I’m not fat — by American standards. I am considered slightly chubby for an Asian in China. I’m 5’1” and about 100 pounds, give or take five pounds depending on whether it’s New York Fashion Week or final exams week at Columbia. Everyone assumes I’m naturally petite because of my Asian genetics, but the truth is, I count my calories like Ebenezer Scrooge counts his gold coins and run and do yoga like Lululemon is paying me. The moment I “let myself go,” the weight bounces back.
I try not to talk about it, though, because the moment I do, someone always says, “Shut up, you’re Asian. You have genetics on your side.”
I wanted to reblog this because it came up in the comments of my last ED post, somebody saying that they felt a lot of pressure to be thin because they were Asian. It’s something I completely understand, though I never had to deal with that specifically since even before my ED I was what people would consider to be thin.
But the “oh you’re lucky, you’re Asian, you’re naturally thin!” thing I’ve heard a lot. Along with “oh, you’re lucky, you’re Asian, it’ll be so easy for you to transition and be beautiful!” or the more transphobic version: “Asian men make the best women” (as an ex boyfriend told me right before I dumped him.) Or etc etc… because our media has this idea that all Asian women are thin, and feminine, and Asian trans women are cis-passing, beautiful and thin.
Even in the comments of this blog, somebody wrote that manga art was an accurate version of how Asian women look like because we all have baby faces. A Japanese pop star was offered as proof. And that’s generally, what people remember, because Asian people aren’t individuals in white western society, and we’re represented by only a select few aesthetics. So if people only see East Asian pop stars with child like faces and thin bodies, well that’s what East Asian people should look like!
Much like women, in general, in our pop media are represented by only a few body types. And it’s an extra pressure that women of colour, and specifically, in this case, East Asian women face. And all the assumptions and non-support we get because “oh you’re Asian, you don’t need to worry about that!” or how “lucky” we are to be Asian women (cis and trans) because of the exotification and stereotypes surrounding us.
While I don’t struggle with the pressure to fit this idea that all Asian women should be skinny, I do struggle with my fear of aging and my face looking old. I realized the other day my internalized racism, where I could see many kinds of beauty, young and old in white women’s faces, but in Asian faces, I could only see “old and wrinkly” or “young, puffy and child like”, and even though I know that’s not true, it’s just so embedded in how the society I live in views East Asian women.
And it’s obviously not just me, since as I said, I’ve had people say that, and people even comment on this blog arguing that this is the norm for East Asian women. And when you stereotype a “race” as being “naturally” like XYZ, no matter how positive XYZ is supposed to be, you’re also telling (consciously or not) every individual of that group that they need to measure up to that standard, since after all it’s how we should be “naturally.”
It also ends up creating an environment where any of the issues we face relating to the “positive” stereotype, gets erased and dismissed. For example, the woman in the above piece had her body image issues ignored because of the idea that Asian women have hyper metabolisms and we’re always super thin. And when I was early in my transition, I faced a lot of dismissal of my fears, body issues and dysphoria by white trans and cis women because of the idea that all Asian trans women are just super beautiful and cis passing.
Nobody’s “lucky” to be trapped in a box where we can’t be individuals.