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Opinion
Rachel Rosenthal

Asia's Obsession With Food and Beauty Has a Dark Side

Covid-era isolation and cultural triggers lay the groundwork for eating disorders. But diagnosis is poor and treatment remains elusive.

For people with eating disorders, captivity to the numbers can be debilitating.

For people with eating disorders, captivity to the numbers can be debilitating.

Photographer: BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images 

At a recent doctor’s visit, my endocrinologist admonished me for gaining two pounds. “You’re not obese” — I’m not even close — “but it’s something to watch,” he told me.

I left the appointment equal parts indignant and unsure. It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered this level of frankness about my body or appearance since moving to Asia. When I was pregnant in Hong Kong, my Chinese teacher confirmed that I must be having a boy. “Boys give mothers beauty, girls take it away,” she said. Years later, my property agent in Singapore was relieved to hear I was pregnant with my second child: “I thought you were just getting fat!”