Moving Beyond Perfection

My Story

I have always been a dreamer. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a princess one day. I wanted to find a Prince Charming, to be beautiful, and to shine. Every story I wrote about in elementary school began with “Once Upon a Time…” I wanted my life to be a fairy tale.


When I grew a little older and realized that I would probably never met a prince in my life, my dreams began to change. I still loved to daydream though, and to envision my future. Sometimes these would be unrealistic dreams, but I still had lots of fun dreaming. When I was 10, I would daydream during long car rides about what I would be like in high school. With music playing in the background, I would imagine myself miraculously much taller (I have always been short and am still only 5’1), gorgeous, and strutting down the hallways, with boys noticing me. This was a dream because socially, I have always been very average. My family constantly moved from place to place, and it was hard as a young girl to establish a close group of friends then. Without a close group of friends, I never had much self-esteem. I always felt like the new girl, since my family hardly stayed in one place for more than 2 years.


What I came to realize when I grew older is that I must have subconsciously always wanted to stand out. In elementary school, I wanted to be a princess. In middle school, I wanted to be the popular girl in high school. Even in high school, I was probably still dreaming of being somehow standing out in college. Things changed for me in high school though.


When I attended middle school, I lived in Westport, CT, and I loved this because I was probably one of two only Asian girls in my entire grade. People thought it was so unique and interesting that I spoke Chinese. Being Asian allowed me to stand out, and it conveniently provided me an identity. I loved Connecticut. As you can imagine, I was heartbroken when my father told me we were moving to Tokyo again. And yes I do mean again, for we had already lived in Tokyo once when I was in elementary school. This announcement came at the end of 7th grade, after 2 years of promising me that I would never have to move again.


In retrospect, Tokyo was wonderful, but one thing I remembered not liking about my school was that there were so many Asians. I attended the American School in Japan, but there were still so. many. asians. Instead of standing out, I blended in. I was no longer unique, and I remember this bothering me. In addition, I felt much more “American” than the rest of the kids since I had just come from the U.S., and it frustrated me that I looked Asian.


Yet, in high school, I was still able to make something of myself- to stand out somehow. It was a small high school of perhaps 500 students max, and after a few years, I became known for my piano playing and my studies. However, I never did fully appreciate Tokyo for what it was until I left because I know a small part of me was still upset about my Asian identity. I felt American at heart, and yet I looked Asian. That, and the fact that I played piano. I thought I was doomed for college. How typical of me. Hi, I’m Asian, and I play the piano.


To my astonishment, I was accepted into Harvard College. I won’t deny that I didn’t work my butt off in high school to get into a good college, but it was still shocking, for many reasons. I just felt that my application was too average- what did Harvard see in me? At the time though, I was too ecstatic to think much of it and I couldn’t wait to attend school in Boston. I was going back to my roots, since I was actually born in Boston.


For a girl who has subconsciously always wanted to stand out though, you can only imagine what Harvard must have felt like at first. To this day, not many of my classmates know I play piano because I can’t stand to admit that I’m Asian and play piano. This is a real shame, I realize, because piano was actually a huge part of my life and I do love it dearly. But my point is, I had never felt so average in my entire life. Not only were there plenty of Asians there, but everyone was just ridiculously amazing in every way possible. Oh, you won a world championship? Oh, you’ve published 8 books already? Holy crap, I just did not belong. In high school, I was known for my extracurriculars and academics, but I never tried to compete in national competitions. And if I had, I probably wouldn’t have won anything. I felt like my identity was being stripped away. I used to be known for my accomplishments, and now my accomplishments meant nothing compared to what all the other kids had done. On top of this, the girls just seemed astonishingly gorgeous. They were living my day dreams. And not only were they tall, thin, and beautiful, but they were at Harvard. They were perfect. I didn’t realize it was possible.


And it was these thoughts that turned my freshman year into a nightmare. I was placed with roommates that I just did not get along with, and I made friends that I realized later on were only problem-set friends, and not real friends. Without a strong support network of friends, and with my parents all the way in Japan, I never felt so alone. I felt incompetent, I felt ugly, I felt like I just wanted to hide. I didn’t belong in this perfect world. So what did I do? I submerged myself in my studies. I turned down social invitations because I became anti-social and felt like every minute I spent having fun could have been better allocated on either studying or sleep. I also began working out, which I had started to do in high school, but now made it a daily occurrence. I began to eat ridiculously healthy, which I later realized was actually unhealthy, and all in all, just became an intense, imbalanced, and antisocial person. It was frustrating that no longer how much I studied, I could not get the same grades I did in high school. I was seeing numbers in the 70s rather than in the 90s. Although in the end, all that matters is the mean, and grades are curved, it felt different not being able to achieve a high score. It felt different having NO idea what your grade was until the semester finished. I felt like a failure.


Since I felt like I had lost my grasp on everything, I began to focus on my body instead. I just had to lose weight. It was the one tangible thing I felt like I could control. Work out, eat well, and the pounds will shed off. I observed other girls at Harvard eating only vegetables and salad, and I began to adopt their habits. While I never even considered “not eating”, my diet essentially consisted of fruits and vegetables. I barely ate anything with fat at all, and the pounds just fell off. Unfortunately, I did not understand nutrition very well and I ended up losing way too much weight. At the time, I was receiving compliments by others, and I became proud of my body. I soon became the girl who was tiny. I liked that. I finally had an identity again.


One day, I realized that I was actually repulsed by the thought of eating a slice of cake. Cake meant calories. An hour on the treadmill. Cake was disgusting. Cake was not worth it. When this thought popped in my head, I realized there was something wrong with me. I used to love cake. I began to suspect that I was developing an eating disorder.


I have always been a very introspective person, and I began to do a lot of thinking. I realized I had begun avoiding social situations because there would often be unhealthy food I could not control, and I even began to panic about the thought of going home, because what would I eat at home? Where would I work out at home? With these thoughts, I became scared of my health, but I was even more scared at the prospect of gaining weight.


This was all very confusing to me because I was the girl in high school who sat in health class, not understanding how anyone would want to develop an eating disorder. Additionally, I was not starving myself- I was constantly eating, in fact- just healthily. But my understanding of nutrition was simply lacking. Without any healthy fats in my diet, I was consuming a diet way too low in calories, and I realized I was feeling constantly fatigued and weak. As I began to suspect I had an eating disorder, I started to google what eating disorders were because I was confused. I did not have anorexia since I did not purposefully not eat, but I also did not have bulimia, since the idea of throwing up repulsed me. So how could I have an eating disorder?


After much research, I realized that my depression and strive for perfection had led me into the world of disordered eating. It was not an eating disorder, but I certainly had severe eating issues. My thoughts were constantly about food. What would I eat at my next meal? When could I next snack without feeling guilty? These thoughts became more and more frequent, and more and more annoying. It was exhausting. How the hell was I supposed to study and focus when I was constantly thinking about food? Miraculously, I was able to pull off decent grades, but by the time I returned home for the summer, I was a complete wreck. Emotionally and physically, I was just falling apart.


During the last week of school before going home, I was visiting a friend in her room and noticed she had a scale. I casually stepped on it, curious, since I did not own a scale, and when the numbers appeared, I was horrified. I had lost way more weight than I ever imagined possible. After reading numerous articles online about bone health risk associated with eating disorders, I became terrified for my bones. I decided right there and then that something had to change. I had to get healthy.


And so I returned home that summer paranoid, frightened, irritable, and a mess. My mother was shocked at how small I had become, but since I did eat a lot- albeit healthily- she did not know what was wrong with me. She also could not understand my insistence of seeing a doctor for my bones, though she consented. During this summer, I can only thank my parents for putting up with  me. Later I found out that my mother suspected what was wrong with me, and she realized that all she could do was just support me. I dropped her several hints, although I never actually said the words “eating disorder” or “depression”. But my mother knew. We have always had a deep connection with each other. We are best friends, and one of the things that bothered me most about my disordered eating was that it was the first secret I kept from my mother. Even though she knew, I never told her myself. This upset me greatly.


All I can say for that summer was that I was a wreck. I thank my parents and my younger brother, who was only 8 at the time, for putting up with me. I remember distinctly at some point in the summer, my mother pulled me aside and asked me if I was okay. I had been interning in Hong Kong that summer (my family had moved to Hong Kong by now), and I was complaining so much day and night that my dad was contemplating whether he should force me to quit my internship. This conversation with my mother was the closest we ever got to discussing my freshman year issues. I remember her saying that if I wasn’t okay, then I wasn’t okay and I should get help. She could tell I was going through a lot, and I was in no state of mind to be interning.


Home was a real haven for me though. Although I was a complete mess, I was able to go back to school in better spirits after being with my family for an entire summer. I realized I had fallen into a deep hole freshman year, and now it was time to get out. It was time to become myself again.


Sophomore year was the beginning of my journey to becoming myself again. It was not an easy journey, but I did make it through. I made new friends, and became more comfortable at school. I made myself gain my weight back, and I am proud to say that I am now finally back at my old weight- perhaps even heavier, though toner. But this task of gaining weight was so much harder than I ever imagined possible. At a perfectionist school like Harvard, every girl around me was trying to lose weight- not gain weight. Even my roommate, who is one of the least superficial people I know, was trying to lose weight. Nevertheless, I made it through and I also established a great group friends. I joined a sorority and those girls saved me from my deep, dark hole. They taught me what true balance is – how to have fun and still be successful. How to be beautiful and still enjoy treats. I love those girls deeply, and while some of them may have no idea what they have done for me, I am so thankful.  I began to laugh again and become my girly self. I found myself actually having fun and less stressed out all the time. I love my sisters. They brought me back to life.


I write this blog to tell of my journey to becoming happy and whole again, and to tell of my journey going forward. I have realized through my experiences that life is what you make of it and if you devote your life to achieving perfection, you may end up in misery. What I have also learned these past few years is that everyone has a story. Initially, I was extremely reluctant to share my freshman year experience with others because I believed that my story would make me seem like a failure, or the girl with “issues”. But as I began to share my story, I realized that almost everyone has a story of their own. Girls I thought were living the life freshman year actually through similar experiences. I truly realized that nobody is perfect. This blog will be about my journey moving beyond perfection.


Currently, I have told my story, or at least part of my story to many, but not to everyone. I want to share my story in hopes of showing others going through similar experiences to mine that they are not alone. I apologize to my friends who read this who have either only heard part of my story or not at all. I hope you can understand that this was extremely hard for me to share, being the perfectionist that I was, though it does become easier for me to talk about it every passing day. I also share the school I attend because I want to demonstrate that people who seem perfect may have many layers underneath. Never judge a book by its cover– it is true. And be happy with what you have, and who you are. Only when you accept yourself will  you shine and be happy, and seem happy to others.


Lastly, I must thank those writers who have shared their experiences of their own, and who have taught me about nutrition and that my body is not the enemy. Through Kath, Caitlin, Angela, Jenna, and Tina’s blogs, I have developed a true appreciation for wholesome food and to love my body. I continue to run as I did freshman year, but in a different light. I run because it makes me feel strong, and I love it. I work out because of how it makes me feel, not because I want to lose weight again. And I eat delicious, wholesome food because it nourishes me and enables my body to do what it can do. I ran my first half-marathon this past year in 1 hr 51 minutes, and it was the most ecstastic feeling I’ve ever felt. I plan on continuing to run and setting new goals for myself,  while maintaining a healthy diet. My next challenge will be moving on into the real world, working a full time job in NYC (crossing my fingers I’ll get a job!), while trying to maintain my nutrition and fitness. First, however, I will get to enjoy my senior year. I can honestly say I absolutely love Harvard now and am saddened to leave it so soon. Harvard, as with any college I am sure, is what you make of it. Freshman year seems so distant from me now, and I can barely remember how I came to be so miserable at the school I love so deeply now. I invite you to follow me on my journey forward, as I try to balance life with work, and become a “grown up”. One thing for sure is that I am still dreaming today. I hope one day to find my own Prince Charming and to find a work/life balance that will allow me to live life to its fullest. Thank you for reading!


4 Responses

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  1. Alex said, on July 14, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Wow, you showed both courage and vulnerability in that story. Thank you for sharing. I think many of us women can identify with you, at some point in our lives.

    Wishing you peace and healing!

  2. Kathy said, on July 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you for reading!! Sorry it was super long!

  3. Rachel S said, on July 21, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story! I just stumbled upon your blog today and your story is really inspiring, I can definitely relate to it.

  4. blueeyedheart said, on August 20, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for sharing your story! I just found your blog, and I can’t wait to read more. :)

    <3 <3

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