Small Talk with Lynn Chen
In my journal, I keep a list of people who I admire, respect, derive inspiration from, and relate to: names that remind me to keep going when I really, truly can’t. This is what, to me, defines a role model. In light of being a ~young person~, I think it’s important to have lists like these: lists filled with people to look to as a guide when the path gets murky. And I know that finding a role model is an intrinsic task for everyone who knows (or does not know) the path they’re pointing towards, but identifying and familiarizing yourself with the lives of a handful of admirable people can be really rewarding. Throughout my life’s process of growing and learning, I’ve found that finding examples in others and their stories can be incredibly motivating.
Moving through life and trying to achieve your goals can be a muddling journey. The moments when you sense a severe lack of motivation can often coincide with distorted hubris, and being so unsure of the future can make people--especially young people--feel hopelessly separated from folks who say that they’ve “been through it all,” that they know more, or that they know you. Older people tell you not to reinvent the wheel, but you may want to, as a young artist, activist, or young person in general, simply because you don’t like the original design. These challenges are what all of the best, most accomplished, most “sure” people encounter (or have encountered!), yet it’s often difficult for me, as a young artist and writer, to draw similarities between my role models and myself. But when it comes down to it, everyone on this planet started somewhere, and the likenesses between me and my role models are truly the reasons why I respect these individuals: they’re human. And seeing this obvious similarity, knowing that they’ve faced doubt and uncertainty and ambiguity about the future and the Now just like the rest of us, is what helps keep their words and overall godlike essences with us.
So I’m super excited to introduce SUEY’s first Small Talk, with a woman who’s established herself in the worlds of both acting and activism. Her name is Lynn Chen, and she’s known for her roles in films such as Saving Face, White On Rice, The People I’ve Slept With, and Surrogate Valentine. She also samples food in Buzzfeed videos, and is the co-founder of Thick Dumpling Skin, an online community for Asian-Americans to discuss unhealthy and healthy body ideals. Her work not only shines a light on the Asian-American community, but also draws parallels between being Asian and dealing with insecurity. Here, we have a brief, casual talk about body image issues (may contain triggers), acting, and food. We’re so thankful that she was able to speak with us.
What kinds of experiences did you go through during your childhood/teenage years that came along with being a part of the Asian American community and having body image issues?
I was always a really skinny kid growing up, and being flat-chested during adolescence was something I was very self-conscious of. I also felt ashamed of the Chinese foods we were eating at home- and a lot of my overeating came from trying to experience "American" food outside the home, while still pleasing my parents by finishing all my food at the breakfast/dinner table.
What are your thoughts on coping with eating disorders or feeling bad about food, and how do you think family life relates to how someone thinks about their body?
It’s pretty common in Asian households not to discuss our feelings- in fact, there is a tendency to smother anything negative with food. Combining this with the usual greeting of, "You look like you've gained/lost weight" followed by "Have you eaten?"— it's all a messy breeding ground for mixed messages and body issues.
What are your personal experiences when it comes to working in the film industry as an Asian American, and what were some of the problems that you went through/dealt with?
I think that everyone has a different experience being in this industry. I've been doing this for over 30 years now, and I’ve found that everyone's story will be different. Mine has been different during various stages of my life- sometimes being Asian-American has helped me, other times it hasn't. I really don't try to figure it out, analyze the industry, or make predictions anymore. It takes a lot of energy.
What is one example of a quote/adage that you often apply to your life, whether that be to promote your own self-improvement, remind yourself of positivity, keep yourself motivated, etc?
It all comes to an end—the good, the bad—so feel all the feelings while they're happening. It's a part of life.
What advice can you give to the general population of people who feel insecure because of their race, which may correlate to insecurities about their weight, or other aspects of their physical appearance?
One day, you truly won't care what others think. Why not practice thinking that way now?