquidYolk.com

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Dumpling Mail

Hi Lisa & Lynn,

This originally was supposed to be a short comment, but because of the character limit, I’ll write more here.

Growing up in a very traditional Cantonese household, it’s common to get remarks like: “Oh, you’re getting fatter each time,” or “Don’t overeat.” Perhaps the harsh and blunt Chinese culture builds up that “thick dumpling skin” so we learn to learn to ignore criticism, but I really enjoy reading about a more sensitive, embracing (perhaps American?) approach to the topics your page discusses.

I now realize that “thick dumpling skin” isn’t a defense mechanism, but a positive approach to dealing with difficult issues regarding self-image. I think it’s very important that we learn to start inside and accept ourselves first before we jump too quickly to make changes on the outside.  And I thank you both for providing this outlet.

I’ve always been more muscular than any of the females in my family. I dress in boys clothing and cut my hair short because that’s how I feel comfortable. Unfortunately, this small amount of comfort doesn’t eliminate low self-esteem. I’m struggling right now to build up my confidence and to learn to love myself due to recently relocation back to my parents’ house.

Because of my androgynous look, I still get put down for being “not man, not woman.” It hurts because I’m trying so hard to figure out my identity and can’t come out to my parents (fearing that “my-daughter-can’t-be-gay” scene from “Saving Face” every day). I can’t help feeling like I’m moving backwards into a negative environment. Perhaps Chinese parents just have their own weird way of expressing love to their children.

If there’s anybody else out there that feels this way or knows of any advice that may be comforting, I would really appreciate it. I’m seeking therapy currently with the Asian American Wellness Center, but it’d be nice to hear from others as well.

- Bea Cheung


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TDS Mail

Dear Thick Dumpling Skin,

My name is Kate, I am half-Japanese, half-Spanish, and I write a pro-food, pro-recovery blog called Liquid Yolk. I have struggled with eating disorders for six and a half years. While I was off and on with professional therapy, my commitment to it was very low, in part because I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t get over my problems by myself.

A number of things helped show me otherwise. One was discovering Thick Dumpling Skin and Lynn’s blog, The Actor’s Diet, which really rung true for me and gave a much different face to the story of eating disorders than we typically hear. Another factor is that I’m in grad school and due to graduate in May, so the prospect of being a “real” adult with 7 years of disordered eating in my history suddenly sounds very scary, and I really feel I’ve had enough. I’ve done a lot of pondering over the last summer, and I’m now putting my health at top priority. I have also been able to share a part of me with some of my friends, friends who have known me for years. I dreaded this, and yet, having told them, I feel an incredible load off my shoulders.

What follows is something that I wrote on my blog before I made the blog public (LiquidYollk.com). For me, it has been a huge revelation to acknowledge my body image issues without being ashamed of those hangups, and to understand that these thoughts are just thoughts, and are also coexisting with my love of my body. By recognizing this, I can focus on loving my body and caring for myself, rather than trying to bury the discomfort or fear it.

June 2013

I am going to be honest and say that things are not good. In general and from an unfocused lens, they are, but I am really struggling and hurting. I can see clearly everything that is at stake with my health. I recognize that, here at the six and a half year mark, I have a huge choice over whether or not I want to live the way I want to live. I know that to overcome this may well be emotionally horrifying, and require an amount of honesty that the cheery premise of this blog needs to come around to.

So here’s a little introspection. After years of saying to the world, I don’t get why I have an issue with food, I don’t have body image hang-ups, this is just a way for me to manage my anxiety about a number of things (which is partly true)… let’s just be straight. I DO have body image hang-ups, and yet at the same time I DO love myself and love my body and believe that I am beautiful. When my body looks the way I expect it to (my vision of what my true body shape is has softened and grown kinder), I am proud and positive. The thing is, I have a continuing fear that, however satisfied I may be with how I look and feel today, I still can’t bear the thought of gaining “too much.”

Since I was little, I’ve had hang-ups about my appearance. At the time, I was a skinny girl with hairy legs, and I was awkward, but I had a high opinion of myself. I can say that I have been blessed with self-confidence thanks to my parents. It’s a blessing and a curse. Because that same self-confidence has come with it a delusion of infallibility and a fear of failure. Simultaneously, I have grappled with feeling like the odd girl out for a lot of my younger life… whether it was because I had a peanut allergy and had to eat special snacks at school, or because I also had asthma so I didn’t participate in sports the same way as the other kids, or because I was the weird biracial kid with the mixed up heritage.

I think I always used to feel out of sync with my body, for its allergic reactions that were totally out of my control and for its awkwardness in sports because I had never really gotten a chance to be athletic. It’s why I took so much to yoga in high school and college, and why I wanted to run a marathon when I graduated college, as a kind of proving to myself that I was more than an asthmatic klutz, that I could be in control of my body as a functional machine. There were other factors too… the fact that I was an only child in a town where that was virtually unheard of… and having to fight the teasing stereotype that I was spoiled rotten. The fact, too, that my extended family was so very small in New Jersey. All my first cousins live in Japan, and I grew up with a sneaking suspicion that my mom’s side of the family was unhappy, a fact that I tried desperately to cover up and fix by intervening in all the high-emotion passive aggression that used to surround our holidays. The fact that we only saw my gregarious extended family for funerals did not help this insecurity.

As I got older, being half-Japanese half-Spanish became cool… even before the Hawaiian word “hapa” came onto my radar. I started to identify with the Japanese side of my family more, probably because my dad was born there, and because I loved visiting Japan and my relatives there, and because it was not riddled with the suburban confusion of the Spanish side. I would come, later, to embrace the Spanish, but I still feel closest to my Japanese roots.

I wanted to fit in with the Japanese side, to maybe even be full Japanese, or at least look more Japanese, so people wouldn’t keep asking me what I was, where I was from, and, not least of all, so that I would have a genetic slenderness that I had begun to lose as I became a real adult woman. This is, of course, a stereotype – one that has contributed to the body image hang-ups of a lot of Asian Americans – but it is one that I still find myself saying from time to time… that Asians are short and small.

My boyfriend is lucky enough to be from Hawaii. Going to Hawaii for the first time was a huge breakthrough for me, because there, my body type and skin color and mixed race were more the norm. For the first time in my life, I saw other women who sort of look like me. And in Hawaii, people seemed content to flaunt their bodies, no matter what the shape, at least more than on the East Coast. Beautiful, hot women with the athletic curves born of moderate exercise and lots of rice.

There is another side to this story, which only compounds the insecurities I’ve mentioned. It’s about young love and always dating skinny boys. Even now, living with my boyfriend, I find it absurdly frustrating that he can eat a gigantic meal and never not be skinny. And even now, having gone through being so hard on myself in college and being deluded enough to fear gaining any weight after I had lost so much, because it would signal that I had an eating disorder to begin with, and that the loss of weight was unsustainable… even now, I find myself hoping to be just that much fitter every time I feel the need to jazz up our relationship… after we’ve been apart for a few weeks, or after a semester of sleep deprivation and therefore not much time for romance.

So that’s the truth. It is hard to believe that it has taken me six and a half years to say that I do have body image issues. I am all the things I said I was in high school: feminist, smart, beautiful. But I am a paradox like any human. But what I do know: I love myself. My body is the only one I have, and it lets me be here, in this life. I am beautiful. I am young. And I promise to love and care for myself to the best of my ability.

Best,
Kate

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Untitled

I have always struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. Growing up in an Asian family with two beautiful, athletic, and thin older sisters, I’ve always stood out as the fat one. It has never helped that my parents and ‘aunties’ are never hesitant to point out… ‘oh, your daughter is so fat, how come?’

Some of my earliest and most painful memories growing up is of my parents having the ‘fat conversation’ with me, telling me that they don’t want to be embrassed taking me out in public because I was fat or that it would be difficult for me to find a husband or be successful in life if I were overweight. Particularly, growing up in An asian community where a size 0 is the norm, I stood out like a sore thumb amongst my group of friends. 

From the time I was 18 to now (26), my weight has fluctuated up and down by more than 50 lbs. When I was 18, alarmed at my ever horizontally-growing body size, my parents took me to a Chinese spa in Chinatown specializing in slimming and weight loss. The owner’s daughter, also the face of the spa, was of a girl in her early 20’s who had lost around 100 lbs to be a model/stick thin. During these 3 months, I endured 2 hr long sessions of electrical shocks daily that was suppose to stimulate muscle spasms, thus mimicking exercise. I was instructed to drink water when hungry and to eat minimally. In those 3 months I did lose more than 50 lbs, but of course, gained them back and then some after my spa treatments ended. This led to a spiraling-out of control episodic periods of starvation, binging, and purging.

When I was 21, my dad brought home some herbal tea from China that was suppose to miraculously cure my obesity and make his daughter pretty and marriage-able. I did lose weight, yes, but that was because I starved myself for fear of disappointing him. 

To my family, I was a failure. My sisters who are naturally athletic and thin simply thought I couldn’t control myself with food. They thought that I was lazy and liked to eat too much.

Last year, after a particular hellish episode of binging and purging, I knew I needed to change. I decided that instead of focusing on weight, I wanted to focus on health and fitness goals. I researched nutrition, joined a gym, bought a nice pair of sneakers, and embarked on a year long health and fitness kick. I developed a new found passion for kickboxing and as of late — running. I am healthy and fit.

I wish I could say that now at 26, I have it all figured out, that I love my body the way it is, flaws and all. Even now, after I’ve lost most of my weight to be at a healthy BMI, I find myself constantly criticizing my body, mentally putting myself down, and comparing myself to every thin Asian girl out there. 

Even as I near my goal weight, I know that I will never have that perfect “Asian-thin” body we strive for. My body will always be flawed from the years my weight fluctuated… lately all that is on my mind is loose skin and stretch marks — my punishment for ever being fat. What nobody ever tells you is that even after losing all that weight, you can still hate your body. (Click to tweet.) Everyday is still a struggle. Some days I eat entire bags of chips in one sitting, others I am fine having a healthy well-balanced meal. Some days I look at myself naked and say, it’s not that bad. Other days I cry myself to sleep thinking ‘who will ever love me enough to love this body?’ 

When I feel the need to purge, I turn on my computer, go to my bookmarks, and read/re-read posts from Thick Dumpling Skin. I can’t tell you how much of a mental life-saver this has become for me in the last few months. It reminds me that I am not the only chubby Chinese girl out there that has struggled with weight and body image issues — that I am not alone. Hopefully, by sharing this, those going through similar issues will know they are not alone.

Yes, everyday is still a struggle. I have to constantly remind myself that this body is mine, it is the only one I will ever have, and so it deserves to be loved and cherished. Perhaps if I remind myself enough, then one day it will be true.


Anonymous

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Taking a Leap

Day after day, week after week, i religiously write in my journal, a journal so personal I have never allowed another to read. A journal that occupies a sacred place in my purse, traveling with me wherever i go. So different from all other journals i have ever owned. Filled with three of the seemingly longest years of my life; of suffering, depression, lack of acceptance and criticism. Today, I take the leap, sharing with you today’s thoughts in a journal that has been so deeply hidden from others until now…

This month marks three years, three years since i graduated from college and everything fell apart. I met a boy who would unknowingly bring about the never-ending negative and self-harming thoughts I would never imagine to be harbored inside of me. Although we are no longer together, these thoughts still haunt me. daily, weekly… minute to minute… second to second. Time passes much slower these days. 

In fact, I can’t even recall what life was like before food became my number one obsession. Was I a happy person? Was I ambitious, spontaneous, funny or confident? Who was I and who am I now? It’s all lost, just as I am lost. A victim to society’s harsh criticism as well as my own debilitating judgement. 

Will I ever recover? Will I ever return to the person I was or am supposed to be? Better yet, the person that I WANT to be? I have hope though, because I can say that I am better than where I started, and yet so very far from where I want to be. 

Some days I feel so defeated, how will I ever be able to overcome this? In my darkest hours I think, how will I ever be able to function normally in this shit show called “life?”

NO! I am persistent, I will NOT give up. It is my stubborn attitude that allows me to continue this battle day after day, week after week, month after month. I can only hope for a better future when happiness is second nature and food is just the fuel that guides me along in my endeavors.  

For now though, i am putting on my helmet and strapping myself in for what is and what continues to be one of the most painfully hard rides of my life.

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you and for those of you that continue to struggle, know you are not alone. It will get better. 


Anonymous | San Francisco, CA | United States

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Distorted Perceptions: Reflections Distorted

I met Victoria during one of my speaking engagements, and was so excited to learn that she had used Thick Dumpling Skin as inspiration for one of her writing classes. I asked her to share the assignment with me, and she graciously did. On the bus ride out of the school, even though it was 7 am I couldn’t let myself fall asleep. I read this assignment from page to page, and was touched by the raw honesty. Victoria was happy to share this with the rest of the TDS community, so here it is.

I feel for each and every one of these stories that I read, and I hope you will too. 

- Lisa

“Together, we’ll grow some thicker skins, and learn to love them as well.”

Thick Dumpling Skin

I do not remember how I first stumbled upon this sentence from the blog called Thick Dumpling Skin. Maybe I saw it randomly on Facebook or maybe a friend of mine sent me the link. I am not sure, but I would like to thank fate for carefully and strategically placing it in my pathway in life. I do not recall how I felt when I first saw it, but I have kept the blog’s name tucked in the back of my mind, waiting to call upon this reservoir of knowledge when needed. Just as I expected, I reached back there and pulled out this bit of information and connected the dots throughout my life that made me understand the blog posts from those who shared their struggles with their bodies.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with food. It has always been a comforting constant in my life. The dishes I liked would be the ones I could ask my mother to make over and over again. As long as I asked politely the night before, my mother would make the dish the next night. A favorite of mine was a Chinese dish that consisted of lotus root, potato, pepper, pork, and peanuts. Summer slipped away and fall arrived as lotus root season came and I was finally able to dine on one of my favorite meals.

Lifting the bowl of rice with the various ingredients interlaced in it, I positioned my chopsticks to move the food in my mouth. Already, I had a vision, or rather a taste, of the flavors from the previous times I have enjoyed this dish. But this time, everything was wrong. The peanuts were already added into the dish, when they were usually on the side, and had became soggy from the dish’s sauce. Salt seemed to ooze from the dish when originally, there would be the right balance of flavors with the pepper’s spiciness and the pork’s saltiness. It was obvious that someone who lacked the experience had prepared it. I asked my mother and she said that my father had made it. I set my bowl down and asked why did she not make it? The texture and taste were completely different.  I pushed my bowl aside and stepped from the dinner table. I grabbed a cookie and went up to my room. I didn’t want dinner. I had wanted to eat that night because I knew the lotus dish would be there. Today it wasn’t the same – today food wasn’t a constant.

Whenever food is brought up, body image and size cannot help but also tag along with its cousin. Although not directly related, food, through some series of complicated biological chain reactions, causes a change in weight. Essentially, a lack of food creates shrinkage of the body while an excess of food creates growth of the body. Following this paradigm, my eating habits resulted in mine having a rather chubbier body than my peers. Along with this, the identity I saw myself was the “fat Asian.” I perceived identity as one that was tied to ethnicity, but I also saw that I was different from the other Asians in my school. I was bigger when I was “supposed” to be smaller.

During childhood, it was obvious that I was slightly larger than the other kids, not in the vertical sense, but horizontally. It was most apparent since my childhood friend Sandy was rather “stick skinny” while I was plump. Her clothing hung off her body in a graceful manner while mine stuck onto my body like a second skin. I still remember a picture of myself on the playground. I’m holding a monkey bar as my younger sister, who was rather skinny back then, is playing on the swings while another friend was sitting on a gondola-like chair. Ignoring the surroundings, all I could focus on is my purple outfit. I can still see the slight shadow arch my belly produced. My purple shorts seemed much shorter than they were as my chubby thighs caused them to ride up.

When I was younger, I think I was aware of my larger size, but it did not seem that important to me. Elementary school was a time for being carefree. Or at least it was for me. Reading the news, it seems that younger and younger kids are becoming bullies, but I can safely assume that I was not bullied for my size back then. It was more that I was the one who was aware of it. I knew that I had to buy bigger-sized clothing. Sifting through the clothing in the shop Limited Too, I would have to select clothing that was sized for older girls. My wider thighs needed the pants of a girl four years older than me. My thicker arms needed sleeves of a top that was for girls two years older than me. I would dream of a time when I could maintain my body size and soon catch up in age with the clothing that I wore. If my thighs were to stay this size for four years, then these pants will be rightfully mine. If my arms were to stay this size for two years, then these tops will belong to me. In a sense, my size was my own issue and no one else’s. As I grew older, it became more apparent that my size would affect others’ perception of me and therefore mine.

* * *

I don’t know what time it is, but I’m sitting on my parent’s bed. My mother is lying on her side of the bed, the left side, and possibly reading a book or doing something else while I watch That’s So Raven. Is it daytime or nighttime outside? Doesn’t matter because the shades are down and the room is dark. My parents have a small television hanging from the ceiling to my left side. I am reclining on the bed with a stack of pillows under my head. I snuggle under the blankets and feel its warmth and comfort. There is a familiar scent with a slight tinge of smoke, obviously from my father. I wrinkle my nose at the stench and come up for air.

The show plays as I become mesmerized by it. I follow Raven’s actions as the story progresses. She has a vision of where she is modeling her designs. She is in a design competition and instead of using a model, she marches out and models her dress. The manager calls her down and tells her to use a model. She then sees a magazine ad of the competition with her in her dress, but it’s not her body. Her face is there, but her body has been digitally altered, shriveled, to the size of society’s perception of beautiful. Deterred at first, she is then fueled by another women’s words of encouragement to stand up and show that all sizes are beautiful. Raven plans another one of her famous antics and eventually sneaks in to strut out on the runway. She is so strong, but all I could think about is:

What is a size 2?

The manager stated that the largest size a model could be was a size 2. What is a size 2? My mother answers that my friend Barbara would be considered a size 2.

* * *

That episode still runs in my mind. I haven’t seen it since that time when I watched it with my mother, but I still see Raven walking out in her light green dress in my mind. She sashays as she poses and the cameras flashes. Why wouldn’t the manager let her model her dress? Because she is fat. Didn’t matter what she thought of herself because that woman thought she was inappropriate to be on the runway.

* * *

            Another memory that also returns to my mind is of when I am sitting on a school bus. This was around the time when I was a sixth grader. There was this boy who was a year younger than me. For some reason, he thought he was king and better than others. It is normal for a pouch of skin to form when one’s thumb moves inwards. This motion pushes that area of the hand together and creates this distinctive shape. However, he would try to prove that my pouch was larger than other’s surely because I was fat. He teased me but all I could do was pretend that I was sleeping. I could still hear him say that I am fat and that I was just pretending to sleep. It didn’t matter what I thought of myself, but soon other people’s views began to infiltrate into my self-hood. I had to compare myself to others in order to gain the justification I yearned for that I was not fat, or at least not bigger than the others around me.

* * *

Her name was Carol. She was bigger than me. Seeing her in the cafeteria, I would notice her distinctive muffin top from her wearing too tight t-shirts. Then there was the constant tugging at her pants. She would hook her index fingers into the pant’s belt loops at the side of her hips. Then she would tug up to pull the pants up, which were constantly slipping down due to that muffin top. Eventually, I observed that the belt loops were broken from her constant yanking. Whenever I saw her pass by with those split belt loops, I would subconsciously tell myself that I couldn’t let that happen to me. I also tugged on my belt loops to pull up my pants, but I would never tug so hard to risk breaking them. If they break, then that would be a badge that I was chubby. Maybe someone else would notice that I had the same characteristic pants feature as Carol. What would others think of me?

During lunch conversations in the cafeteria, people would talk, but occasionally I would mention Carol to divert the attention away from myself.

“Did you see what Carol wore today? Waaaay too tight. What was she thinking?”

“She always asks everyone for food during lunch. Let’s all just not give her any when she asks. She doesn’t need it all.”

But soon the people around me noticed. Sometime later, someone asked why I always talked about her. Surely, she must have known why, because I didn’t want to be seen as fat.

* * *

Shannon was overweight like me, but also Chinese. Both she and I defied the Asian stereotype of slimness. There was one distinctive feature she had and it was her double chin. For some reason, although she was slightly larger, she had a much larger double chin. Her neck did not have the usual slight arch inwards to reveal the collarbone and shoulders. Instead her neck was more like a blob. I prided myself for never having a double chin, even during my chubbier years. But I wanted to avoid a double chin at all cost. A double chin was the universal representation for being fat. Even on a cartoon, the drawing of a single arch just above the chin creates a double chin and automatically, the character becomes fat. If I noticed a slight slag in my neck area, hoping that it will go away, I would then try to rub it or flex the muscles in my neck. I cannot have a double chin. I can’t be seen as fat.

I do not know why I was drawn to her. Or rather, I tried to deny that I do know and kept that knowledge suppressed. It really was a shameful reason and something I should not be proud of. Despite my ulterior intentions, she was a really good friend to hang out with, especially after I moved from New Jersey to New York City. But my little sister knew the truth. She noticed that she was the only person I would visit during our times back home. Living in New York City, I had lost weight and people back home noticed. I was always proud of people’s surprise, but when I was with Shannon, my weight loss was more obvious. For the first time, I was now the smaller one among friends.

* * *

Her name was Mariel. She walked with her arms swinging like pendulums in such exaggerated motions yet appeared so dainty. But her large butt and hips, which she was known for, swayed side to side and from the waist down, she was no longer as delicate but instead voluptuous. Once when someone was looking to interview her for the yearbook, another person referred to Mariel as the one with a big butt. The yearbook staffer made a gesture by spreading her hands out from each other when saying, “The girl with the butt…” But this time, instead of others talking about her own distinctive ass, she was the one now.

“You know, you have legs like a Hispanic.”

            I just stared at her. I did not say anything, but afterwards, I thought of a million things I could have done. I could have just shouted at her and say, “What the fuck?!” I could have also said, “So are these legs not mine?” I could have yelled back, “Now what does that mean?”

            But I knew perfectly well why she said that. Asians are supposed to be thin. I don’t fit this stereotype. Hispanics usually have thicker legs, which she, a Hispanic, has. Therefore, my legs are more characteristic of a Hispanic’s legs. She was supporting this comment on stereotypes, which she said was, “based off of some truth.” If it is “sort of” true that Asians are thin and “sort of” true that Hispanics are larger, then am I not Asian if I’m larger? Her comment made it seem as if these legs didn’t belong to me. Yes, they are thunder thighs, but these are my thunder thighs.

* * *

             I am thick-skinned, but thick-skinned as in physically bigger. Words and comments still hurt me, but my own belittling thoughts are much more harmful. I still compare myself to others and look in the mirror to analyze my body. My calves curve out in a bulge. The backs of my arms, which I disdainfully joke as my “wings,” are not smooth, but instead emerge as a pouch of excess skin. I lift up my shirt to see how far my stomach protrudes and even suck it in to imagine the day I would finally be able to slip into an itty-bitty bikini without a second thought about my love handles. Legs are the first things I notice about a person. They usually indicate size. Much like my own legs, which are  “Hispanic legs,” but not “Asian legs.” These habits of always focusing on body size are because I don’t have that figurative thicker skin and because I have not learned to love it in the physical sense. But I need to understand that what really matters is:

“It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

- Thick Dumpling Skin


Victoria  | Flushing, NY | USA

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Your Breakdown Will Be Your Breakthrough!

I hope through sharing my story, I can make a difference because finding this blog has been a true blessing.

I was born and raised on Oahu. The culture is very relationship-family oriented and people are so accepting. The ethnic groups were diverse and open to each other’s culture, beliefs, etc. I grew up in a positive culture and family without much judgment or pressure to be thin.

However, when I attended college in California (Biola Univ. a strict Christian univ because my mom wanted me to attend a “safe Christian” school), I was surrounded by a majority of Whites who looked like Barbie. I was an athlete my whole life in soccer and track (and still am fitness oriented). Retrospect, I was already beautiful, lean, and had a healthy amount of muscle for a 5’6” 18 year old Japanese-Okinawan female. But with the comparison of my peers/college environment and not having any support group, for the first time I felt unsure about myself—and my body!  I was away from being accepted, known, my hometown, family, friends, etc. I was lonely and felt unaccepted. I began to run and increase my runs to cope with the rejection and loneliness. This is how the anorexia began for the next 3 more years by restricting and running daily. Before, I sought treatment and counseling, I was dangerously thin for 5’6. Many looked up to me and my friends were slightly envious of my willpower and determination, yet they were alarmed at how thin I was looking. The disorder was controlling and affecting me too much that I finally sought help. I’m glad I did.  

After recovering from anorexia, now the other extreme of eating loads of comfort foods! Whats happening?! I felt lost, ashamed, depressed, angry, frustrated, helpless in this vicious cylcle of binging. 

At that time in my last year in grad school pursing a MA in Clinical Psychology. I was under a lot of stress, pressure from school, and had a difficulty to handle disappointment. And—I was healing from a toxic emotionally abusive relationship that just ended. The only thing that felt comforting and a way to escape was through overeating and binging on comfort foods. 

I felt rejected and disapproved by my own mother. I gained a lot of weight from binging. My mom was very critical and would say disapproving comments about my body, food intake or too much this or that. Sigh. While struggling with binging, it was difficult because I felt trapped between what my mom desired me to look like vs what my body was capable of. I wanted my mother’s approval and appreciation of me, not just my external looks. After many moments of crying, feeling desperate, helpless, hopeless, and back to all or nothing thinking, I finally broke down. 

What made me realize I needed to heal completely and wanted to have lasting solutions: 

I believed I wouldn’t ever have completely satisfied relationships with my family, friends, future partner/marriage/family. Why? Because I would continue to be preoccupied about eating and feeling emotionally horrible about myself. 

Would you want to be with someone who struggles with binge eating, emotionally unavailable, poor body image—-and to seek my future partner to help and reassure me over and over? I answered that question and said no, it’s unfair for that special person. Since, I desired to be an influential role model to my future partner and children (which I still don’t have children), I wanted to give them my undivided attention, affirmation, love, respect, and support. I wanted to change my life and future. I am the creator of my life! I knew making this commitment would be the hardest, but I knew my reward of my life would be priceless! And it has been beautiful! I’ve been pursuing more of my dreams, my friendships are deeper, have an amazing relationship with someone, more confidence, lack of fear on overeating, and more unconditional love for myself. Fast forward to 2012, I’ve healed through binge eating and anorexia. 

The process of healing and growing was filled with challenges. There were moments I wanted to forget about my commitment to healIt was a process of accepting who I was and who I was growing to be. This is where I learned that to be unconditional to myself. 

Change can only happen when someone is ready to change. A deep belief and commitment that YOU are valued and worthy to deserve the best for yourself. You deserve every ounce of joy, hope, self love, self acceptance, drive, forgiveness, belief, etc. Even though you may desire to lose weight, but if you’re still believing that you are ugly, undeserving—your actions overtime will resort back to binging or negative self talk. 

I’ve read a lot of reading on binging and nutrition books, but it still felt it was too narrow or missed a lot of other issues on body image, culture, family experiences, and the other aspects on self valuing. I’m currently writing a binging book now that touches upon aspects of how our family, culture, self expectations, stressors and other aspects that keep us trapped into binging. 

I’m a personal trainer. I have always wanted to be one. I wanted to share and empower others that the vicious cyle of emotionally eating or negative body image doesn’t have to be “heavily dependent on to exercise yourself to be thin.” I’m planning to return for a doctorate in psychology to help more people who struggle with disordered eating, eating disorders, binging, etc especially with the asian culture. 

Lastly, the power of Instagram has allowed me to speak on taboo topics on binging, all or nothing thinking and about our attitude towards fitness. The amazing aspect of IG is that it has created a community of support, honesty, and encouaging others. I’d love to meet more from this community—and COLLABORATE with others who are passionate about the Asian community and the values of EMPOWERING oneself!

Thank you for taking the time to read and hear my story. 


Joy | Los Angeles, California | USA

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Coming Out Of the Closet

I hate to tell people I am a registered dietitian. And here’s why.

Typical scene:

“What do you do?”

“I am a dietitian.”

“No wonder you are so skinny!” (I literally shut down my ear every time upon hearing the ‘s’ word.)

People have expectations of us and that’s fair. They expect you to be size 2 - 6, eat salad, shop at Trader’s Joe, and say anything that’s related to ‘green.’  But when you name your favorite eatery to be In-n-Out burger, people’s eyes start rolling. I remember I had to drive 5 miles away from my district office to get a burger for lunch… so that I wouldn’t run into any students, teachers, parents, and superintendents.

Being a dietitian is stressful. Being a dietitian with a history of eating disorders is even worse.

I used to be a TV host. Just like most of the folks in show business, I developed anorexia and bulimia between jobs. To make things worse, my doctor misdiagnosed me as having “hormone disorder,” in which she put me on all the wrong drugs and birth control pills (the cheapest one!). I couldn’t eat, walk, run, and sleep. I wore North Face gear at 79 degrees. My muscle cramps were so painful that I had to stay awake every night holding my knees. When I hit rock bottom, I attempted suicide, twice. To me, enjoying a pleasant meal and being able to keep the food in my system was a luxury. And needless to say, the recovery journey was long and painful. It was a constant battle between the mind and the body. But I am glad I made it. I survived. Whew!

I am less heavy than most people because I had a history. But that history changed my perspective about foods and life. It is not about the pyramid, the plate method, or Dr. Oz. It is about appreciation. That is… becoming a ‘mindful’ eater, who can live life to the fullest, enjoying and feeling grateful for every single bite without any regret. 

I never told my students, clients, patients, and colleagues about my past until lately. It was merely because people tend to think that eating disorders is easily treatable and folks like us would become ‘skinny’ after recovery. But after hiding this fact for close to two decades, I decided to ‘come out of the closet’ and set the record straight.

So next time when you see me sticking my fingers into garlic fries, biting on my juicy sliders, or sipping the strawberry milkshake, please stay calm. I am alright. I am getting my weekly dosage of vitamin ‘Z,” also known as “Zen.”

And, I am still a proud registered dietitian.


Olivia Ho, M.S., R.D., is an award winning Registered Dietitian, health technology advocate, and committee member of the multiple national and local health organizations. Find Olivia @ http://www.linkedin.com/in/oliviaho

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On Our Radar: A History of the Body

Aimee Suzara emailed us about an awesome theatrical project that she’s working on called “A History of the Body.” The piece has some overlap with our site, as it examines the impact of historic depictions and the exposition of Filipinos, as well as modern-day cosmetic skin whitening. 

In Aimee’s words:

The goal of this piece is to bring awareness to important, yet little-known, Filipino-American history and bring healing to the often-fragmented woman of color in America. The work has been presented as works-in-progress and staged readings, and supported by the Zellerbach Foundation, Kularts, Inc, and CounterPULSE. This year, the project was selected to be developed and presented by the historic Oakland Asian Cultural Center in 2012-13, with support of The East Bay Community Foundation and the City of Oakland’s Cultural Funding Program.

It looks like the project’s fundraising goal has eight more days to go and they’re almost there! We can’t wait to see it in person. Check it out and contribute if you can.

Read more here.


Know something that should be On Our Radar? Contact us!

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