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Yes BBW Asian, Fat Asians do exist – and I am one of them

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My Taiwanese friend told me, “You’re totally American on the inside and BBW Asian.” My friend who hails from Taiwan expressed disdain at my lack of nationality.

Sighing, I tucked my chin into my palm to hide my frown behind my knuckles. As frustration built up within me, I tapped it against the table as I sought to continue this conversation that has spanned nearly every moment of my life.

“Are you really from Taiwan, Mr. Tang?” “Your complexion suggests otherwise – do I look American”

Hollywood’s version of an “All American” looks nothing like me – I have tawny brown skin that often confuses Angelenos I meet. “Where are you from? No, really,” they ask, mistaking every ethnicity except Taiwanese for half my ethnic makeup.

My appearance has always confounded people, Taiwanese, and Americans alike. Not only is my skin tone unique, but also because I’m fat – something which has been an issue throughout most of my life.

My skin color and black hair may give me a warm glow, but my round figure makes me appear decidedly un-Asian to casual observers. Stereotypical “Asians” are typically thin and contourless – I certainly am neither.

On a Tuesday afternoon in 1980, I became the first American “hunxue er” (mixed-blood child). Growing up in Kaohsiung, Taiwan – home to my parent’s hometown – my plump frame, topped with curly hair and slightly larger-than-average eyes stood out among other “Hunxue ers” of that generation.

BBW Asian Growing up in a house full of cousin-siblings, I never quite fit in. My cousins followed instructions religiously and ate their vegetables faithfully without fail – except Mark who would inhale entire Pringle cans or multiple Snickers bars without consequence.

Meanwhile, I disobeyed adults, rejected punishments, refused to consume vegetables, and gained weight no matter what diet my mom put me on.

“Jenny-ah,” my mom would warn me while pinching my belly or arm during family meals. “Look at your cousins!” She’d laugh and pinch their thighs; their bodies never got fat. But you, no. You need to be careful because your metabolism is such that even with water you could become quite bloated. Don’t keep adding pounds onto yourself.”

“My Taiwanese body marked me as unique. In America, however, my American upbringing isolated me”

My experience has been that fat Taiwanese are not typically visible. The ones who do become caricatures and punch lines on evening variety shows.

My elementary school, by conducting public weight-check days, inadvertently created an annual fat-shame-Jenn day. Crowds of excited kids gathered outside the nurse’s office with faces pressed against its glass windows and heads piled atop one another just to hear my weight.

As BBW Asian I stepped onto the scale with bated breath and held my gaze fixed on the concrete floor, trying my best to block out murmurs and snickers in the background.

“Number 42, your weight is…65 kilograms!” The nurse announced, and there was a brief silence before the bustle of activity began around me.

“Wow!” someone shouted on BBW Asian. “You’re the fattest in our class!” I squeezed my eyes shut, but that didn’t dull the stinging sensation gnawing at my heart – I am different than everyone else.” Even with sunglasses on, the gaze around me continued to be filled with fear and doubt.

Arriving at Oberlin College seemed like a dream come true. For the first time in my life, my appearance matched that of those around me; among different body shapes, sizes, genders, and skin tones I began to feel accepted – at last my time had come.

Ohio was nothing like Taiwan; it snowed. The dining hall served chicken-fried steak. Oberlin’s buildings stood less than five stories high. There was only one general store instead of karaoke or night markets. What’s more, I couldn’t understand half the cultural references people made; who is Urkel and what does “Full House” mean?

I became increasingly drawn to all things Taiwanese — I downloaded Jay Chou and A-mei songs off Limewire, artists I had disdained in high school due to their nationalities; I boiled instant noodles and consumed boba, both of which I hadn’t really enjoyed while living there.

Once again, I felt alienated from both my environment and my peers. In Taiwan, my body set me apart; in the U.S., however, my Taiwanese upbringing further alienated me.

Recently, a dear friend of mine asked me “Where is home for you?”

I wrinkled my nose in thought as I considered her question: where and when do I feel most at home?

While reflecting on her question, the reality of my situation dawned upon me. My relatives in Taiwan never made my body size a problem or teased me for it; instead, my coworker-turned-sister of 11 years in America understood when I said, “I’m not from here” and helped explain the cultural context which sometimes slips my understanding during conversations.

My lifelong journey toward acceptance culminated in small moments of belonging.

“Do you believe my home is with people like you, do you?” Finally, I spoke up.

Recently, I’ve started to embrace my differences instead of hiding them. On photoshoots I started wearing bikinis and showed off my back rolls. When my 8-year-old nephew asked why I was so fat, I explained that not all bodies are thin – even Asian ones!

My Taiwanese friend joked with me about being American, so I responded, “Yes. You’re correct in saying that. I am both ‘wai guo ren’ and Taiwanese. My appearance differs from others in Taiwan but still remains unique – does that make sense?”

I release my hidden frown from behind my clenched fist and breathe a sigh of relief as she nods in understanding. As a half-white Taiwanese American who happens to be fat, I’m asking you for acceptance of me – all of me! For the first time ever.

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