The Diversity and Beauty of the Human Body

Vinh - San Jose, California
Entered on July 17, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I am a heterosexual male. Asian, American, a brother, an uncle, and I have an eating disorder. Food is my living riddle: “Should I eat today? Maybe, not.” I’ve befriended gluttony and embraced hunger. I’ve heard the ridicule, put my family through worry, and warred against my own body. I’ve been on both sides, hearing: “Oh, he’s so big!” to “Oh, he’s so thin!” or “He’s sickly looking.” and “He’s probably on drugs.”

When I was a child, I was unaware I had a problem. I was content with how I looked and was unabated by others comments. In fact, I was actually proud to be fat. I saw my figure as natural and supported the saying: “Just more to love.” At twelve, however, it all changed. Girls, middle school and body image all came into play. Suddenly, obesity—no longer childhood cute—became opportunity.

“Run faster, fatty!” “Did you feel that earthquake?” “Aren’t you uncomfortable being so big?”

In seventh grade, I skipped school for three weeks; feigning stomach pains to my parents. I was terrified, especially of gym class where the teasing was the worst. I was so committed to my lie even the doctors were convinced. (I was a week away from getting exploratory gastrointestinal surgery.) When my parents found out about my lie, they were furious. I was sent back to school the next day—back to the frontline against a barrage of adolescents firing fat jokes as quickly as a Browning M2 heavy machine gun. The teasing went on, from junior high to the end of high school. Always the same comments, always the gawking and gym class insecurities.

At nineteen, after years of mockery, I had had enough. I craved thinness and “normalcy” so desperately I was willing to do anything to achieve it. In September of 2001, at 5’8” and at my peak weight of 220 pounds, I began a strict regiment that consisted of no more than 400 calories a day and rigorous exercise. I survived off of two slices of bread, canned tuna, and prayer. In a period of four months, I had lost a total of ninety pounds.

My sister was the first to notice. She was away at school and we hadn’t seen each other for over six months. I didn’t have to say a word, my body spoke for me: I have a problem. My eyes were sallow, sunken and despondent as if I hadn’t slept in months. My skin, once healthy and elastic, was now taught and the hue of a muted grey. My body was in mourning; it was struggling, begging for nourishment—and I denied its plea. At that moment, when I saw my sister’s reaction, I knew I had to make a change.

I believe in a life without hunger. That fullness is not a sign of weakness, but testament to my survival.

It took me over a year to recover. And seven years later, at 150 pounds, I know I’m in a better place both physically and mentally. Though I still have days of struggle—sometimes missing that delirious starvation high—still fear getting on a scale, or looking at my naked body in the mirror, I at least know this much is true: I am still alive.