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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

June 26, 2007

Written by C.N.

Eating Disorders Among Asian Americans

For many Asian Americans, the quest for assimilation and acceptance as “full” Americans unfortunately leads them to consider changes in their physical appearance, with cosmetic surgery being one option. But unfortunately, as author Devon Haynie writes for Audrey Magazine (reprinted by New American Media), the quest for physical perfection can become dangerous for many Asian Americans, in the form of eating disorders:

It’s not just white girls throwing up in dorm bathrooms anymore. Due to a variety of factors — ranging from the quest to look “more Western” to the quest to keep up with their counterparts back in Asia — minority and immigrant adolescents are increasingly shedding pounds in an effort to emulate the tall, thin women exalted in fashion and pop culture.

Asian American women, an ethnic group that traditionally has one of the highest suicide and lowest self-esteem rates in the country, may be more prone to eating disorders than previously imagined. . . [M]any Asian American women, long stereotyped as the nation’s “model minority,” feel pressured to achieve academic and professional excellence. These expectations, combined with acculturation pressures, an aversion to seeking mental health services, and the desire to be thin, may be more than many women can endure. . . .

While many Asian women were once admired for their fuller figures and faces, Hall says today many feel pressure to look like blonde, blue-eyed celebrities. Unable to change their Asian features without footing high bills for plastic surgery, some focus on the easiest thing they can control: their weight. . . . From Seoul to Hong Kong, Singapore to Tokyo, physicians report that eating disorders are on the rise.

The article goes to to describe many personal examples of young Asian American women who struggled with two sets of pressures — trying to assimilate into American culture in general, along with the perceived need to be thin in order to be more fully accepted. Many times, academic pressures also contributed to feelings of low self-esteem. All combined, they make for a dangerous convergence of stress and for many, mental and physical illness.

The article also lists a couple of organizations and resources that readers can contact to get more information and help with such issues. The article also notes that since such western images of physical beauty are becoming more common and accepted in Asian societies, the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better, among Asians and Asian Americans.

Nonetheless, as I’ve written about before, I happen to think that as the world in general and American society in particular becomes increasingly globalized and transnational, hopefully the overwhelming march of American culture around the world will eventually be countered by the increasingly powerful influence of Asian culture.

In other words, I think that eventually, Asian Americans will hopefully begin to see that being “American” does not always have to mean being “White.” As American society changes to reflect the inevitable effects of economic and cultural globalization, the definition of what it means to be “American” will hopefully include more diverse images that reflect the change face of American demographics.

Within that process, hopefully young Asian Americans will come to see that being Asian — culturally and physically — makes them just as “American” as anybody else, even Whites.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Eating Disorders Among Asian Americans" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/06/eating-disorders-among-asian-americans/> ().

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