My issues with weight and body image are like the many shared here on this site. My family, like others, didn’t think anything was wrong with calling you fat, hiding food from you, telling you no boy would date you if you didn’t lose weight, and talking about your weight behind your back. My mom made a point of complimenting my cousins and friends for being skinny in front of me. She always said they were skinny and beautiful. I have a handful of memories that probably run as deep as my issues with food and body. When I was 10 I was somehow in a conversation with my mother and aunt about weight. My mother looked at me and said, “You look fine. For now.” I asked her what she meant. She said, “You don’t need to lose any weight, but you better not gain any either. Your body is fine right now.” I remember feeling a deep sense of dread. I have felt, ever since, on the verge of becoming a disappointment by gaining weight. I have felt since then anxiety about being satisfied with myself “for now.” Some time in grade school I was working on an acrostic poem using the letters of my name. My dad leaned over at the unclaimed letters and pointed to the “A” in my middle name. “Why don’t you put there, Always Eating?” he said.
My family wasn’t abusive. They were kind people who didn’t know that I was developing a hatred of my body, a fear of food, and a desperate need for others to make me feel beautiful. They valued thinness but never taught me about exercise or nutrition. Being skinny was something you were just supposed to figure out somehow. My mom was a cook at a take out restaurant, so she never needed to exercise - her body was lean from those long, laborious days. But, I never learned what healthy eating was, or how to exercise regularly. My parents didn’t value sports or outdoor play. Do other Asian parents teach their kids about being healthy? Or are many left to feel like thinness and beauty are things we just don’t know how to have.
I read other stories here and at I’m at once comforted and outraged by our similarities. What does it reveal about us that we’ve been through these same conversations with our moms? That we’ve been called the same names, compared the same ways, made to feel like love was equal to fat jokes? I start to feel like my issues aren’t linked to my mom in particular, but to my mom being Chinese. I start to feel essentialized by my own experiences. I look back at my family and I feel like my life is a cliche, and I hate it.