Proud2Bme | Thick Dumpling Skin: How to Respect What's On the Inside

  • Body Image
  • Personal Stories

Thick Dumpling Skin: How to Respect What's On the Inside

Lisa Lee and Lynn Chen knew from experience that food and body image problems were big issues in Asian American communities, but no one seemed to be talking about them.

They teamed up to start a conversation--and a website. The cofounders of Thick Dumpling Skin got each other to spill the beans about their journey to launching their successful site and the advice they would give to their teen selves.


Lisa: I've always wanted to be a reporter, so this is pretty exciting for me. In thinking about what to ask you, I went back to how it all started and read the message you had sent me. Your message said this, "When i first began my recovery over 5 years ago I looked far and wide for some sort of Asian eating disorder resources and found NOTHING." How did that make you feel at the time?

Lynn: I felt like I was going cuckoo. I knew I couldn’t be the only one going through this. Via the blog, it’s very obvious that I wasn’t. These are issues that affect our community directly. And now I’m PISSED. Because I feel like there is this very clear need, and it’s difficult to get any support or attention from the resources that can help us.

Lisa: Why was it important for you to find resources specific to Asians/Asian Americans?

Lynn: There is a stereotype that Asians are naturally tiny, which we know isn’t true. And it’s culturally acceptable to comment on people’s looks – “You’re too skinny!” “You’re too fat!” Learning how to deal with these ideals and criticisms is something specific to our community. I’m still figuring it out.

Lisa: You've probably endured a lot of interesting comments about your body because of how public your life is (being an actress and the face behind such a successful food blog). What have you learned from the scrutiny?

Lynn: That nobody knows myself better than me. My opinion is really the only thing that matters, because I’m the one who has to live in this body. After so many years of lying to myself and to others, I know the truth of when I’m taking care of myself – mentally and physically. I really don’t need to justify my actions or beliefs.

Lisa: I love how much you're at peace with yourself. If only we were this sure of ourselves when we were younger. What advice would you give your teen self when it comes to self-confidence?

Lynn: Things that are important to you now are going to shift. So just do what makes you happy and whole instead of trying to please others.

Lisa: Personal mantra. What keeps you going?

Lynn: I have been dealt some really awful hands in life. If I’ve experienced those traumas and have still managed to live a very full, blessed life, I can really handle anything.

Lynn: My turn! How did you define "beauty" growing up?

Lisa: Wow. Hard one right off the bat. Thanks Lynn. When I was growing up, beauty was defined as having light and pearly skin, long flowy hair, and a small, almost fragile-like, frame. I suspect that I learned those notions through very old school Chinese sayings, romance novels, and compliments that other girls would receive. I was quite the opposite. I didn't have any of that. I loved being outdoors so I was nicely tanned. I hated having my hair brushed so I always had a boyish bowl cut, and for as long as I could remember, my legs were always bigger than the other girls my age. Being "beautiful" involved wearing dresses and sitting like a lady, which I failed at horribly.

Lynn: Did you ever feel shunned from the Asian community based on how you looked?

Lisa: Maybe not shunned, but I definitely felt like an anomaly. This is the interesting part about being Asian American, because you're always riding the "where do I belong" bus. As recently as two years ago, I visited Taiwan and was asked by people if I were a foreigner; growing up, relatives would make comments on how I'm not really Chinese in their eyes. However, many of us know from experience that living here in the US, even if your family has been here for generations, people will question where you're really from. So in a way, as an Asian American you are never really sure where you belong.
But, to answer your question, I felt like I didn't fit in the Asian community because of my physical appearance. In a way that's more jarring because you'd think that if any place should accept you, it's the community that you can identify with physically.

An embarrassing confession here is that when I was a teenager, I lied a few times to people that I didn't know well that I was only "part Asian." Part of it was the pure curiosity of being someone you're not, but the other part must've came from my insecurities of not feeling like I belonged in the Asian/Chinese community. To quote Les Delano from our blog, "Asian women are supposed to fit in the 'cute china doll' stereotype and if you do not meet those standards you are ignored altogether." I was always lacking that one thing and felt that if only I were skinny then I would be accepted.

Lynn: Who were some Asian role models for you?

Lisa: I didn't have any Asian role models growing up except for my parents. Maybe I idolized a few pop stars here and there because I loved to sing and dance as a kid. However, I didn't start thinking about role models consciously until I was in college. Part of that could be that rather than looking for role models on movies or television where Asian faces were not typically shown where I grew up, I started to look at the people around me. I was surrounded by amazing peers, many of them Asian Americans, who taught me a lot about open communication, confidence, and respect, for others and especially for myself.

Lynn: Did you know other Asian Americans growing up with body image issues?

Lisa: Many. But I think the problem is that people didn't treat it as a real problem. We, as a society, are so ingrained to desire the perfect body that we hardly questioned this desire. Growing up, my mom, aunt, and family friends constantly talked about dieting. I remember being barely seven or eight and bragging about how I look skinnier than I really weighed. So it was eye-opening when we had a difficult time finding actual resources when we launched Thick Dumpling Skin. I'm really happy that there is now a forum for us to dive into some of these deep-rooted issues, such as racism and stereotypes, from a different dimension. If people thought they were alone in this, they now have the solace of knowing that they're not.
Lynn: Stealing the question you had for me. What advice would you give your teen self when it comes to self-confidence?

Lisa: To demand respect, you have to respect yourself and your own worth. You are one of the most special people that you know and you will go on to do amazing things in the world. Don't get hung up on not fitting in because you're meant to stand out!

 

Thick Dumpling Skin is a vibrant community for Asian Americans to share and discuss an unhealthy quest, past and present, for the "perfect" body. Using the smart and more than appropriate tagline of "it's what's on the inside that counts," Lisa and Lynn wants the world to know that "our struggles with food & body image are not merely about will power – they’re social, cultural, and familial."
 

Portraits of Lisa Lee and Lynn Chen by JJ Casas

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