Are You There Stomach? It’s Me, Thomas

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.”

Here is a picture of me with my tennis racquet which I recently reequipped with this fantastic pink grip! Yay pink, yay femininity, yay gayness. I retook this selfie about ten times because I realized it would look even better if I captured the Jeni’s ice cream box that one of my bffs sent to me for my 25th birthday in 2020.

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.

Okay I am so happy to share this pic because it features the amazing pork belly I got from Great Wall Szechuan House, one of my favorite Asian restaurants in DC where I used to go quite a bit before the pandemic hit. I went for the first time since the pandemic this past Thursday with a friend I met through a leftist organizing group, and over delicious food we talked about leftists who do not practice their politics in interpersonal relationships as well as outgrowing friendships with heteronormative white people. A wonderful time.

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!

8 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

8 responses to “Are You There Stomach? It’s Me, Thomas

  1. I’m trying to eat more healthy and staying more active. I gained about 10 lbs during this pandemic. I managed to lose that (as of yesterday) but doing a lot more walking. But food has always been a source of comfort to me. I know when I’m not feeling right, I tend to eat more.

    Gosh – that food looks yummy. I won’t mind digging into that plate of noodles now.

    And yes, I did notice that Jeni’s box. I wondered what it was and remembered it was ice cream. But I’ve never seen ice cream in such a big box before.

    Until next time – have a great week!

    • Thank you for sharing about how you’ve used food in your life, Matt! Appreciate you validating the yummy-looking quality of the food as well as your curiosity about the Jeni’s box. Hope you’re well. (:

  2. I’m glad you talk about the food control issues and bring them out into the light of day to examine and reject them. As you probebly remember, I have a good friend who is enmeshed in a severe enduring eating disorder and no one wants that for anyone they care about.
    I go back to retreating into myself when threatened, blocking people out. I’m not a perfectionist though I could have been – I do work hard but I think I couldn’t let myself get distracted as a kid/teen by showing any mental ill health traits when that is what I was told I had anyway: I knew I had to escape and if that meant being good enough, not the best, then fine. Also I could NEVER be good enough for my family, so fine. I mean, literally never. I am still sometimes cross I’m not the best (OK, I am the go-to transcriber for rock journalists and ghost-writers and that does help!) but not in general. I have never bothered with diets etc but I don’t like being weak so I am trying to build my strength back up.

    And AND best bit: one of my friends has admitted she liked playing tennis at school. AHA. She is now getting to borrow my husband’s racquet and we’re sorting out a court somewhere. This makes me very happy!

    • Omg I hope that you and your friend have fun playing tennis, I would love to hear how that went/how that goes! Also yes so appreciate you validating my decision to share about my past disordered eating/current remnants of that on this blog. (: I like what you write about here about doing what you need to to get out and also, perfectionism is a construct of white supremacy anyway which is why I am consistently working on unlearning/combatting my own tendency toward perfectionism (https://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/museums/files/White_Supremacy_Culture.pdf). Hope you’re well and thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. Kartavya Ratate

    A very thoughtful post. I totally understand how abandoning the sense of security (that you write about here) in an effort to work through the underlying emotions and themes that otherwise dictate your decisions can feel so intimidating, especially when you are already at a more vulnerable space. But you recognise how that choice is also meaningful, and necessary, at the same time in how it brings you closer to things you find meaningful, stripping away all those insecurities from the past, atleast on some level. And I like that about you. At present, I myself am in a much insecure space and am trying to process all that I’d failed to. But very much self-compassionate too at the same time:) Also, a small request: please lend me your tennis racket; I will show off and roast all the men who have yelled at me on playground for “being awkward among them”. Ahahaha. Hope you have a great week ahead. Take care:)

    • Aw yes thank you for validating my desire to abandon a sense of security to work through the underlying emotions, so well-put! I am glad to hear you are practicing self-compassion and hope you continue to do so. Haha if I weren’t so turned off by the logistics I’d totally ship you a tennis racquet so you can do just that re: roasting men, I hope you find healthful ways of coping with their nonsense such as setting boundaries! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  4. buriedinprint

    “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?”

    Your list of questions made me smile even though (or, because!) I do that myself, try to force a shift of perspective. Just…what am I not thinking about while I am obsessing about ‘x’. I know that I’m playing this game with myself, but I still fall for it, nearly every time. And, it’s true, we were shielded from so many significant issues as students (or, denied the truth about things to protect someone else’s greed) that we can certainly fill up hours and hours obsessing about re-righting the balance and making tiny steps towards that goal, let alone all your other important questions. 😉 I love that you take every opportunity to practice your choreo and I watched the vid so I am triple-y impressed. Clearly I am NOT trying hard enough when I’m sitting at my desk. LOL (Kidding!)

    • Yes yay for us gently shifting our perspective into things that are aligned with our values! I think re-righting the balance in the direction of social justice is so important. Thank you for validating my choreo too, haha, I don’t think I necessarily do the choreo *well* when I’m at my desk so I’m with you there. Appreciate you taking the time to read and comment and hope you are well. (:

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