On Our Radar: Growing Up Asian and Unskinny

Juliana Chang shared her story over at Everyday Feminism (originally published at xoJane): 

I’m lucky in that my westernized parents never forced any sort of “girls should be docile and fragile” ideal on me, but that didn’t protect me from family and friends who still thought I ought to look the part. Aunts who clucked their tongues at my round thighs. Family friends who would take my mother aside and mutter in low concerned tones about how wide I was getting.

And I’m sure almost all of you can relate, it is a terrible, terrible thing to have people openly dissect the changes in your body that you feel powerless to stop.

I lived with two standards of beauty, neither of which told me any part of my body was worth loving.

I continued to struggle with my weight all throughout middle school and high school, oscillating between hating how I looked and hating how I felt about how I looked.

I knew I had body image issues, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to obtain my distorted ideals of beauty anyway. By age sixteen, I had tried fasting, juice diets, cutting out rice, calorie-counting, lettuce diets, kickboxing, and more.

Some methods, like exercise classes and eliminating soda, certainly made me healthier, but I never got my weight down to the number I wanted. Other methods, like starving myself, only added to the colossally fucked-up web of low self-esteem, perfectionism, model minority mayhem, impostor syndrome, and distorted body image that was my mind.

There was a point in this past year where I was eating about 800 calories a day. I would come home, do my homework, guzzle a giant can of green tea with a yogurt, and then go running.

I lost weight, but I was also absolutely miserable. Then I would snap, binge-eat everything I could get my hands on in the fridge, and then restart the cycle. I ate when I wasn’t hungry, then restricted myself when I was.

Food stopped being nourishment to me. It wasn’t even a reward or punishment, but a lens through which I viewed every aspect of my life.

I hit rock bottom sometime in March. I had skipped lunch that day in favor of studying for my biology and English tests. By the time I got home after speech practice, I was absolutely ravenous. One moment of indulgence led to another, and by the end of it I had eaten four bowls of pesto pasta, two red bean cakes, and an entire pint of mango ice cream.

I ended up rubbing the back of my throat bloody that night, trying to make myself throw up with the back of a tooth brush. When nothing would come up, I curled up on the bathroom floor and cried for two hours.

I told no one. Not my mom, not my boyfriend, not my closest friends. I don’t know what I felt more ashamed of at the time – the incredibly dangerous methods I was trying to lose weight with, or the fact that they weren’t working. Maybe it was both.

Slenderness is part of the beauty standard for most cultures. But part of the reason the pressure to be thin in East Asian culture is so suffocating is because it’s assumed to be a natural given.

Read the piece in its entirety here

You’re not alone, Juliana. I am a third-culture kid too (now woman) feeling all of the things that you’re feeling, frequently. The journey certainly is a process — the road is bumpy and the light at the end of the road feels dim sometimes. But, you are not traveling this road alone. Thank you for sharing your battle.

- Lisa