As a former anorexic, on rare occasion I struggle to figure out what I look like. While 9.87 times out of 10 I could not care less about my appearance, I sometimes feel the urge to figure out and then control my physique especially when life gets stressful. On a trip to Boston a few weeks ago, my non-severe body dysmorphia manifested in interactions like these on one of the gayest apps to ever exist, Grindr:
I felt a brief reprieve from my appearance-oriented confusion thanks to this guy’s continued compliments. While I do not consider myself conventionally attractive nor do I care to be, I appreciated this stranger’s comments so I could orient myself to my own face. After a couple of hours of messaging with guys and then texting with my friends, I had the thought that, wait, why am I even caring about my looks in the first place?
As a kid, I had an underbite. I still do. When my mother took me to the dentist in elementary school, they told me that to even have a chance of correcting my teeth, I would have to get braces, go to regular checkups, and opt into a surgery in which they would break my jaw and reconfigure it so I would have a more even smile. I chose not to go through with any of these steps because I wanted to avoid additional interactions with my abusive mother. She drove my brother and I to our appointments because my father worked all the time. If you saw my underbite now, you may think that I lack or lacked economic resources, or that I do not care about my health, neither of which really capture the truth about me or my teeth.
At the same time, my underbite relays no information about my favorite parts of myself: that I worked hard to get out of my childhood home and then to heal from anorexia and PTSD, that I care deeply about my close friends and do my best to help others in my day jobs, that I like questioning society’s status quo. In reality, not caring about how I look has helped me a lot in my life. By not investing time in my appearance, I can allocate my energy toward more meaningful activities, like improving as a therapist and researcher and friend, or analyzing and appreciating my current favorite pop song (at this moment, I’m obsessed with STAYC’s “Stereotype,” for anyone wondering.)
These questions about appearance feel even more complicated as a gay Asian man. I recognize the importance of wanting to fight racism and internalized racism so that people from our communities can recognize the physical beauty of Asian people, of fat people, of those with darker skin, and more. Concurrently, I wonder about the long-term merits of trying to prove the physical attractiveness of marginalized people, when we could spend our time fighting even more pressing political battles to destroy and then heal from white supremacy, fatphobia, and colorism. In the pursuit of deconstructing problematic beauty standards, I hope that our search for personal and social freedoms transcend our looks too.
When I visited Boston most recently, I went on a three-hour date with this pretty attractive Asian man. I have several feelings and thoughts about this guy and how we inevitably will not work out that I am still in the midst of processing. This dedication to processing is one of the qualities I like most about myself. Just like many of the things that matter most in life, it’s invisible to the human eye.
I know it has been a few weeks since my most recent blog post! In addition to processing this Boston boi, I have been writing many cover letters because I’m about to apply to my final year residency of my PhD program, a multi-month process. Anyway, how do you feel about your appearance, or more specifically the importance or lack thereof you place on your appearance? General reactions to this post? Also, on the note of physical appearance and being Asian, yes, I saw Shang-Chi and loved it, and yes, I would want Simu Liu and Tony Leung to
rail me though I think maybe I’d also want to rail them um vers vibes what enjoy satisfying and healthful lives, though Asian men shouldn’t have to be muscular or thin to be viewed as attractive or lovable in general! Anyway, until next post.