{Guest Post} No Man's Land: Being Korean and Bulimic

Below is fantastic a guest post written by the lovely Liz Gulsvig (Twitter: @eyestillbrave and eyestillbrave.wordpress.com). She is the founder of Aloud/Allowed, a website dedicated to representing marginalized voices in the eating disorder community).

I never knew my parents. They were suggested to me in whispers, a little bit like apparitions and a little bit like folklore, but never really discussed. This was mostly my fault. After all, I had my new adoptive parents, and I didn't know that I needed the old stuff. I didn't know that my soul would quake with the han of this loss for years to come.

I grew up in a home of dichotomies with a Chinese father and a Caucasian mother, split down the middle in culture and habit, torn between following the Chinese ways of my father's side because they, too, were Asian like me, and my mother's, which fit plainly in the Nebraska plains without ridicule.

When I first started having problems with food, it was considered a diet gone too far - and the diet, which was a staple of Causcasian culture, wasn't seen as dangerous. My mother had been dabbling in fad diets for years. I didn't know whether or not she considered my act a rebellion or an achievement, but restriction wasn't considered wrong.

In the Chinese culture I experienced, food was love but it was also loaded with more meaning, and women were always held one step behind. I experienced sexism in food as men filled their plates and bellies first, as women were encouraged to eat less and less, as bodies were magnified and criticized; my grandmother pinching my aunt's tiny waist.

"You're getting too fat!" She'd cry, as if this were enough to nullify a college degree or, worse, lose an entire man.

But I was Korean-American, and I was adopted. I didn't belong in either culture, and I didn't belong anywhere that I knew. So when I ate, I was entirely alone. When I ate, I was surrounded by strangers.

So I restricted and found myself admired by both sides of my family, but lost from myself. I hated restriction, although it sometimes made me proud. Angry and depressed, I surged between foul and desperate moods, clinging madly to the rules and books, the numbers and the tricks.

But food was love and I was nothing, and I needed love more than anything.

So one day I began to eat, and I couldn't stop. And I found myself bulimia, and when I told my parents they became concerned because bulimia is something to be ashamed of, because bulimia is scary and messy and ugly.

But bulimia was perfect for the conception of an Asian woman that I felt I needed to be. Bulimia enabled me to achieve the impossible - the cute, oddly fetishized image of the little hungry girl. To be tiny, to be petite and delicate but to be able to eat frightening and indulgent amounts of food - this was something purely Asian and female that became part of my identity.

The perfect Asian girl does not turn away from food; she consumes it with almost adorable glory. What never changes is her body, pale and frail, tucked gently into freshly pressed skirt suits and quirky indie blouses.

This is not the reality of my body, but it is what I believed I needed to be. And I became addicted to this image, this strange interpretation, and it fueled my eating disorder.

Because I had no real place of belonging, because I had merely translated odd messages for years about what I should be and who I should become, I became nothing at all. I wrangled myself into a specter, a luminous ghost. I clung to my eating disorder because it gave me the fuel to be nothing, and the ability to displace myself completely.

I never really had a culture to call my own, and this is partly my fault. I never owned mine. I never explored it. I never claimed it. I was ashamed of it, growing up in the prairie, wishing I had blue eyes. And so when I developed my eating disorder, it allowed me to straddle multiple cultural lines, suddenly sliding in and belonging in both the Chinese and the Caucasian cultures, which were my adoptive parents' worlds.

But my own world? I didn't have it, and I didn't know it. I didn't realize the impact of this loss, and I stayed sick for over twenty years, battling drug addiction and homelessness as well.

Today things are very different. I still don't know my world, my Korean-American (or any other) world. I still find myself falling into old habits, clinging to dangerous ideas about who I should be and what I should be doing, but it's not the same as it used to be.

I'm daring, these days. I'm loud and vibrant. I'm full of ideas and hopes and dreams. I fall on my face, and I get back up. I'm not afraid to not know, and I'm not afraid of not belonging. I have myself, and I carry with me a sense of home everywhere I go. It may not fit perfectly with anyone else, but it's mine. I own it.

I believe in myself.

And it doesn't matter what culture dictates, what my eating disorder leans in and says, what fortunes fall or fade.

I am proud to be me, whoever that is, and I'll keep exploring.


Can you relate? Do you have a story to tell? Please don't hesitate to comment, get in touch with me or Liz, and/or send your story. Every voice deserves to be heard.