In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, TBINAA will feature stories that explore eating disorders at the intersections of our identities, sharing stories about ED from the groups that are often absent from the discussion. We believe that there must be space to tell the story of EVERY body and we are grateful to those who have shared their stories with us, so that we might share them with you. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, there is help. Toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You are not alone.
To Be Good
by Ani Kao
Caution Warning: Child Abuse, Pornography, Suicidal Thoughts
My name is Ani and I’m an agender queer trans woman of color. For me food has always been at the center of my life. My parents were both born in China and moved to Taiwan when the were very young. My mother grew up very poor and and my father was heavily invested in Buddhism and did not believe in waste. With each of them they brought a different kind of belief in food.
“You always eat your food, that makes you so good,” she would say. “You can’t waste food, clean off your plate completely,” he says.
I was praised for eating food and if I didn’t finish my plate, I would be shamed by my mother and scolded by my father. He would hit me for not being ‘good’ often and some of those times were for not eating every piece of food off my plate. A few leaves of lettuce, a bite left of bread… anything at all. I really wanted to be good, I didn’t want to be hit. So I ate everything that was given to me. They were so proud of me.
Around nine, lots of trauma hit me hard and I am still shaking from those events that define so much of my life. I have a brother who was 10 years older and not around. Father spent no time at home, always off at a temple; he had no time for his family but all the time in the world to earn his way into nirvana in the way he saw most fit. Mother was also coping with life by being out all of the time with friends playing mahjong and going to karaoke.
It was at this time that I was met with the most abuse. The son of my babysitter who was three years older than me introduced me to pornography. What happened with me and some of the other kids he was supposed to help protect, he exploited, no doubt stemming from abuse from his own parents. He was my only friend at that time. I saw him five days a week. I didn’t understand it on a conscious level, but part of me knew what happened over the next few years was wrong.
It was during this time my parents got divorced. I was alone, there was chaos in my family, my life, my entire world. Meanwhile, I was wracked with dysphoria and suicidal thoughts.
For me, the answer was food. I was always good when I ate, always rewarded so I ate all the time. I ate when I was hungry, stressed, bored, and full.
“You would look better if you lost weight,” my mother said as she shoved a plate of food in my face.
Another, deeper part of me hated myself. I hated my body for not having the parts I -knew- I was supposed to have. I hated that someone loved me for the body I despised, and I hated my family. My self destruction was linked to food. I wanted to be unappealing and unlovable so that nobody would take advantage of me like that again, and so that nobody would miss me when I’m gone. At my heaviest I was 280 lbs.
The intersection between my strict Asian heritage, my poor class status, my parent’s religion, my childhood abuse, and my family neglect has taught me eating everything was the right thing to do… and the safe thing to do.
More Radical Reads: When We Learned to Hate Them- Undoing Body Shame We Learned in Our Youth
“Thick Dumpling Skin”: Creating Community
by Lynn Chen
In 2009, I started a food blog, The Actor’s Diet, after years of struggling with binge eating and anorexia. In 2011, I stumbled upon an interview with Lisa Lee, in which Lisa Lee discussed the story she wrote for Hyphen magazine about her past struggles with food and body image. After listening to and reading Lisa’s story, I immediately knew we had to connect. It was the first time I heard the voice in my head, spoken out loud, by someone other than me.
I truly hope that if any of you are currently struggling you know that recovery is possible.
More Radical Reads: Unlearning How To Be Thin: Weight Is Not An Indicator of Health
[Feature Image by Klie: Photo of a person with long dark hair holding a spoon next to an empty bowl. They are looking down at the bowl, which is on a bright red kitchen counter top.]