Two things that will always be true about me is that my name is Trina Dong and I grew up in Wisconsin. In other words, I miraculously made it through middle school unscathed in a small town with a last name that means “penis” in American. I learned how to surfacely deal with stereotypes and labels at a very young age. Now, as an adult, I’m the first one to make jokes about my own stereotypes that I don’t break as an Asian-Caucasian American. For example, I panic when someone wears shoes in the house and my first instinct when a camera is pointed at me is to throw up a peace sign or two. However, I’ve never gotten above a C in any math class and I’ve been overweight for most of my life. That’s right, I’m your very own Fat Asian Best Friend with an age range of 18-35. At least that’s how I’ve narrowed it down as my type in Hollywood.
As a self-proclaimed professional writer, I should have already moved on from the first paragraph, but I can’t believe I just called myself “fat”. No matter what body positivity activists say, that word punches me in the throat every time I hear it. My current fatness (ouch) is due to a strong cocktail of physical and emotional ailments. Most dramatically, I have an autoimmune disorder that caused a large amount of weight gain that I couldn’t control for multiple years. And, I eat my feelings. But, how I got here doesn’t matter. People assume I’m lazy, have an all you can eat pass to the Olive Garden and wouldn’t know what exercise is if it kettlebelled me in the face. You might be thinking to yourself, “You don’t know that. That’s your own insecurities talking.” Sometimes that’s true but other times people straight up tell you their opinions of you right to your face. I’ve lived most of my life with thick enough skin to brush off the haters but then I moved to Los Angeles to be an actor and now my skin is thinner than your granny’s embroidery thread.
My first agent told me I was very unique. It’s not just every day a plus-size Asian girl walks into the room. She told me there won’t be many roles for me but if there is something specifically for my type, I’ll book it. Then she said to go get a real job while I wait because they don’t come very often. She also made it very clear that if I was to change how I look, I wouldn’t have any opportunity at all. So, wait a minute, the rest of the world is telling me to lose weight but she’s saying I don’t have enough talent to be thinner. Oh, and she let me know that I’m not Asian enough for the few Asian roles that are out there but not white enough for any other role. When I broke all of that down while ugly crying the entire way home in an Uber, the conclusion I came to is that I was nothing in this place and I had no idea what to do.
Over the next few years, I listened to a lot of people share their honest opinions about me. Once, I was in the hospital for a week because of undiagnosed autoimmune symptoms. It was a teaching hospital and my doctor, who was at least 40 years my senior, let his students know that with someone my size, they need to try not to embarrass us while examining our bodies. Another time, a man came up to me when I was working out at the gym and told me I’d never lose weight by just using the treadmill. Meanwhile, I was sweating to death on a giant incline at a very high speed. I’ve been told multiple times that I only like “Asian things” because I’m Asian. That was an interesting battle to start because clearly he’s never heard of sushi, ramen, BTS selling out stadiums in the U.S. that seat over 50,000 people and has never seen the 4-time Academy Award winning film Parasite, but who’s really keeping track of Asian things anyway.
After a long time of listening to what people have tried to tell me about who I am, I’ve been able to figure it out on my own. The funny thing is, I think I’ve always known but I let other noise take precedence over my own voice. It’s impossible not to think about others’ opinions of you. Accepting that is the first thing I had to do because telling myself that I don’t care isn’t ever going to be true. It takes hard work to push out all of the negativity. I don’t think I’ll ever fully be able to but I’m going to keep taking it one step at a time. To quote RM from BTS’ United Nations Speech, “I’m going to embrace myself as hard as I can, and I’m starting to love myself, gradually, little by little.” Yes, I shared that to show yet another “Asian thing” that is bigger than just our community, but also because it’s the best self-commitment I’ve ever heard. I’ve made a choice to follow these words and move forward in my life without extremes or hasty decisions.
I can’t teach everyone the importance of the Golden Rule. I mean, if someone hasn’t learned it by now, they never will. I also can’t control anyone else’s opinions, but what I can control is how I handle them. I know it’s easier said than done. The good thing is, I’ll be doing it while I pursue what I love. As long as I do that, I’ll gladly take an infinite amount of Uber meltdowns along the way.
Follow Trina @heytrinadong