How I Learned to Love My Body by Painting Myself

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Body Language is an essay series that speaks to the ongoing conversation about beauty standards around the world—an exploration of where we came from and where we’re headed. 

I didn’t consider myself Asian until I was 18. That’s because I’m half white and I grew up in predominantly white upstate New York. Once my parents even told me to put my race as white on a form because, they rationalized, I’m American—but it was very confusing because I’m more Asian presenting. I was also a larger person, and all the women around me and in the media were thin. I had nothing to relate to and grew up thinking something was wrong with myself and my body, personality, and identity.

My mom was a significant influence for me, especially regarding self-expression. She’d wear vintage fur jackets in winter, and I’d be so embarrassed; everyone else’s mom would be wearing puffer jackets. I just wanted her to blend in. She was the only Asian figure in my life growing up, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was so impactful to see this strong Korean woman wearing whatever she wanted in this white town.

Before I went to college, I saw my art and identity as separate. I was still suppressing my issues about being biracial and never thought about expressing that in my work. I painted white figures or ignored the figures’ identities and wasn’t painting about anything important to me; it was very superficial. Then a professor told me, “You should be more in the work.” I didn’t realize I could tell stories through paintings—I was more interested in technique than narrative or concepts. But discovering other Asian artists and seeing how much they conveyed through their work significantly impacted my creative process.

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