I was born in Sydney, Australia and remained there till the age of nine. After that, I moved to California, which, up until recently, is where I have called home. My mom is a Chinese woman from Singapore and my dad is a Chinese man from Burma, so I am an easterner raised with the ideals of a westerner.
Living so close to Hollywood, I definitely felt the effects of trying to attain a perfect body. At a young age, magazines, TV and movies taught me that thin was beautiful; anything else was disgusting.
As a child and a teenager I was pretty lanky, maintaining a lean profile while consuming copious amounts of pizza, potato chips and candy. I never weighed myself, never dieted and never thought about my weight. By age 17, I was 5’6″ and 120 lbs. People would always say things like, “You’re so skinny! It must be because you’re Asian.” My biggest body issue back then was my dissatisfaction with my small boobs.
After high school, when I was around 20, I gained about 15 pounds. I was still eating the same as I had been, so I knew it wasn’t the dreaded “freshman 15” people were said to gain in college. My metabolism just started sucking. My friend was on the Atkins diet so I jumped on the bandwagon myself. It worked very well. I lost weight and got down to my high school size.
When I was 21, I gave acting a try. At every audition, I noticed the svelte girls there, they seemed so much smaller than me, even the non-Asians seemed skinnier. I had packed back the pounds after Atkins, so being in the “biz” caused me to diet again. I tried not to eat too much and went jogging. This worked too, I got my “skinny” figure back but I was starving myself. I always felt hungry and I would get headaches all the time.
I ended up quitting acting for spiritual reasons, not because it was hard but because I felt it drawing me away from God. So after my restrictive diet, I went wild. I binged on all things fat and sugar. I ballooned to about 155 pounds, the heaviest I have ever been. I stopped hearing that I was skinny, I got less and less looks from good looking strangers. I wasn’t fat, but I was definitely heavier. One of my closest guy friends at the time told me I wasn’t as “attractive as I used to be.” Needless to say, we stopped being so close, but his words got me thinking about my weight a lot. My dad would comment on how fat I had gotten and that hurt the most. Once I was at a friend’s house, he had stepped out for a few minutes to talk to his girlfriend. He left me alone with his brothers and friends, whom I had known for years but wasn’t very close to. They began poking fun at my appearance, asking me if I was “storing up for the winter.” This was the lowest I had ever felt in my life. I felt ugly.
I ended up shedding 10 pounds, so now I weigh in at 145. Sometimes, I can get down to 141 and sometimes I go up to 148, but I pretty much stay in this range, its been this way now for about five years. I don’t get commented on about my weight anymore and I feel that I’m a pretty average size for an American.
The only Asian countries I have visited have been Singapore and Malaysia, which is where I am temporarily living at the moment. The first time I visited these places as an adult, I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb. I was taller and thicker than most of the girls there. When I tried on clothes, I was a large or extra large. I have large thighs and a big butt. Though this J.Lo bod may be desirable in the US, it is not here. Chinese girls are expected to be petite and slim. Well, you may say, “Jackie, how do you know this isn’t all just in your head?” I know because practically every one of my relatives here (that’s about 12 aunts and uncles and 14 cousins) have told me that I am “too big.” Too big for Asia, land of the “skinny Asian girl.” I have seen some larger girls here, but they are few and far between.
Last night, I was advised to lose weight in order to “fit in” and be more successful at my TV production job here. This came as a rather big insult to me, before I arrived here, my weight had gone down to 141 and stayed there, which I was very happy with. Besides, what does my weight have to do with job performance? I was told that if I was skinnier, I would look more like them, would be accepted and respected more. I graciously listened to the advice I was given but said that I was happy with my body. If I lost weight, great, if not, I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep.
I may come across as being confident with my body, but there are many moments by myself when I look at the mirror and I am repulsed.
One of my friends in Australia, whom I have managed to stay in contact with for over 16 years, called me out on my poor body image when I visited there last year. I had said a phrase that many of my female peers in America say; “I’m so fat!” This would be said casually while trying on clothes or while eating a handful of greasy fries. I didn’t even realize the frequency of my usage of this phrase. It was just something I said, it didn’t mean I thought I was fat, perhaps, subconsciously, I thought if I said it to myself, I wouldn’t have to hear it from others. My friend told me that Australian magazines try to build back women’s body image. They feature women of all shapes on their covers. Even my friend, who is a happily plump Australasian, was photographed in her undies in the pages of the Australian Cosmo. I’m proud that she’s proud of the way she looks.
I really wanted to write about this issue, not just as an Asian woman, but as a woman in general. We are constantly bombarded with images that tell us that we need to look this way or that. We all buy into it. As a larger set Asian woman, I feel that other larger Asian women (meaning those that aren’t a size negative 14) feel much more pressure to be thin than the average woman. Every race has its stereotypes. White men can’t dance. White men can’t jump. Black people are thugs. All black guys are basketball players. Asians can’t drive. All Asians are skinny. Well I beg to differ and I’m sure many of you do, too. Justin Timberlake is a white man with extraordinary dance abilities. Larry Bird was a white man that could jump. Barack Obama (’08 US presidential hopeful) is a black man that is far from a thug. And I, Jackqueline Lou, am NOT a skinny Asian.
And I’m fine with it.