I will never forget the first moment I started to worry about my weight. I was nine years old and visiting my grandparents in Virginia Beach for the summer. While putting on my hand-me-down bathing suit in my grandmother’s bathroom, my aunt came in to collect me. She looked me up and down, slowly extended one long finger and prodded me in the ribs.
“Aiyah,” she said. “You are getting fat.”
I am Whasian: half-Chinese, half-Caucasian. My father, a (now retired) diplomat, met my mother in Hong Kong, and the two of them globe-trotted their way to a family. I grew up predominantly overseas, in both Western and Asian countries. Learning to reconcile my two cultural sides has always been a part of the package. And of all the differences and similarities between Chinese and American culture, the one that has shaped my life the most is the pervasive desire to be thin.
My DNA may have “Chinese” written on half of it, but my body type was undoubtedly inherited from my father’s side of the family. I am 5’9″ with long legs, broad hips and an ample chest. In retrospect, I know that I was most decidedly not a fat child. I was perfectly average well into adolescence. Sure, I went through my baby-fat phase, and at some points I was slightly more rotund than at others, but for the most part, there was really nothing wrong with my weight. I, of course, did not see it that way. From the minute I hit puberty, I was simply too fat. And that mentality is harmful enough in a US middle school, where despite the media’s emphasis on celebrity-thinness, you’re still likely to have classmates of all shapes and sizes. So you can probably imagine what happened when I moved to Taipei for high school. Suddenly, 90 percent of my classmates were more Asian than me and most of them smaller and thinner than me. See you later, self-esteem!
So began my toxic relationship with food. I loved food, but it was also responsible for making me “fat.” I couldn’t understand why so many of my friends at school could eat whatever they wanted and still be pencil-thin—though I understand now that for many, it was simply a genetic disposition. I began turning to food to both comfort and punish myself, feeling guilty when I ate and hating myself for my lack of self-control and naturally, the pounds starting piling on. My disordered eating and dangerous diet habits continued through high school and college where, depressed and obese, I topped out at my highest known weight of 246 lbs.
Luckily, my story has a happy ending. Last August, I made the decision to stop my self-destructive behavior and started my blog, Honey, I Shrunk the Gretchen! to chronicle my efforts and keep me accountable as I went on my final diet. Since then, I have lost over 60 lbs and am still going strong. Starting my blog and immersing myself in the healthy living blog community has helped me discover so much about myself. My body type is never going to be a size 2, and I’m okay with that. Health and beauty are not strictly defined terms, and being Whasian does not mean I have to look like Maggie Q (not that I’d mind if I did, of course! Just not at the expense of my physical or mental health).
Unbeknownst to many, there is a significant Asian presence in the healthy living blog community, that is slowly (and perhaps subconsciously), dispelling myths about the ways Asians “should” look. I invite you to check out some of the following blogs in addition to my own:
My weight-loss journey is not over, but for once I feel good about finally making it there because I am doing it for the right reasons, and I am done hating myself for not fitting a certain stereotype. Now, that’s a good feeling.
Gretchen blogs over at Honey, I Shrunk the Gretchen! She invites you to read more about her 60 lb weight loss, history with disordered eating, kitchen misadventures and adorable miniature schnauzers there! Please feel free to follow her on Twitter or Facebook, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos courtesy of Gretchen Powell