Asian Girl Problem #113: Two Loose Screws Short of a Disorder

Some of my oldest, closest friends told me that they know very little about my food anxieties and the extent of control they have on my everyday life. I don’t think it’s hard to talk about, the occasion just rarely comes up. We’re already bombarded with ED conversations because it’s the perfect modern-day malaise to glamorize, blame society for, and half-joke about. While I enjoy some of them, like this one, the more I think about it, the worse it gets. Better to focus on repeating healthier actions until they become habits. My anxieties can’t be diagnosed, and I’m not endangering my physical health (anymore) so I just pretend it doesn’t exist. Age has also mellowed me, smoothing out many anxieties and giving me permission to be softer, both to myself and to the touch.

If you asked, I’d be quick to tell you the facts of my EDNOS from a detached, clinical point of view.

I count calories, loosely, every day.
I won’t buy junk food unless I plan to leave it at someone else’s house.
Sometimes I can’t stop eating even though I feel full.
ThenI’ll feel anxious afterwards unless I run seven miles.
The first time I dieted was in fourth grade, deciding that to eat only rice porridge and mushrooms. I lasted three days.
I learned to diet by eating under 1000 calories a day in high school and lost 15 pounds.
I gained 25 pounds in college and tried to learn how to throw up from a new best friend.

Then there are the stories that make me struggle for breath, that I mean to blog about at some point. Hopefully I’ll do it sooner than later.

When I was taken to China at 8 and left isolated/ignored in at my grandparents’ house for a month, except during mealtimes.
How the first thing I wanted when I returned to Ohio after that trip, even more than seeing my dad, was Pizza Hut. Which is what I got.
All the candy my mom hid in the house, from Halloweens years past, and all the times I found and ate them without her knowing.
Tales of hunger I heard as a kid from my parents’ generation. Mom ate spoonfuls of sugar when she didn’t have lunch as a child. Dad ate moldy cornbread and pickled radish for weeks on end during his two years of cultural reform in the fields. A family friend boiled her leather belts until they were soft enough to bite through.
The plates of food my dad inhales/d every night after work, only to return to the kitchen an hour later for ice cream or nuts.
When I decided I’d had enough of being mistaken for a boy and wearing baggy clothing in high school. I listened to music and sewed instead of eating, throwing myself into a new obsession with fashion and the power to express myself creatively.

Always this anxiety of being hungry, or full. EDNOS doesn’t understand moderation. It’s either don’t buy groceries for as long as possible or try every kind of junk food. Wait until you’re too weak to move or eat everything behind their backs. It doesn’t matter who’s back–it adds a thrill. Eat a crazy combination of Cheetos dipped in frosting, or claw out lumps of peanut butter with your fingers, or brush your teeth right before you bake a tray of brownies for a party so you never get to know how they turned out, or pick out every broken cookie in the box and then destroy the rest and eat those too because you don’t know how to appreciate whole ones like normal people.

Don’t feel bad. (I don’t.) Do get on my ass about writing a post for each of those memories, though.


Asian Girl Problem #108: Never the Flower Girl

I was just thinking about tagging this post with “angst” but then embarrassingly realized that would apply to everything on this blog. Have I thanked you lately for indulging my angst? Thank you.

I attended a gorgeous wedding of someone I didn’t know last weekend. The first “white” wedding I’ve been to not including that of my dad’s Jewish coworker back when I was like ten. Because I barely knew anyone there, I didn’t want to take photos–so imagine a couple hundred people at big barn house in the middle of a redwood forest, a glowing young couple from equally glowing families, the ceremony performed by an extremely articulate gay best friend, open bar, religion-lite, Pinterest-heavy.

As the minister showered praise on the couple and announced their undying love until everyone was reaching for tissues, two things occurred to me:

1. I don’t ever want to be the center of attention of a multi-thousand dollar party.

2. Is it rude not to invite one’s own family to one’s wedding?

I’ve decided that if that day came, I would officialize it at town hall with any family that cared to come, and then have a party one year later without them. It would be called just that–a “party” with so many cakes and pies it’d put Marie Antoinette to shame. And people could do speeches about me, the groom, love in general, whatever. Mine will probably be excruciatingly long and about Virginia Woolf’s idea of privacy, but they’d have to endure it.

Am I jealous of the effortless girls who seem to have been born and bred to have Hallmark weddings? Duh. But I’m also fiercely protective of my experiences and perspectives, and hey, if you get that invitation to my “party,” know that it will be awkward and weird, but definitely not typical. As the wedding ceremony progressed, I suddenly discovered a repressed memory that made me feel even more out of place and jealous and small.

When I was eight and my family friends got engaged, my first thought was that I needed to be the flower girl. By the time they asked me officially, I’d been prancing around our apartment in a pink dress and every piece of jewelry I could find for days, practicing the walk and petal-toss. At the same time, some fundamental conflict in me was stirring. The same thing that made me run out of the ballet studio crying on my first day. The same thing that fueled my obsession with being a princess but inability to look in the mirror without making a face.

I was obsessed with my prettier, smaller girl friends and lived vicariously through them whenever possible. On top of everything, the bride for this particular wedding was so beautiful. I was in awe in her presence–when she came to visit, I wanted to sit in her lap gripping her shiny necklace forever. I knew she deserved a better flower girl. Not a flower person who had a short bowl cut and pudgy face.

If only someone told me that there is no such thing as a not cute Asian baby(!) at the time.

A few days before the wedding, I told my parents I couldn’t. They called in for a backup girl, and everyone chalked it up to me being shy as usual. I cried all day. The next year, I was asked to be flower girl by another couple I didn’t know nearly as well. Turning it down, giving up on myself, was de rigueur the second time around. Maybe having a strong female role model would’ve made it easier to feel worthy and pursue the girly experiences I craved. Instead, I fumbled with makeup, buying a bra, dating, and receiving attention (especially from males). But I did continue to love and support and worship other girls who I secretly aspired to be, which in some twisted way, made me a pretty rad girl friend.

I can’t think of any positive takeaway from this memory–it just disappoints me and makes me wonder if that same girl is still at work, pulling me back from every wonderful experience that demands her to enter the spotlight. Specifically, every experience that demands the femininity that she’s always felt lacking. But despite making me feel really sappy and sorry for myself, I hope sharing it will make it less of an angsty personal experience and more of a relatable childhood memory that I’ve moved beyond.

Asian Girl Problem #87: Surviving Puberty

When she was a teenager, my mom’s personal hygiene routine was something like this:

1. wake up
2. wash face
3. brush teeth
4. brush hair
5. on Saturdays, go to the bath house to take a long shower
6. wash face at the end of the day
7. maybe wash feet

She used the same bar of soap on her body, hair and clothes.* No shaving, plucking, hairstyling, sunscreen/lotion, makeup, deodorant. I’ve accepted and come to love her refreshingly low-maint (or some may say lazy) attitude now that I’ve got my shit together, but man she could’ve saved me so many growing pains if she simply knew what it took for a modern girl to get ready.

Yeah I eventually bought razors and contained my boobs, but that awkward pubescent girl still surfaces, especially when I’m hanging with ladies who grew up getting manicures and going to brunch to celebrate “becoming a woman.”

The first time I got my period, my mom verified that the blood was coming out of the right hole (I’ll leave it at that), took me to my room and told me I could get pregnant now. For months, I wondered if she meant it could happen at any time, or only during days I bled.

The first time I bought deodorant, it was in retaliation to Sharina, my frenemy, who asked me what kind I used in front of everyone. They had agreed that they preferred the baby powder scent, but I wasn’t about to follow the masses, so I think I said “Mine has no smell.” I was sure they knew I had no idea what deodorant was. But a trip to the supermarket that night solved that. Too bad I never got to talk about it again. Nor do I use or need it anymore.

The first time I did anything about my leg hair was in seventh grade, trying to cut them off with a pair of nail scissors. I was fed up with wearing long pants for gym, and it was really obvious which girls hadn’t started shaving yet because they were still suffering in the summer heat. (Including my Muslim friend who Sharina had made fun of for smelling like soy sauce all the time. “It’s weird, you’re Chinese, and you don’t smell like soy sauce.”) After that failed, I think I stole one of my dad’s.

The first time I tried to tame my eyebrows involved the same nail scissors. It was a success, in the sense I still have my sight.

The first time I wore makeup was in tenth grade at the cosmetics department of Nordstrom, where my friend talked me through eyeliner, shadow and mascara. That was and is the extent of my foray into makeup.

And there was the time my friend and her mom took me for my first bra.

But hey at least I didn’t have helicopter parents. I got to bond with other females and friends during those awkward milestones and learn about sex from what I picked up in the locker room. And now I leave the house every day and pass for a well-kempt female. Kids are resilient.

*She’s still a germ-hating neat-freak, which is a whole other story. Or read this amazing primer.

Asian Girl Problem #85: The Fight Against Age

A couple months ago, right before I turned 26, a switch turned on. I started worrying about my perceived age, my actual age, my dating life (as affected by my age) and ultimately how I can dodge mortality. The battle has officially begun.

When this chart first made the internet rounds, I was in college, and thought it was hilarious. It was like reading a novel about married people having affairs–interesting and possibly relevant one day, but too farfetched from my life to consider as more than entertainment. I also couldn’t take it totally seriously because never have I looked like the 18-50yo woman–maybe the 60-7yo during more unfortunate phases of my life (i.e. sixth grade).

I know I have a lot ahead of me, and that my genes will probably keep my age ambiguous for another good decade. But whereas age used to be a non-factor, I now brush against it all the time. I’m suddenly sensitive to the effects of food and diet on my skin. A coworker who guesses my age to be “mid-to-late 20s” irks me. Dating 30-something guys because they’re looking for 20-somethings is a concept I can understand, but hesitant to experience.

Feminist inclinations be damned, my primordial urges are like, “All I want to do is eat, make out, reproduce and eat some more. Get it before it’s too late. Where are these dudes? I’ve actually been trying to date for six months, more than I can say at any other point in my life. What do you mean it takes time and luck? I’m entitled to popping out children and I will not be denied. My skin ain’t getting tighter.”

I know the underlying problem is that we put too much worth into looks. Not saying I’m all that–I can only imagine how much harder it is for gorgeous ladies who have been praised and assessed solely on their looks throughout their youth. It was common in my parents’ household too. They never valued inner beauty more than outer–both were important–and they always commented on physical characteristics of people, whether that was my fat body, “pretty face,” my friends’ skin colors, or a stranger’s limp. Of course, they wouldn’t talk about it publicly, but all positive and negative features (mostly these) were up for discussion in the privacy of our home.

If nothing else, it was ingrained in me that looks are one of the most important factors in a person’s chance of success. And age is a direct enemy of them, so here we are today. Always equipped with sunscreen, cutting out refined carbs, and wearing that crop top like it’s my last chance (which it should be). I’ll keep fighting the battle I’ll inevitably lose by taking care of my health. But there may be ways to reduce it from a battle to something lesser, like domestic strife. And to quell the fears by writing them away.

Asian Girl Problem #77: The One Time My Butt was Too Small

Online dating is the best and I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the horror stories I get out of them. Like yesterday, while walking to my birthday dinner, I just started cracking up in the middle of downtown Oakland, fitting in along with all the other cackling crazies.

This is obviously a continuation of my last post–about the same dude. On our final date we were talking about why he couldn’t enjoy intimacy, and in my rolodex of dates from hell, he will forever be the guy who had issues with the demure size and shape of my butt. Not because he doesn’t know how to please women (he doesn’t) or because too much porn has rotted his brain (it has) or because he has a remarkably small penis. (I didn’t want to say this because I try to be a decent human. These are just the facts considering his 5’11” stature. So honestly, I’m just worried about the dimensional logistics of his particular boner requirements.)

And I keep laughing when I think about about how, out of all the body parts I can get insecure about, my butt has never made the list. I’m not immune to the Kardashians or Brazillian booty workouts splashed over every magazine and website, but it just isn’t a huge thing to me (pun intended). And I kind of like to think that all the small-assed, apple-shaped women who came before me and bestowed me my humble but efficient butt are applauding me in their graves. Because they never thought big butts were attractive…”Too sexual…Not classy…Good luck finding pants…” they’d say. And it was one area I didn’t ever get encouraged to feel bad about, which means a lot to me. To each their own, but in this case, I’m into what I have.

Anyway, next on the agenda…first date tonight with a guy I knew from college (who doesn’t remember me). He’s half-Asian and a total cutie in real life, but all his photos online are ones that make him look white. Know that at 8pm, one drink in, I’ll be trying really hard no to bring this up.

Asian Girl Problem #74: Making It Up

I can’t complain–my eyes have been pretty good to me over the years. Since childhood, I learned that I had the desirable double eyelid, courtesy of my dad’s “Western feature” genes. Both he and I also have these weird dark ridges under our eyes, which my classmates used to ask me about. But I was cool with those too, after my dad convinced me they were awesome. (I wish a persuasive and positive male figure in every young girl’s life.)


But in the rare instance I’m applying eye makeup, I’ll notice that my upper eyelid hella droops over my lower one (thanks, Mom). And I’ll end up on Google, trying to find the right word to describe my problem and looking for makeup advice to minimize the effect. A smoky eyeshadow angled up? Concealer under the lid? I never find the answer, but ten out of ten times, I’ll get sucked into watching some YouTube video for “Asian eye makeup.” The other day, it was this:

Just another “fashion guru” sharing her two cents to help other girls learn how to have fuller lips, thinner noses, bigger eyes, Whiter features. And, though I’m not sure the contour effect can be pulled off in real life, I’d concede that her results are hot. Then I find myself rewinding, desperate to see what she looks like naturally, but she doesn’t provide a before shot. “Good for her,” most of my mind says. Makeup is a powerful tool. If you have two hours a day to change your face, instead of painful and expensive surgery, you could go through life convincing almost everyone of your made up reality. Putting the best version of you out there–I’m into it, I think.

A few years ago, my Taiwanese friend shared a game show with me, wherein the host presents adorable photos of girls, and then they come on stage, sans makeup. When they do, it’s like the Springer show. The audience gasps in delight and surprise at the below-average-looking girls. Then they sit down at a makeup table and go through their entire makeup routine. Special contacts, fake lashes and contouring are always a big part of the transformation.

To cap off this circus, the audience votes on which girl has the most dramatic transformation–essentially, which girl is the least attractive and can cover her undesirable features the best.

I don’t want to hate this, but I do. What gets me is that internet usage and online social media is so pervasive in Chinese life. It’s a generation of only children–kids aren’t that social but lonely, the economy’s tough so they get their kicks online, and lots of girls have fantasies of meeting a wealthy prince through online dating. They know the tricks and their photos all look great, but identical–puckered lips and babydoll stares up at the camera. The moment a guy sees her naturally, whether that’s the first date or hookup, is something I would both pay and cringe to witness. If online dating in America is a jungle, in China it’s a bloodsport.

Beauty is a bitch that you always want to own. More on this later.

Asian Girl Problem #66: Asian Girl Diet

There are some things that sound really lame, unless they’re happening to you. Instagram #food tags, weird dreams and babies come to mind.  Today, I tried on these pants I haven’t been able to wear for at least three years, and they fit. Usually, I don’t even bother looking at them because it makes me sad, but I keep them because they suit my short legs and narrow hips. If you were wondering, the pursuit of well-fitted pants for this Asian ends in a Uniqlo in Hong Kong.

They don’t look particularly good, but I’m going to squeeze (literally) every bit of satisfaction I can out of this until I eat dinner and promptly pop out of them. Normally I hate the concept of “skinny jeans”, but what can I say, it’s just my day today.

“How are some Asian girls so small?” my Korean friend who was raised in America asked me when we were people-watching the other day. For such a loaded question, it doesn’t plague me anymore. There are clear, uncontrollable reasons why I don’t look like other Asian girls. There’s no point in comparing.

I have had 25 years to think about why I don’t have the twig body of other Asians, and here’s my take:

1. Exercise is not the name of the game. Laziness prevails. No running on a hamster wheel, training for marathons or weight training/high-protein regimes. They’d rather ride in a car than walk, but since that’s inconvenient in most places, they get their cardio that way. Yoga and dancing are huge though, for those taking initiative. They don’t over exercise so they don’t feel the need to “refuel”, and having being calmer overall does wonders on the waistline.

2. They do eat less, especially in the way of protein. They eat lots of filling carbs and vegetables because protein is expensive, as is eating out.

3. Kids born before the 90s weren’t raised on milk or processed food. I think all the hormones I took in as a kid affected my bone and muscle structure because there’s a clear difference between my body and my cousin’s, or my mother’s.

4. Can’t deny that the constant pressure to be skinny doesn’t keep them tiny. The other day I was at a cafe eavesdropping on two foreign exchange students who were very small. One was talking about how she gained too much weight since coming here. The other girl started scrutinizing her diet, and when another friend called on her phone, she consulted that person too. No weight taboo here–like applying makeup or choosing a hairstyle, it’s seen as a matter of education and experimentation.

5. On that note, losing weight never involves broadcasting your new diet or treating yourself after a week of eating “clean.” Less emotions=less effort.