Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies, Vol 2 (2011)

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Disordered Eating, Agency, and Social Class: Elaine Mar’s Paper Daughter

Roxanne Naseem Rashedi


This article examines the relationship between disordered eating and class identity in Paper Daughter: the memoir of Elaine Mar, a Chinese-American woman who emigrated with her family from the Toishan region of mainland China in 1972 to a working-class neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. In Paper Daughter, Mar explores the relationship between bodily “excess,” as sociologist Beverly Skeggs describes, and class identity. A close examination of Mar’s disordered eating shows readers how her ED stems from a class inferiority complex.  Gendered as female, and classed as inferior due to her immigrant status and working-class background, classifies Mar as the “other.” Mar utilizes her ED because she believes it will shed off her “excess” of Skeggs’s “disgust”; that is, her low-class upbringing. In other words, disordered eating is a way for Mar to achieve the American dream: the upper-class American woman. This upper-class woman wears idolized brand-name lines that symbolize the American ideal (e.g. Izod shirts) but more importantly, this woman is afforded the opportunity to ponder and explore the world of American dieting.

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