My Chinese-Japanese Heritage and Body Image Struggles
Long story short, I was born and raised in Japan from Chinese parents, and spent several years of my childhood in Oklahoma and Finland. And while it all fits in a single sentence, this background of mine has brought about many challenges, some even risked my mental and physical health. I have practically spent most of my 19 years of life trying to figure out what was so “wrong” with me. My all-time goal was to be “the same” as everybody else, and belong somewhere, wherever that is. We don’t have a Chinese-Japanese community here.
I’ve always felt myself being insufficient, that I was not Japanese enough but not enough to be Chinese either. Though I was born and brought up in Japan, I hold a Chinese passport because that’s my mother’s home country. This is how it works in the Japanese system; your mother’s nationality automatically becomes yours, and China doesn’t allow for double citizenship. So on paper, I am just “Chinese” even though I speak elementary school-level Chinese and have never really lived there except for few visits to my grandparents’ house.
Everyday I look at my alien card (foreign resident card) in Japan and wonder who this person is. Since this convinces me everyday that I am not one of them, i have tried every other attempt to force myself to believe that I am a perfect Chinese. But every attempt has failed in various ways.
In middle school, I begged my parents to allow me to go to school in China, which they were very happy about. But this ended up exacerbating my identity crisis, because I literally was shut away from China. My Chinese was not sufficient to go to a local school, and I was denied enrollment to an international school in China because enrollment there requires a non-Chinese foreign passport, and the only passport I have is a Chinese one.
So I went on to a Japanese middle school, where together with my relatively shy personality, I was alone most of the time. I spent most of my time binging on sweets, crying myself to sleep, or trying to find out what was wrong with me. I would finish the lunch my mom made way before lunch time, together with a whole lot of other food, and go to first period bloated everyday. Almost all of my allowances went to snacks, which replaced proper meals. I even habitually stole my younger sister’s snacks, which I secretly replaced with new ones I buy after eating them. Whereas I spent most of my time eating, I was at the same time malnutritioned because I only ate sweets every day. They were the only things that kept me mentally alive.
In high school, I went on to a school with many native Chinese students doing study abroad in Japan. I had thought that this is going to end all my challenges. I was certain that i would find a place I belonged, because since I was “Chinese,” they should find me as one of them. What I didn’t know was that this experience would further worsen my situation. I didn’t blend with “real” Chinese. They openly showed me how different I was from them, convincing me that I have nowhere to belong. I felt then like I had lost my imaginary and spiritual hometown.
This was also when my physical health started to be even more at risk. It was when I developed anorexia nervosa losing half of my weight and most of my energy. On the two hour train ride to school everyday, I would very often faint, and find myself in the emergency room in the station. I couldn’t concentrate. I was always cold. I was wearing sweaters in July, and in the hot August, the heat deprived the very little energy I had left.
The somewhat stereotypical image of Chinese women in Japan is long legged, tall, slender women, none of which I fit with my height. Neither do I actually identify with the petit image of Japanese women; I am short but always saw myself to be overweight. Adding to this is my Chinese relatives’ remarks about my body. They would openly call me fat and overweight, and still force me to eat when I was not eating “enough”.
It was a gradual process, but when I realized, I was scared of the food that I had loved so much. But thinking back, I may have needed a better fashion sense, or a better hair dresser, but not a diet. Thinness is very valued in Japan, which was very stressful to me.
To be honest, I still suffer from my identity crisis, and while I now have enough food to keep me active, the anorexic mindset still haunts me at times, and I would resort to binging to deal with whatever stress. But I try at least to change the way I deal with those negative thoughts. I used to spend my nights crying because of questions about my nationality. Now, when someone asks about my nationality, I try to answer that I am a very proud citizen of Earth. And when old eating habits haunt me, I try to remember how beautiful and powerful Lynn and Lisa are, and maybe I can reclaim my life as well.
Together with their dumpling skin (I am also a reader of The Actor’s Diet), I hope that I would be able to enjoy food the way Lynn seems to.
This Fall, I will be studying in California, and as a big fan of The Actor’s Diet, I hope to explore many of the places Lynn shared.
I am extremely grateful for having found Thick Dumpling Skin, The Actor’s Diet, and the inspiring Lynn and Lisa. Theses really kept me alive.
H. | Tokyo | Japan