By Ed Diokno
Paraag Marathe usually doesn’t seek the limelight. He’s used to working behind the scenes on the business side of the NFL’s 49ers as executive vice president of football and business operations.
One of the ways he has been able to get through the grieving process is to become a spokesperson for treating eating disorders. He can cite the statistics from memory: 30 million Americans are believed to suffer from eating disorders; anorexia, the illness that claimed his sister, has the highest fatality rate among mental illnesses; the illness affects men as well as young, white girls.
The goal of being skinny or conforming to the “petite” stereotype afflicts Asian and Asian American women as well. Earlier this year, the social media trend that emanated from Asia, dubbed the A4 Waist Challenge, had women holding a sheet of paper vertically against their midsection to show how “paper thin” they are. Participants posted photos of themselves with the paper on social media using the hashtag #A4Waist.
In Asian cultures, thin is the default body type, and there’s collective pressure to maintain it. “It’s a given that women are supposed to be thin, and people think it’s your fault if you’re not,” says Juliana Chang, a Chinese American who moved from California to Taiwan when she was 11 and had disordered eating habits throughout high school.
“Asians want women to be small, thin, and quiet, and I think that has a lot to do with sexist ideals that say women should be docile and obedient,” she says. Even though Marathe welcomes his new role, he still has difficulty discussing what happened to his sister with his parents, immigrants from India. They raised their children in well-to-do San Jose suburb, Saratoga, Calif., a stones’ throw from Silicon Valley.He went to UC-Berkeley and received his MBA from Stanford. His sister went to UCLA to receive her law degree where she excelled academically.
Marathe told the San Jose Mercury News he never heard his parents talk openly about what was happening to their family. And he hasn’t figured out how to break the silence, although he plans to do so soon.“Immigrant families are particularly susceptible, because of the whole Tiger Mother, Tiger Father concept,” Marathe said. “You don’t talk about your feelings. There’s no such thing as mental illness. You don’t want to bring shame on the family by being put in an inpatient facility.”