The Cult of Skinny Asian Girls
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.