Posts tagged submission
Posts tagged submission
I’m not Asian, but I was always a part of the Asian group growing up. I was always the only black kid, but I never thought of myself that way. My friends and I were “the other” and that was okay. It was easy to identify with them because we were all the children of immigrants, and I quickly picked up on the similarities between our cultures. I ate their seaweed and shared their rice and noodles. I watched Asian films and listened to Asian music. I loved learning new things about their cultures and I absolutely loved the dishes. Over time, I noticed that I picked up on many things from them. Among those things were speech patterns and an extremely unhealthy body image. I was always the overweight girl in a group of “skinny girls”, but it never bothered me. I was always the one telling them that they were beautiful and that they didn’t need to lose any weight. Stay healthy. Be confident. Of course, they never listened. Always hanging around girls 40 pounds lighter than me that keep calling themselves fat did some damage. In high school I lost weight as the side effect of a certain medication I was taking. Because my appetite was reduced it was easier for me to eat less. There were days I didn’t eat at all. But then I started becoming more tired, more stressed, weaker, and would become sick more easily. It effected my school work, my friendships, and my health. During the summer after that school year, I went off my medication. I became addicted to the joy that reentered my life as I began to slowly accept myself again. I can happily say that I’m now healthy and happy with my body again. I know this site is primarily for Asian Americans, but I can really connect with what’s going on here and I just want to say thank you for creating Thick Dumpling Skin.
"I am from Finland."
People always seem taken aback when I tell them this.
They asked. So I answered them.
Some try to subtly comment on the fact that Northern Europe is famous for various things, such as, incredibly attractive Nordic women with cascading golden locks, piercing blue eyes, long legs and a lovely ‘glow’ about them.
Others are much more direct. They either accuse me of lying or comment on the fact that I don’t look Finnish at all. That I don’t meet their expectations of a typical nordic woman.
"No… you MUST be from the US. You look so athletic. You’re so tanned! You look just like one of those Californian Asian Americans!"
What? You didn’t expect a Chinese woman to be from Finland did you?
Just because I am tanned does NOT make me Californian (or Asian American for that matter).
And that adjective ‘athletic’. I would like to take it as a compliment. I AM very active. I love exercising and I DO regularly exercise. Of course I am glad that my training is paying off with my body reflecting the hard work.
Don’t make it sound so negative. Since when has it been wrong for Asian women to look athletic? Why does it hold such a negative connotation? Also apparently being ‘athletic’ includes having a certain type of ‘attitude’ which is not considered attractive. Are you seriously saying that confidence is not attractive?
Do I have to conform to some sort of perverted ideal of an Asian woman to be considered attractive by not only other Asians but also other people? ‘Willowy’, ‘demure’, blah blah blah.
I currently live in Shanghai, China. I’ve heard my extended family moan about my ‘athletic’ appearance for sometime already that it no longer has any effect on me (although this has stopped over the years). What irks me the most is dealing with expats who live here.
I worked at a local bar last summer. It was populated entirely by young twenty something expats in the evenings. Some male expats were involved with local girls and I noticed that most of these girls shared similar physical features. They were incredibly skinny/petite with fair skin. All pretty ladies. My co-worker was basically a girl who had all the desired physical attributes and because of that was often hit-on by male patrons.
What disturbed me the most was overhearing these sleazy boys saying the reason for their preference for girls such girls. Being pint-sized meant that they could be easily overpowered. That is sick. Don’t even get me started on how some take advantage of the language barrier.
I noticed massive differences between how the male patrons treated me and my co-worker. In a twisted way, I was treated with much more respect (no sleaziness involved) because of my appearance, whereas my co-worker was constantly being touched or hit-on with racist pick-up lines because of her appearance.
I am not trying to moan over the fact that these people find me ‘less’ attractive than my co-worker. Rather, due to my athletic appearance I don’t get equated as an attractive Chinese girl and instead become LESS of their idea of a typical Chinese girl, which makes them treat me as their equal. I have been told right to my face that I am ‘different’ from the local Chinese girls. I am only different because I was raised in a different physical and cultural environment. Essentially I am still Chinese.
We are both Chinese girls. We should both be treated equally. These expat men get me incredibly frustrated when they are talking to me about women’s body image issues and agree with me that women come in different sizes… yet they don’t seem to realize that they are being complete hypocrites.
Yes, Asian women come in different sizes, shades and shapes.
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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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.
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.
“I’m just a bag of bones and skin holding in this hunger.
Have you ever made yourself eat until you felt sick? It’s so easy to switch off, to keep shoveling food into your mouth even as the rational part of your brain reminds you of all those health articles that say mindless eating is just a sign of boredom and depression. But of course this doesn’t bother you, because that’s exactly what this is – repetitious movements of the jaw to match the tediousness of your life. Wretched, brittle life.
(Ah, speaking of brittle, wouldn’t some peanut brittle be just the fix right now – that salty-sweet crunch shattering on the edge of your teeth, ripping through the soft flesh of your mouth, leaving everything raw for the slow burn of caramel brown bile that comes to wash it all away. Oh god, you’ve never wanted anything so bad in your life.)
End it now, you think, end it before the regret fills your apartment with the sulfuric stench of indigestion…
You swear off food, you swear off ice cream and takeout from the Thai restaurant downstairs, and food blogs. From now on you follow the diet prescribed by Emmy-winning heart surgeon Dr. Oz. It’s easy, at first, because self-denial is just another extreme that begs for your complete indulgence. But willpower can only last for so long – only a day and a half pass before the hunger pains begin to gnaw at you day and night. In class you sit with your arms held protectively across your stomach, as if the sheer pressure of your hold could somehow make the hunger shrink. It doesn’t work, of course. So you sit in class and daydream about thick slices of brie on delicate, buttery crackers while everyone else stares raptly ahead, fantasizing about their own secret obsessions.
Going to bed hungry – now that’s the worst. Your body feels trapped in a state of suspension, with your last meal seeming like eons ago and the next arriving in approximately the same time it took for the Roman Empire to rise and fall. The idea of breakfast has never been so appealing. Stacks of pancakes smothered in syrup, cinnamon rolls oozing with sweet, sticky glaze, sausages crackling with hot grease, and eggs of every variety! Sunny side-up, scrambled, whisked into an omelette, baked into a quiche, hardboiled, poached, or even raw. You’d give anything for that golden yellow yolk, trembling in its translucent shell until that heavenly moment when the tip of your fork just barely dips below the surface, and the whole thing breaks apart in one gloriously languorous mess. With dreams like these, it’s no wonder that you only fall asleep once the pain has turned into numbness.
Satisfaction is no longer a definitive in your life, and eating simply becomes a hobby, like erotic fanfiction or knitting. But words and needles can be kept hidden, they can be tucked away in the dark recesses of your closet full of bloated skeletons. Now when you undress in the evening, there are bright red lines where the seam dug into your inner thigh; backwards and forwards they run, deeper than any scar that could be left by a razor. Sometimes, when you’re feeling really masochistic, you’ll take a selfie after one of your binging episodes. The weight gain isn’t really visible (that’s what you hope, anyway) and if you turn your face down at just the right angle your cheeks look like they could be normal sized again. Turn your face back up again, and they’re huge, swollen monsters, smeared with chocolate and potato chip crumbs. You take the picture, and then immediately delete it.
I’m just a bag of bones and skin holding in this hunger… and I only want more.”
I started writing this essay when I was still a binge eater, pushing through my last year of college and absolutely miserable. This is me at my lowest, and believe me, when you’re this low it seems impossible that things should get better. But they did. And even though I’m an unemployed college graduate, I couldn’t be happier. I might never be one of those self-empowered, “I’m beautiful because I say so” women that you see in Dove commercials, but at least I’m at peace with the shame I have about my body. So yes, I’m still hungry, but now it’s for something other than food.
Aimee | Los Angeles, CA | United States
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.
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
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.
“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
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 heal. It 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.
Once upon a time, Jeremy Lin made me cry.
No, he didn’t bully me when we were kids. (I’ve never actually met him, plus I was born in the Early Triassic.)
It happened when he hit a dramatic game-winning three against the Toronto Raptors on Valentine’s Day 2012. Far from being tears of sadness, mine were tears of elation. I wasn’t just happy for the dude. I was also moved because, as a symbol of Asian America, Jeremy’s success was our success. Literally and logically, of course, that wasn’t true. But symbolically and emotionally, it was a powerful truth.
I have tons of respect for Jeremy and others who’ve embodied the sufferings and victories of Asian America. But I’d like to suggest an additional symbol for us, or at least for those of us who have struggled deeply with self-defeating behaviors. Her name is Kai-Lan Chow, a six-year-old girl who lives with her kind and nurturing Ye Ye, or Grandpa. Exactly where she lives is unclear, but it is clear that she’s a delightful, incredibly loving little girl. Oh, and her friends include a panda-loving koala, a turntable-spinning monkey, and a flying rhino.
Okay, so she’s a cartoon character on Nick Jr. But just because she’s fictional doesn’t mean she can’t be a symbol for us to rally around!
If you’ve never heard of her, imagine Dora the Explorer as a Chinese girl, teaching Mandarin instead of Spanish, and familiarizing viewers with cultural traditions like Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival. But what she teaches best is the healthy processing and handling of feelings. In every episode, she walks viewers through the process of identifying her friends’ feelings, usually more “negative” ones like anger, sadness, and feeling excluded. She and Ye Ye then show her friends how to talk about such emotions and express them in healthy ways.
It’s striking how Kai-Lan’s emotional world is so different from my childhood and that of most real-life Asian Americans. Relatively few of us ever experienced such an emotionally nurturing environment, especially in our families, which did not generally know what to do about feelings. I mean, how many times did our parents ask us how we felt about things in our lives, especially unpleasant things? Instead, our parents communicated to us that it wasn’t acceptable to express our feelings if they conflicted with parental opinions or decisions. Again, how many times did our parents answer us with emotionally invalidating phrases? Things like, “You shouldn’t feel that way” or shaming statements like “You show that I’m a failure as a parent” or the Confucian granddaddy of them all, “You ungrateful child, after all I’ve done for you.”
Because it wasn’t okay for us to have our feelings, many of us learned to stuff them away, hiding who we really are behind a façade our elders deemed more acceptable. As a consequence, we then developed emotional problems like depression or crippling anxiety as we got older. To survive, we learned to self-medicate, using self-destructive addictions and behaviors – like eating disorders – to numb our pain.
But here’s where Kai-Lan comes in. She can serve as a symbol of hope – hope that things will be different for the next generation of Asian Americans! According to NEDA, “A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to dieting and disordered eating.” Kai-Lan, then, gives us hope because she models for us ways to cultivate that emotional health in Asian American children. She gives us a tool to talk about feelings with our kids, nieces, nephews, and any other Asian child for whom we’re an “auntie” or an “uncle.” They can learn from her (and us, as we watch with them) that it’s okay to have whatever feelings they have, including the “negative” ones. They can also begin to grasp how they can express and handle their emotions productively, instead of just stuffing them. Ni Hao Kai-Lan gives me hope that the next generation of Asian Americans can be more emotionally healthy, with a more “well-rounded sense of self,” and less likely to repeat our self-destructive behaviors. It’s a tool that’s easy to find, whether on the Nick Jr. website or on iTunes, and it’s easy to utilize.
Of course, I don’t for a moment think that just plopping kids down in front of the TV to watch Kai-Lan is going to give them that strong sense of self. The show, again, is just one tool for loving, nurturing grown-ups to use as they foster a safe, emotionally healthy environment for kids. But it’s clearly a tool of high quality. And a powerful symbol of hope.
To watch an episode of Ni Hao Kai-Lan, click here.
A one-time high school teacher and a long-time pastor, Eugene Hung is at the moment figuring out what shape his next vocation will take. In the meantime, he and his wife also stay busy in SoCal with their two girls, ages six and three. He tweets via @iaurmelloneug and blogs about nurturing a healthy body image in children at FINDINGbalance.com.