Asian Therapists Discuss Intersectional Body Image and Acceptance
Body image is a complex topic, and it is one that tends to hold more attention around the holidays and the New Year. As more women are speaking out against body shaming and unrealistic beauty standards, many Asian American women are finding spaces to discuss the nuances of balancing family and cultural expectations and Asian and Western beauty standards. To provide one such space, we created the Body Image Support Group, and in this podcast episode, we invited facilitators Catherine Vu, LMFT, and Angela Nguyen, ACSW, to share more about intersectional body image and body acceptance.
“What propelled me to dive into this work was, I got frustrated with the narrative of body positivity, of not feeling like positive affirmations were our truth. What about our Asian bodies? And the nuance… of just existing as an Asian American woman, with all the different types of messaging about what [we] are supposed to look like.”
– Catherine Vu, LMFT
In an earlier post, we discussed how Asian American women face conflicting messaging about what features they are supposed to have, what shapes their bodies are supposed to be, and even how they are supposed to act. This messaging begins early, and it creates a sense of “hyper-awareness” about your body and your physical appearance. Vu shares, “Growing up in a predominantly white area with the expectations of what [I] wanted to look like, and hating myself for not looking like that and having it pointed out to me daily… I just [saw] myself paddling in the water, trying not to drown with all of these expectations and standards.”
It is not only the societal messaging that Asian American women face, but also the messages from family and culture. While many of the comments on weight, size, or skin tone may be well-intentioned, the overt focus on the body and your physical appearance can contribute to the hyper-awareness towards how the body looks. In doing so, it can take away from enjoying what the body can do and can even take away from the joy of just living.
“I was always aware of how I looked in relation to other people… aware of not being considered beautiful, and yet [feeling] the pressure to be beautiful, and I turned a lot of attention towards [my body]. When I got to college and started dating, and for the first time, coming into contact with ‘yellow fever’… being fetishized from comments from strangers or messages in dating apps… and exotified because I’m an Asian woman.”
– Angela Nguyen, MSW
This focus on physical appearance and physical attractiveness can take a toll on self-worth and self-confidence, especially when reinforced by the media and by strangers. Over time, all of these comments can lead to a cycle of self-loathing and the need to find value and gratification from others. For young girls of color growing up in the United States, they are constantly faced with the narrative that their features are not beautiful and that they are not enough. However, Vu and Nguyen believe that society is slowly beginning to change and that more people are fighting against fatphobia and colorism. Nguyen praises the popularity of the recently published children’s book, Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, a book that celebrates Asian-shaped eyes.
We recommend finding a framework that resonates with you and helps you accept the body that you live in. Body positivity encourages people to take pride in their own bodies, both outwards and inwards, while body neutrality hopes to shift the focus onto your body’s capabilities and the process of enjoying how you move through the world. Whatever you decide, Vu shares that it is important to “learn to trust your intuition again…and find what feels good to you.” As you begin practicing empathy and compassion with yourself and how you exist in your body, you will find that you can learn to accept it and be grateful for how it can move through the world.
“It is hard work to dismantle this intergenerational trauma of the concept that your body doesn’t only belong to you, but it does and it doesn’t exist to be admired or objectified. You don’t need permission to look a certain way.”
– Angela Nguyen, MSW
If you are finding it overwhelming to attune to your mind-body connection, please reach out to us today for professional support. Our therapists can help you connect with your body and learn how to let yourself just be.
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