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A Complex Relationship with Food, Physical Perfection, and Parental Love

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By Sophia Whittemore
AsAmNews Intern

I couldn’t have been the only one who heard these at a dinner party.

“Why aren’t you eating my food? I’m a good cook! Are you saying I’m a bad cook? It’s bad to refuse my food.”

“Here, eat more, you’re getting skinny.”

“Oops, someone is getting chubby. Freshman fifteen, eh?”

For a lot of Asian parenting, it seems that love is related, quite literally, with what you eat.

But then there’s that strict ideal where you have to juggle a near impossible line between too skinny and too chubby. It’s rude to refuse food, but calling someone out on gaining a few pounds is just seen as “a little family honesty”.

So, where does that leave self-esteem in this dining paradox?

Sometimes “I love you” is replaced by “here, eat this special food I made just for you.” And if you refuse food, it’s viewed as refusing your hard-working parent’s boundless love.

But, goodness forbid if you get “fat”. There’s a very strict line where you aren’t supposed to be fat. Chubby arms? Forget about it.

There’s a complex dynamic that a girl must be well-educated, but she has to know how to cook too. No dating during your teenage years, but you better find a husband. Take a look at this passage from a University of Minnesota article: 

“(Southeast Asian families)  believe that children make a person wealthy, because they will care for their parents when they are elderly. Men are heads of households; women are in charge of cooking, household budget, and the education of children. Traditionally, men never stay home to care for children.”

Yet, that dynamic also contrasts with values of perfection. Daughters in the family have to eat their mother’s cooking, but “fatness” is just not allowed. It’s cute when you’re young and chubby, but when you’re older? Forget about it.
From an article “The Pressure to be Naturally Perfect by Noel Duan”:

“In Chinese culture, eating is seen as a form of affection and commitment to the family, so I always ate every meal, every single kernel of rice in my bowl. But I also felt fat and unfit to be the “perfect” Asian girl, as I compared my body to those of my fellow Asian American girl friends. When we would go out to eat and drink — a group of petite Asian girls — I knew I had to work out more and eat less the next day to make up for the amount I ingested with my friends. I’ve spent countless Friday nights in college, feeling completely inadequate because every single Asian girl I met was thin and beautiful with porcelain smooth skin, like Asian girls are supposed to be. I started to wonder if I was the only Asian girl who felt this way.

My metabolism just can’t keep up, but no one believes me.”

It’s tough enough to grow up with all that pressure put on you, but add physical looks and cooking to the mix? It’ll make any family dinner party tense.

The important thing to know is that, no matter how hard we all chase perfection, we’re still wonderful people in our own way.

Embrace yourself, no matter what.


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