I recovered from my eating disorder a long time ago, though I still have moments of feeling dissatisfied with my body. These rare moments come and go. They feel like this: a twinge of self-annoyance when I change into a floral top and notice that it looks like I have a bit of a stomach, a hint of embarrassment when I see a picture of myself smiling and notice my under bite, a drop of self-consciousness when I walk out of the bath tub after a shower and see the scars and moles on my body. Almost always I move on with little concern, yet little concern still means some concern at the end of the day.
This past year and a half I have gotten back into tennis. I played throughout high school, though the abundance of masculine energy in the boys’ team combined with my adolescent angst made it a lukewarm experience. I pretty much dropped it all throughout undergrad, then my second year of grad school after a good friend moved away, I thought: hm, maybe now’s the time to pick up a hobby where I can meet people
and release my rage at the cisheteronormative white supremacist patriarchy.
Last night I played in the first round of a USTA sanctioned 3.5 men’s singles tournament. Before the match, I ate sweet and sour chicken from my local Chinese takeout place and pumped myself up with lots of Itzy, BlackPink, and Ariana Grande’s hit “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” – I relied a lot on the latter because I wanted to embody that confident, scandalous, and seductive energy on the court
because there are currently no men in my life worth seducing, lol. The match itself felt amazing, in that I experienced so many powerful sensations in my body: the firmness of my legs and my calves whenever I split step in preparation to return the ball; the sometimes shaky, sometimes firm coolness of my breath as it entered my nostrils and exited out my mouth after a long point; the tightening and release of my stomach when I let out a piercing shriek after winning a pivotal point or after volleying a ball right into the net. I won the match 6-4 6-4, but regardless of win or lose, I focused so much on the strength of my body, its power and perseverance, instead of how it looked.
As a gay Asian American man, there’s a lot of societal pressure to dislike my body. Asian American men are often perceived as unattractive for not meeting white standards of beauty, and gay Asian American men are further marginalized in a queer community that often values hypermasculinity and whiteness over femininity or anyone who, well, isn’t white. Thanks to all the feminist writers who’ve inspired me and my own self-reflection, however, I’ve pretty much always never cared about other men finding me physically attractive. I know my self-worth stems from the compassion and social justice I promote and not if another man wants to sleep with me. If gay white men find me ugly, I couldn’t care less. If other gay men of color – or anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, or even heterosexual people, or non-binary people, anyone really – finds me ugly, I also couldn’t care less. It’s not that I think that I’m some super beautiful, super attractive person, rather, I acknowledge and appreciate so much of what my body does for me beyond how it appears to others. Here are five examples.
1: I use my ears to listen to my students and clients so I can provide compassionate and social justice-oriented support.
2: I use my fingers to navigate technology so I can talk with my two closest friends, both of whom live in other states right now.
3: I use my arms to dance like a fool in my car, thereby embodying queer Asian joy, while listening to pop and K-pop (ya’ll should have seen some of the moves I busted to “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” after winning this tennis match.)
4: I use my legs and feet to drive, get on the metro, or walk around DC and/or Maryland to meet up with friends and acquaintances who I care about and who care about me.
5: I use my mouth to taste the benevolent goodness of Jeni’s Ice Cream and also my signature breakfast, citrus-flavored yogurt with citrus-flavored fruit snacks mixed in, because I’m fruity af and want that to manifest in the food I consume.
Toni Morrison once wrote “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else.'” Now and over the past few years, a big theme of my therapy practice and research includes liberation from toxic body image standards ingrained in fatphobia, racism, misogyny, etc. There are whole industries that exist with the mission to make people, especially marginalized people, feel bad about their bodies so they can make a profit through selling diets, skin-lighteners, and other products. As a cisgender, able-bodied, average-to-thinner looking man, I recognize my privileges in this discourse and how I have to work to disrupt the systems that imbue me with these privileges. And I’m here to tell you – to tell myself, too – to break up with your negative body image, because it’s boring, in the sense that there’s so much self-love and other emotions to experience beyond self-loathing, even though it may feel hard and take time. The taste of a life and mind beyond disliking one’s body more times than not – to me, it tastes like freedom.
How do you navigate your own body image? Reactions or feelings about the content of this post? Hope everyone is well and I will respond to comments on my latest post ASAP. I also want to acknowledge that Ari’s come under fire for potentially queer-baiting in the music video for “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” which I do not condone, though I love the song itself. See ya’ll next post!