by Genevieve Yam
This past week, numerous countries around the world, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, took part in the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW). According to the website, NEDAW aims to “promote public and media attention to the seriousness of eating disorders and improve education about the biological underpinnings, environmental triggers, warning signs and how to help those struggling.”
This year, the organizers chose to focus on the theme “I Had No Idea” in an attempt to combat misconceptions about eating disorders. Although there are numerous misunderstandings about eating disorders, I find it particularly disconcerting that much of the discourse on eating disorders seems to focus almost exclusively on white women.
From the numerous conversations I have had with my friends and classmates over the years, I have come to the painful realization that many people simply and genuinely believe that Asian women are genetically blessed to be thin. As a female of Asian descent myself, I find it difficult to discuss my personal experiences with self-esteem and body image issues without hearing someone respond with an inconsiderate attempt to be funny: “But you’re Asian. Asians don’t get fat. You have naturally fast metabolism! You’re so small – what do you have to worry about?”
It is unfair that so many Asian women are faced with the unrealistic expectation to be naturally slim. There was a period of time when I did meet this expectation: growing up, I was always a skinny girl. No matter how much I ate, my grandmother would force feed me and ask me whether my parents were feeding me enough.
I was skinny until I entered high school, started birth control, and my body changed. At 5’2 and 115 pounds, my family and then-boyfriend began to “joke” that I was “chubby”, “fat”, and “porky”. I was no longer told to eat more, but was instead reminded to watch what I eat and to make sure I got enough exercise. I am always either too thin or too fat – there is no middle ground, no comfortable medium.
“For many Asian girls,” Noel Duan notes, “being thin is imperative; being a fat Asian—or even an Asian of “normal” weight—basically implies you’re a glutton who managed to out eat your own superfast metabolism. To be an attractive Asian girl, being thin is supposed to be a given.” Read more