Thick Dumpling Skin — “a place for hungry Asian voices to be heard” — is a new site created by Hyphen publisher Lisa Lee and actor Lynn Chen to provide a space for Asian women and men to connect, discuss, and support each other in their struggles around body issues. “Together, we’ll grow some thicker skins, and learn to love them as well.”
In June of 2010, Lynn Chen started a food blog, The Actor’s Diet, after years of battling eating disorders. At the beginning of 2011, she stumbled upon an interview on NPR with Lisa Lee, in which Lisa discussed the story she wrote for Hyphen magazine about her past struggles with food and body image.
What made Lynn perk up her ears was that Lisa talked about how being Asian specifically played into her obsession over being skinny. After listening to and reading Lee’s story, Lynn immediately knew they had to connect.
“I didn’t even know what I wanted from Lisa, but I felt compelled to start something,” Lynn says. “I’ve been looking for something concrete regarding Asians and body image for years. When I first began my therapy in my 20s, I had contacted various national eating disorder groups to see if there were any support groups for Asians. I was left at a dead end, and the messages I got over the next decade were that eating disorders and body image were not problems that affected people in my community. “
This myth was shattered when Lynn received numerous emails from her blog readers, both men and women all over the world, who admitted their past and current struggles with food, and felt the pressure to look thin. Like Lisa, Lynn realized that their problems were not just about will power – they’re social, cultural, and familial.
The two women connected over their experiences, and together, they decided to launch “Thick Dumpling Skin” to provide a space for everyone who may have felt alone in their struggle.
Hearing about Thick Dumpling Skin reminded me of an incident illustrating why a site like this is long-overdue and sorely needed. A few years ago, I volunteered with the (now defunct) organization StarImpact, which mentored underprivileged high school APIA girls. I was organizing a discussion group for the girls to talk about body image and eating disorders. When I mentioned it to a friend of mine, he blithely rolled his eyes and said: “The last thing I want to hear is a bunch of skinny Asian girls complain about how fat they are.”
While I get his underlying sentiment of “bitch, please” — as he envisioned rail-thin girls bemoaning their nonexistent bulge — he completely missed the point. His dismissive comment reinforced the stereotype that all Asian women and men are skinny — as in born this way, baby — and thus don’t have the need, or right, to be preoccupied with their weight. In any case, eating disorders have nothing to do with reality, but (extremely distorted) perception — which causes a 90lb individual to look in the mirror and see only stubborn saddlebags.
Asian Americans are also not raised in a cultural vacuum, and we are just as susceptible as any other American — if not more — to a media and society fixated on weight. If it were a group of white teens, I doubt the group discussion would have elicited the same reaction.
But if Asian Americans are also at risk of eating disorders, what are some of the causes, and why don’t talk about any of this? One could argue social and cultural stigma, high expectations within our families, the model minority stereotype, Asian fetishism, hardly ever seeing an Asian over a size 2 on TV…the list goes on.
But the absence of a broader discussion coupled with the lack of culturally sensitive resources means that our community is in double jeopardy. Thick Dumpling Skin is a positive step forward in raising awareness, facilitating dialogue, and taking action towards healthier selves. Because as my friend’s comment so painfully demonstrated — if we don’t give a shit, no one else will.
Full disclosure: CBruhs is also a blog columnist for Hyphen