I was a senior in high school and life was coming at me 100%. College apps, prom season, senior portraits, the works. I was constantly running at full speed with no real direction. At this point I had no idea what I was doing after high school, who I was, or who I wanted to be. This led to way too much thinking on my part.
I’d always looked different than the other kids… Attending a primarily white high school, I was different. I was Korean-American, already setting me aside from most of my friends. My ethnicity was nothing I could change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely proud of being Korean-American and it’s not a part of my identity that I wanted to abandon or alter, but it made me different. I’d also been chubby all my life, and with that, I was different too.
For those of you who don’t know, being Korean and overweight is not a combo that goes very well together. It’s like mayo and maple syrup, no. I want to believe that South Koreans weren’t always the cosmetic surgery crazed people they seem to be today. My mother studied Korean history in college and she always says that Korea’s history is one of the most underrated yet so rich in tales that still stick with us second generation kids today. I’m not sure when all of the unintentional body shaming started, but I was considered really cute up until age 8 or so. Then my relatives began being really unusually concerned for me and my health.
Let me enlighten you, I’m sure some of you can relate, in a typical Korean family gathering you hear questions like these: “How are you going to get married?” “You’re never going to find a boyfriend looking like that.” “Don’t you look in the mirror?” I think this is what ultimately led up to my decision for this crazy dieting.
My relationship with food is beautiful. I was never a binge-eater, nor did I hate my food to touch, nor did I throw up anything I put into my stomach. While those are very sensitive and very real eating disorders, I didn’t struggle with them.
My decision to lose weight was a very hasty and irrational one. I was 18 and extremely moody. I thought I was unhappy because I was fat, because that’s the idea that was engraved into my mind at a young age. Angry that I wasn’t as skinny as all of my friends and wanting to impress my family, I threw out all of my snacks and decided to go on a 800-1000 calorie diet for the next month. I threw all of my wonderful memories with food away and tried to erase them from my memory.
Initially, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait to get that instant gratification of achieving something like weight loss. There was a distorted image in my mind that once I lost weight, everything would fit into place and my life would be perfect. I downloaded a calorie counting app and was ready to start.
About a week in, I started feeling things I had never felt before. I am going to assume it was a very mild form of depression. Because I was eating nothing and my friends wanted to eat everything, I had to force myself to stop going out. A lack of companionship for an extrovert is extremely dangerous. I began to realize how many great memories were shared over a burger or a few tacos. I also began overanalyzing everything I put into my mouth and worrying about if something would ruin my diet.
Still, I was determined to keep going. I was feeling dizzy every time I stood up, and never had any energy to do anything. This diet AKA starving was also affecting my schoolwork. I am not justifying my awful grades senior year, but kind of. I would sleep as soon as I got home, hoping I woke up the next morning so I could ignore all of my responsibilities.
At the end of the month, I was miserable, hungry, and not at all satisfied with the 15 or so pounds I had lost. Yes, my jeans were fitting better. Yeah, my double chin was slowly turning back into one chin. But at what cost? I was now in a (what felt like eternal) slump. My smiles weren’t genuine and my laughs not as contagious. Joy is an impossible thing to fake.
If I learned anything during this time was that there was nothing that was going to make me happier but myself. I realized that small, medium, or large, the only person who had judgment over my happiness was me. I’m not justifying that me being overweight is okay. That’s not the point of all this.
Pay attention, this is the pivotal life changing moment… I grew up and realized that I had a voice and I was sure as hell allowed to use it. I learned to let my family members or whoever else that tried to criticize my physical appearance know (politely) that I wasn’t going to passively take their jabs at me anymore. Sure, some of it ended up in confused looks and we-just-care-about-you’s… But it needed to happen. I made a decision to love myself regardless of my flaws and, since then, I’ve been on a long road of enjoying every aspect of my life. I was created so meticulously and I am so grateful that I understood it when I did. Go ahead, have that extra taco, wear that LBD hiding in the back of your closet.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder of any kind, know that you are nowhere near alone. There are many of us that know how it feels to believe there’s no way out, but get help. Ask for it. There are people who love you who probably already know or have noticed the changes but don’t know how to bring it up. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that’s you looking in the mirror and knowing that you are so much more than your figure.