Don’t Call Me Fat: Asian American Body-shaming

Welcome to our second round of blog posts on AAPI issues. For previous posts on racial identity, click here.

Last week, at work (yes, at this internship), a fellow Asian-American coworker joked that I was “obese.” Another coworker chimed in that I might be considered a “pig.” You’re probably thinking that I should’ve run to Human Resources as fast as my chubby little legs could’ve carried me. Unfortunately, I was not all that fazed. You see, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before—from my Asian-American family, friends, and myself.

When I was little in China, I resembled a watermelon, which earned me the name “Fei Mei” (fat little sister). But that was in another country, where people had grown up in austerity and where Botticelli’s women might have been persecuted for excess under the Communist regime.  Certainly, the girls in China are much smaller than they are in the US: I am 122 pounds, in the perfect BMI range for my age, and I still have to wear XL or XXL in Chinese sizes. On a trip back to China, a photographer remarked to me that I must like “fatty pork” because I was so much bigger than most girls he photographed.


The culprit.

These cultural differences are expected and understood; my expatriate family might seem like the epitome of excess to our friends back home. What’s disturbing is that these remarks and attitudes don’t just stay in Asia—they seem to have migrated along with our immigrant parents and are still pervasive in our American communities. I can’t count the number of times that my parents or their Asian-American friends have remarked that I have gotten a little plump, or that my baby fat was going away thank goodness. These kinds of statements are made in earnest, and supposedly for our own good: how was I supposed to attract a husband, without being stick-thin and white as a lotus flower?

In my Asian-American community, being fat was a sign of shame. Whenever my friend Raina’s* mom picked us up for tennis practice, she would compare how skinny each of were and lament the fact that Raina was the heaviest, leading to some of the most awkward car rides ever. At some point, I realized that these fat-shaming attitudes were rubbing off on me: suddenly, I looked down on Raina for having extra arm fat, and I would weigh myself constantly to make sure that I wasn’t gaining any weight.

While it’s true that all Americans are obsessed with dieting and losing weight, I can’t explain to my American friends that it’s a whole different ball game when it comes to AAPI’s. Americans want to be slim, but the AAPI’s that I know want to be microscopic. For some AAPI fashion bloggers ( and, being able to fit into XXS sizes is a source of pride and the reason for their blog popularity. Some AAPI girls even diet before they go home for vacations, just so that their parents won’t call them fat ( . Not only are we constantly expected to uphold the ideal “small and delicate” Asian-American stereotype, but because of the shame involved in discussing our weight, we never get to have a healthy conversation about body image issues. All these factors add up to a maddening, inescapable circle of shaming and purging, all for a beauty standard that doesn’t make sense.

What’s more, I feel like body-shaming is the one topic that I cannot talk about with my non-AAPI friends, despite the fact that it’s the one that affects me daily. Any other topic about AAPI’s, including racial discrimination and hate crimes, leads to intelligent debate among my pals, but when I complain about Asian-American body-shaming, I am met with blank stares. “If you are fat, what am I?” my white friend would ask, to which I have to stammer that she is at a perfect weight. Which is true—even though she is 30 pounds heavier, she might be at her perfect weight for her culture. Whereas I am on the fat side “for an Asian”. However, there is just no way to bring up that issue in non-AAPI company without making it seem like I am humble-bragging.

The lack of discussion over this pervasive body-shaming has led me to feel estranged from both American and Asian cultures. While Americans admire curvaceous girls with golden tans, Asians are obsessed with skin-lightning creams and petite figures that look good in a tight qipao. I am both too chubby for my parent’s liking, but too skinny to fill out a bikini top. I tan easily, a fact that my American friends are jealous of, but I still carry an umbrella to block out the sun so I don’t tan too much, or else I will “look like a Mexican.” I am caught on the fence between two cultures, and what makes it worse is that staying on the fence makes me feel like I don’t belong in either.

I can totally fit into this qipao—if they don’t zip up the back.

As you can probably predict, this kind of cultural priming has probably contributed to thousands of eating disorders among Asian-American women. I was anorexic for a while, but I had to say “F that”, because I just love my fatty pork too much. That’s the reason I consider myself one of the lucky ones, because I can still have a good relationship with food. I can’t imagine the other Asian-American women who are out there counting calories and crying over a heartless comment by a loved one, women who can’t be happy with who they are because they are constantly bombarded with conflicting views of what to look like.

There is no easy solution. For most of us, the damage is done. I will never forget my Asian-American coworker’s astonished “You’re a HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO POUNDS?” for the rest of my life. And I’m scared that I might be guilty of transmitting these poisonous attitudes to the next generation, if my children ever see me compulsively dieting.

So for now, I will laugh off the comments (although I did talk to one of the coworkers about being insensitive, and he did apologize). I’ll eat my Mexican cheesy fries, and I’ll go to the gym for hours later to make up for it. It’s not an easy compromise—but since when has being AAPI ever been easy?

*Names have been changed. To read more from Brittney, you can visit her blog at Another Beautiful Thing.


The Bamboo Ceiling: What it is & How We Can Break it


As a child, I was raised with the belief that if I respected my teachers/elders, worked hard every day,  and behaved well in school, then I would go on to a good college and ultimately a well-paying job in the future. And honestly, I could say the same about the upbringings of my Asian friends. This is not a coincidence, as I’m sure most of you AAPI readers here would agree as well. Respect and adherence to authority are very important tenants of Asian culture, and I was raised on these principals because that’s the way my parents were taught when they grew up in China. These are very important lessons to learn at a young age, and I can say that because of my upbringing, I was able to stay out of trouble in school, stay focused in academics, and ultimately succeed by going to a good college.

For a lot of Asian Americans, however, this style of upbringing omits key lessons that are necessary in the real world. Although AAPIs are typically seen as hard workers who succeed academically and go on to great colleges and prestigious jobs, they are also viewed as introverted and lacking leadership potential and communication skills.  This is especially bad in the workplace, as charisma and gregariousness are important traits when companies look to promote workers to managerial positions.

(Image Source: Asia Society)

What’s becoming increasingly apparent is the fact that Asian Americans are being left out of managerial positions even though their academic qualifications meet and exceed company expectations.  Although Asian Americans graduate from college at double the national average, we only see a 0.3% representation of AAPIs in corporate management. And industry-specific statistics show that, for example in the technology industry, Asian Americans make up 1/3 of all software engineers but only 5% of all board members. Statistics from other industries all show the same result that Asian Americans make up a good portion of the workforce but do not make nearly quite a mark in management. Hence the term “bamboo ceiling” which represents the barrier from high positions that AAPIs face.

But what causes this problem? Well, it goes back to the childhood story I mentioned earlier. Many Asian Americans currently in the workforce say that they were taught from an early age to be self-effacing, reticent, and deferential towards authority. In the American workplace, these traits can cause others to perceive Asian Americans as aloof, introverted, weak, and passive. As a result, AAPIs are less likely to have many of the qualities that appeal to employers, such as charisma, leadership, creativity, courage, and risk-taking. Compared to co-workers, they are seen as less likely to network and interact with others, and speak-up when faced with concerns. And therefore, this can cause some to be passed-over for promotions in spite of great job performance.

What can be done to solve this issue? Sure, there are a lot of misconceptions about Asian Americans in general that can result in unfair stereotypes. But if you were a hiring manager who needed the best-possible candidate to make your company profitable (so that you can keep your own job), you would not base your decision purely on unproven stereotypes. Instead, you would look at how a candidate truly interacts in the workplace passing judgment on whether those stereotypes are even applicable in the first place. What I’m trying to say is that stereotypes alone are not enough to make or break your future. It wouldn’t be sufficient to blame the entire bamboo ceiling phenomenon on stereotypes that exist through no fault of our own. We have to change ourselves because the problem isn’t that employers merely get the impression from of stereotypes that we lack creativity and leadership skills. It’s because a lot of us actually do. And we have to make an effort so that our own performance can break any negative preconceived notions that others have of us.

How can we disprove these stereotypes? One big source is in upbringing. Sure, because of our parents we are good in school and never get in trouble. But being too authoritative on children can also discourage creativity, risk-taking, and speaking-out. These are traits that we, as the next generation of AAPI parents, have to be cautious not to stifle. Overall, I feel that a few small changes, especially for kids early on, can go a big way in breaking the bamboo ceiling. But for whatever other solution people come up with, it is important to remember that this is an issue that Asian Americans must take responsibility for and not only something that we can solely blame on the misconceptions of others.


Asian Clusters: Break that Pinata

(Image Source: Business Week)

Hi everyone! This is Julie again, continuing the posts for AAPI Issues Week.

I think it’s great that there are a rising number of organizations, groups, and activists out there who are continuously working hard to educate people about AAPI issues. It’s truly commendable. But today I want to talk about something a little different. I want to talk about something that I always try to focus on when working with AAPI organizations. Although this is specifically for AAPIs out there, this post can really apply to any minority out there!

Education is key.

The goal of many AAPI organizations is to teach those who aren’t fully aware of what AAPI’s go through. As Brittney mentioned in her post, there are many stereotypes that make it seem as though AAPI’s don’t really need help. Sure, there are seminars, information booths, and speeches that aim to educate. But this is not good enough. Every single person in the AAPI community needs to accept that they are part of a community that requires attention and help and we all need to start stepping up.

Whether it’s due to culture or a need for familiarity, AAPI’s tend to cluster into groups and form large communities. They take over towns and parts of cities in just years. I grew up in a town that was just one of the many towns taken over by the AAPIs. People were speaking in Korean. Signs were in Korean. You go to a corner on a street, look in any direction (360 degrees), and there will be an Asian American in your view.

File:Asian-census density map.png

Just looking at this 2010 Census Map, you can already see what I mean by the clustering. That means that it’s highly probable that most of the US haven’t even seen an Asian American! How can anyone understand someone/something that they have never seen and their only exposure is through the internet and TV?

While it’s great to form a community that understands each other’s language and culture, others will never be able to learn about AAPI issues if everything stays within the community. Do you think that organizations that advocate for AAPI’s is sufficient to do the job and let our voices be heard? Just think about your classes in school. All those lectures and tests! You learn some important information but you sleep through most lectures. You learn the most basic material to get the gist of the lecture. Compare that with a hands-on experiment/experience! You get to use your 5 senses and not just your mind to experience what you need to learn.

(Image Source: The Cutting Truth)

What am I trying to say here?

A person will learn better from you personally! Everyone needs to get out of their comfort zone/community. It’s as simple as befriending someone who isn’t an Asian American. Letting them know about our own culture and point our differences. Help them understand that while our cultures may be different, we are all people who eat, work, and play. Break down stereotypes one by one and help them understand that AAPIs, and all other minorities, have issues that we are fighting to overcome. We can work to help a community and break down barriers between AAPIs and other groups by doing community service (something that is not AAPI related) and teach others little by little. When I say teach, I don’t mean lecture. Being yourself, becoming a friend (or even acquaintances) will teach slowly but surely. But also be aware that you are representing the AAPI community.

And in case you’re wondering about the name of this post, a piñata is actually a great analogy for AAPI’s who need to spread the word. There are so many candies and goodies in a piñata but no one will be able to see what’s inside the piñata, or even enjoy its yumminess, until someone breaks it open and let all the candy fall for everyone to enjoy. We need to break these clusters and start spreading out, break down barriers, and let others learn about our culture that stayed inside the piñata. Okay, I might be abusing this metaphor, but I think you all get the point. We can’t complain about stereotypes and lack of education on cultural awareness if we don’t even venture out of the AAPI community. Get to know people. Learn about other cultures first hand while teaching others about our own. Be an advocate in your own way.


“Your Asian Wasn’t Quiet”: The Need for Asian American Activism

Our second week of blogging has begun! This week, we are addressing an issue near and dear to our hearts: the need for Asian American activism. If you already know what activism is (hint: mobilizing people for a cause through media, protests, or education programs), then you might be really confused. “Why do Asian Americans (AAPI) need activists?” you might be muttering to your computer screen. Besides the fact that you are talking to yourself, a classic symptom of some neurological disorders, you have a point. Aren’t all AAPI’s doctors, or lawyers, or really smart?

What you’ve brought up is the model minority myth, the idea that AAPI are submissive, good citizens who don’t make trouble, get steady middle-class jobs, and pay their taxes on time. However, this myth can be harmful to AAPI’s, causing us to be passed over for promotions (we are too meek and submissive for leadership positions! And we don’t fight back!).

But Asian American activism isn’t just to fight back against this perception of AAPI’s as weak. It also intends to bring light to injustices committed against our community. For instance, many of you are probably following the case of Trayvon Martin, a black teen who was shot by a neighborhood watch member. But how many of you know of Danny Chen?

In 2011, Danny was killed/committed suicide (we don’t know which to this day) because of the torture and race-motivated bullying that he underwent during training. His fellow soldiers and higher-ups called him “gook” and “chink” while forcing him to crawl across gravel. Danny’s fellow soldiers were allowed to throw rocks at him and kick him with their knees. Where was Danny’s sergeant during this abuse? Oh, that’s right: he was dragging Danny across 15 meters of gravel, leaving cuts on his back. This kind of racial hatred and treatment should have made headlines across the nation. Unfortunately, it was up to AAPI activist groups to raise awareness of the racial problems between Asian Americans and the rest of America.

Activism doesn’t just happen in large groups or organizations, however. It can start with each of us. For instance, how many of you have seen the movies “Red Dawn” and “Olympus has Fallen”? In both movies, North Koreans take over the US, kill the president or wreck havoc. You’d expect people to realize that it’s a fantasy, right?

red dawn2 red dawn

Nope. There have been plenty of racist tweets in the aftermath, some of which are puzzlingly directed at Chinese and other Asians (who were not in the movie at all. Guess we all look alike—oh wait, that’s another stereotype that needs remedying). What’s worrying about these tweets is that they aren’t just innocuous ramblings—some of them show an intent of violence toward AAPI’s, all under the guise of patriotism. We could have another Danny Chen incident on our hands, unless we step up and educate those around us about what AAPI’s really are, the differences between our groups, and our history in the US.

As you see, AAPI activism is needed now, more than ever, here and everywhere. We hope you will join us this week for new blog posts every day on important issues affecting our community.