As I try to diversify my wardrobe from the sweats I’ve been living in for the past year, I’ve been noticing an interesting phenomenon. Whenever I shop in the plus-size section of a website, I never see plus-size Asians modeling the clothes. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a plus-sized Asian model on mainstream websites.
I’ve also been seeing many women posting about their submission to the casting call for Lizzo’s World, which is supposed to feature plus-sized models and dancers on a major platform. I personally entered this call, but none of the videos I’ve seen of people entering this call have been from other plus-size Asian models and dancers.
This begs the question: Where did all the fat Asian models go?
Is it self-selected? As we know, Asian communities often perpetuate fatphobia within our own spaces. Unlearning the stigmas that our communities perpetuate on top of the stigmas from Western society is a long process. It is possible that most plus-sized Asians are still working through the stigmas within their own community and may not be ready to self-identify with the fat community. There is also a lot of stigma around creative careers in many Asian cultures, which could be another limiting factor.
But that feels like the wrong answer. That places the responsibility of ensuring racially diverse fat representation solely on us. Even if that does limit the total number of plus-sized Asian models, that number is not zero. I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a growing population of fat Asian creatives who want to make it into the modeling space.
The more I dwell on this, the more I realize that even the majority of fat creators that I follow to help myself unlearn internalized fatphobia are non-Asian.
In the fat community online, we focus on dismantling the myths surrounding diet, medical definitions of health as they relate to weight, exercise, and body image. However, a lot of this discussion comes without an intersectional discussion of fatness and ethnicity. And I just have to wonder, as we dismantle the myths around our own bodies, are we subconsciously holding on to myths about others’ bodies?
When we consider Western concepts of Asianness, we might begin to understand this phenomenon from a different lens. Asian people are broadly stereotyped to be weak and small, both in size and in personality. More specifically, Asian women are conceptualized as “exotic, submissive, quiet, frail” in most Western spaces. We are taught the stereotype that an Asian woman is supposed to be the model of grace and exotic femininity, which are inherently tied to thinness.
I wonder if the fat community reflects on its intersectionality with Asianness enough. There are deep and meaningful discussions about our intersections between body imagery, socio-economic status, and gender identities. I just have yet to understand where my South Asian identity fits in this narrative, and I’m sure there are many others like me who hit the same roadblock.
Ultimately, the responsibility of representation falls on the casting directors, modeling agencies, and corporations who actually decide who appears in the media. Most of the “plus-size representation” only highlights small fats in the fat community. We rarely see people with visible stomach fat, stretch lines, jiggles and rolls, and many other common physical attributes of fatness.
The media has a loooong way to go with fat representation, and I don’t know when ethnic diversity will become a priority. But for all my fellow fat Asian models trying to take space in this field, I see you. You deserve support, good fortune, and recognition for your efforts just as much as every other fat creator. In the least cheesy way possible, don’t lose hope. Your flowers will come and our world will be better off for it.