So you are Asian American. Let me have a turn describing you. Well, it does not really matter if you are male or female, most male men seem to get lumped with females in their descriptions. Look no further then Detail Magazine’s “Gay or Asian” article. Feminizing the male Asian is not something new, but this is getting off track. Let us get back to the topic at hand, Asian Americans and what you look like. If we are just going to look at stereotypes, I guess we have to start with the obvious stereotypes. Let us get them out of the way now. Slanted eye, bowl cut, buck toothed, glasses wearing, possibly holding a (math) book or if a girl, wearing some school uniform. Oh yeah, and you’re skinny. Definitely skinny. It is not just American cultures or Western values that hold true to this. Look at our media abroad. You have Yaoi manga portraying the skinniest of Asian man on (most of the time slowly building to) man action, the Sailor Fuku girls in Anime with the disproportionate arm lengths and widths if I may add, and even our Korean dramas can’t seem to get away from the skinny. Is it a culture thing? Skinny does seem to always turn it’s thin head back to how our society views beauty. Let us get away from the “white guy, Asian girl” stuff about what people see as beautiful and really get to the root of the issue. Asian people can not be fat. It is socially engrained. Our media tells us this, our culture tells us this (whether in Asia, diasporically*, or stuck in some “x” amount of generation Asian in America). We are beings of skinny people. But is that who we are as Asian Americans? What happened to the fat guy?
All this talk about what defines us and who we are, the identity discussion, usually ends up either limiting us to certain descriptions (like the stereotypes mentioned earlier) or are so broad that it becomes all encompassing. I think the most important part that we need to understand in what is Asian American is that through how we are observed, we define who we are and how we can challenge these notions of Asian America. I think it’s important to understand that the perception of Asian Americans as skinny is limiting. In a nation where obesity has now become an “epidemic,” it’s easy to just assume that the skinny Asian doesn’t face this issue. I mean, out of all listed races in the Office of Minority Health, Asians rank in the lower spectrum as far as being overweight is concerned. So that’s good right? I mean, Asian Americans don’t face this issue, what’s it to us. Except that we’re still at 29%. That’s a staggering number. Three out of every ten Asian in America is overweight. Let’s put it blunt, 29% of us are fat. And that isn’t a BMI number, that’s who we are.
So where do all these skinny Asians come from? Are we to assume that Asian Americans can only be seen as skinny? In the GQ article “Rocket Man“, it discusses about Jeremy Lin’s journey post “Linsanity” in New York. The author subtly points out how seeing Asian Americans as meek, frail, and skinny stem from some sort of racist ideology. The discussion comes from the description of Jeremy, saying “Because Lin is a modest-size guard and skinnier than most NBA players, there is a tendency to assume that he’ll look like a regular guy in person. (There’s surely a racial component to this, too.)” The problem, same as the “the model minority” myth, is that this positive assumption of who and how Asian Americans are suppose to be doesn’t explain the reality. Perception is not reality. Let me repeat that once again, perception is not reality. If it is perceived that Asian Americans are all skinny, it becomes a non issue, especially within the community. When we walk down this path, those that need help with their weight issues are lost in the discussion. But the numbers, they don’t lie. This overweight community is large, no pun intended. This isn’t just a white American problem, this is our own community’s problem as well. And we can’t just ignore it. It starts with what we eat.
Nutrition is key in everything we do. It is surprising notion that what you put in your body will reflect what you look like on the outside. Just the same, I do appreciate the tumblr “Pictures of Asians Takings Pictures of Food“. It is a trendy topic for sure, but it does draw some assumptions about what we think of when we picture the typical Asian Americans. Taking pictures of food generally assumes that the person is most likely eating outside of the home. Fitness magazine describes the link to eating out with obesity. If the (normal) behavior of Asians eating out seems to be a trend, it is no surprise that obesity is not taken into account when consuming. I think it is so important to remember what we are eating and what is being put in to our body. Asian Americans are not above weight gain, no matter how much the media tries to feed us.
Weight is an important issue that will not go away. The Los Angeles Times recently spoke in the aptly named article,”42% of American adults will be obese by 2030, study says.” Obesity is not just strictly an American issue, but an Asian American issue as well. As we identify ourselves and try to represent our culture, we must also take on the culture we live in. We are Americans and we are Asian. We are also not above the issues and problems that are faced by all Americans. Asian images may confound that notion, yet we still go through these issues that every other American goes through. The perception of skinny Asians can not be overlooked. Under-eating is just as dangerous as over eating, but the issue of what and how much we eat is compounding. This issue is growing and we can not take this lightly. Bringing this consciousness to the forefront, Asian Americans have to identify that there are overweight people within our community. This is fact. We must stay educated and stay above the stereotypes. We are not all “model minorities” nor are we all “skinny”. Keep eating Asian Americans, and snap a few pictures. Just do not forget what is on our plates while we expand our palates.