Sometimes I lift my shirt up in front of the mirror and sigh because I have a stomach. I could make this go away pretty easily, I think to myself, after I suck my fat in and my torso turns flat. A plan comes to mind: cut out dinner, eat only yogurt for breakfast and salad for lunch, and treat myself to potato chips and a soda on the occasional weekend. The regime feels familiar, because I implemented it often back in my early teen years.
At that time in my life, my mom yelled at me for hours almost every day, a doctor once told me I could stand to lose a few pounds, and a Korean girl I had talked to for weeks over AIM called me ugly when I finally sent her a photo of myself. Looking back, I imagine my preteen self felt sad and hurt by these experiences, though when I started starving, I don’t think I felt much of anything at all – a gift, back then. This emotional numbing came with a tangible goal for me to work toward – shed this many pounds, then that many pounds, then make sure you stay at so few pounds – which complimented my driven personality.
Though I no longer engage in food restriction and practice intuitive eating instead, I still find it saddening and angering how much society reinforces fatphobia too. Fatphobia plays out in the media, in hiring practices, in healthcare, and more. I see fatphobia in my interpersonal interactions too. I love playing tennis and do so three to four times a week, though in the past few months, a couple of times the post-match conversations have veered into weight-related territories: about wanting that person’s fit (i.e., thin) body, or feeling gross from gaining weight during COVID-19, or compliments about my athletic build, which I try my best not to take any pleasure from or at least to say out loud that we should love ourselves beyond our weight or how we look. Fatphobia runs rampant in the gay community too. I still roll my eyes when I think about this one guy I went out with, who said that he goes on dates with about half men of color and half white guys, and of the white guys, he likes them “thin, brown-haired, and tallish.” When I asked him whether he thought that his preference for thin guys may stem from fatphobia, he got defensive and said that he does not consider “correcting all my biases my life mission.”
On an emotional level, I think focusing on food makes sense. Whittling away at my stomach could provide an easy source of comfort or safety, a way to tune out my more nuanced and hefty feelings and concerns. Feeling sad about existing in an academic system that prioritizes competition and achievement over caring and nurturance? Out of control because of an attraction to men while living in a patriarchal society that socializes them into mediocrity? Hurt by that one friend who fades in and out of your life with no active communication? Who cares! Aim your attention at losing weight instead. With enough effort, your stomach will cease to exist.
Nowadays, this level of distraction stands out as one of the most unappealing parts of anorexia and of food restriction. One of my worst qualities includes a stubborn sense of perfectionism. Though this trait has softened over the years, I know that if I wanted to lose weight, I could. But then I think about all the more important topics I want to think about and to address in my life: how the heck do I find way to stop U.S. imperialism, which no one even taught me about all throughout elementary, middle, and high school? How do I step on the patriarchy’s face so that the next generation of queer Asian men can find romantic partners worthy of their love without experiencing the immense angst I have encountered? What strategies will I utilize to continue loving my friends and myself in healthy ways, and what approaches will I use to treat my students well in an academic system that lets people in power behave like poop?
How will I find a way to incorporate getting railed by an attractive man of color into my next blog post?
On my way to tennis a few days ago, I saw a car accident happen right in front of me. One car tried to turn left, another car drove straight ahead, and the second car took off the first car’s entire bumper in the process. No one got hurt, thank goodness, though witnessing this happen less than 20 feet away from me made me think: if I were to die in a car accident right now, would I have wanted my last thought to involve the shape of my stomach? Or would I have wanted it to center on my beloved friends, my desire to change social injustices, or even a pop song I enjoy listening to a lot?
Without starving, the negative emotions feel stronger, though the positive ones do too. Over the past week I have grown a bit obsessed with Twice’s song “Signal,” which I honestly loathed ever since it came out, at least until earlier this week. Now that I eat, I find myself immersed in the song in an almost magical way. When I go on jogs and listen to it, I analyze the song’s structure, its instrumental, and Twice’s vocal performance to further understand what I like about it. I execute the choreography every chance I get: on the treadmill at the gym, in the grocery store on my way to pick up fruit juice, and at my desk in the middle of writing research manuscripts. On a walk the other day, I thought about how the song does an excellent job of capturing that initial crushy feeling I have when I interact with a cute social justice-oriented man of color, as well as the emotions I experience when I engage in playful banter, deep conversation, and roasting of men with my closest friends. When I eat, the music feels more alive, and so do I.
How do you feel about your weight/how do you try to love yourself and eat in a nurturing way, in spite of society’s fatphobic messaging? Are there mental health issues you experienced when you were younger that come back now and again, and if so how do you manage them/how have those issues shifted? General reactions to this post? Until next post!