(feat.) An Open Dialogue About Western Beauty Standards
Let me just start out by saying this: I never thought I was pretty growing up. From the ages of 8-16, I have zero photos of myself. Zero. My mom would beg me to smile, to pose for this or that picture… and I will admit, there were some I did, but those photographs never saw the light of day again.
While I realize that the word pretty is subjective, the general consensus in the Western world seems to be an unspoken standard of long blonde or chestnut brown hair, ski-slope nose, legs like Giselle, with light green or blue almond-shaped eyes, a flat stomach, and a honeyed complexion (not too light and not too dark) to boot.
You may be sitting there rolling your eyes, chalking it all up to just being a figment of my imagination– but is it really? Just a quick look at current idolized mainstream celebrities proves otherwise. Need I note that Megan Fox, Alexis Ren, Kylie Jenner, the Hadids, Adriana Lima, Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne, Jennifer Lawrence, and Hailey Baldwin are all worshipped and hashtagged as #goals almost daily?
I bet I’m not the first to notice the commonalities running between nearly every popular social media influencer and celebrity of our day and age. Same as above– blonde or brunette, with legs that stretch on for miles, light eyes, and a flat stomach.
Let that sink in.
As a child, I never thought I was pretty.
Growing up in a predominantly white town did have its perks (I say with dripping sarcasm)– like being asked where my parents were from on an almost daily basis and waving off regular questions about my ethnicity. However, none of those things really bothered me until I got to elementary school.
I distinctly remember being teased on the playground for having darker skin than my peers, a flat nose, and “weird eyes”. I’m not saying this to get sympathy, I’m just saying it how it is… and reflecting on the experiences that ended up shaping how I viewed myself for the rest of my life.
I never thought I was pretty.
After all, how could I? Really… when you were surrounded by little blonde haired, blue eyed children who took every opportunity they could to make it known to you that you just didn’t fit in, you started to believe it. While I know it was just insecure bullying in retrospect, as a kid– it sucks. You start to feel ugly just by nature of who you are and how you were born– and over time, you start to feel that ugliness from the inside, rather than out.
It wasn’t until I really sat down to think about it now, at twenty years old, did I realize that I didn’t feel ugly simply because of the childhood taunts I endured, but also because I was inundated with pop culture celebrities I just couldn’t relate to and would never look like in my life. I can’t remember how many times I looked in the mirror and wished I had a straighter nose, or blonde hair. My feeling of sheer ugliness didn’t just come from the children on the playground, but the environment and the world I was raised in. Society not only reminded me on a daily basis of how I failed to fit in, but also the ways specifically in which I was supposed to be beautiful but wasn’t.
I never thought I was pretty.
Asian and minority representation in mainstream media is grossly insufficient to where it should be in our socially conscientious society. When was the last time you saw an Asian lead in a movie that wasn’t centered around assassins, nerdy Asians, Kung-Fu masters, prostitutes, or Dragon-whisperers? Right… I can’t really think of one either.
That’s the problem– there’s barely a dialogue about Asian representation at all. Sure the popular train of thought is to target the lack of minority representation in Hollywood as a whole– but let’s just take a step back and look at the facts. A whopping 72.5% of Television and Theatrical roles that go to SAG members are filled by caucasian actors, with a diminishing 13.3% going to African-American actors, 6.4% to Latinos, and 3.8% to Asians. What. The. Actual. Eff. Guys. I swear I’m not making this shit up.
And yeah, I’m angry. I’m mad. As anyone should be concerning a social inequality. We can’t change anything unless we are.
Scroll through your Instagram, look through your movies and TV shows that you love to watch, even consider the books you like to read– what do all the celebrities and main characters have in common? Oh yeah, they’re white or white passing or racially ambiguous enough to be classified as white or an actor in a white tv show.
I never thought I was pretty.
Now let’s switch gears for a minute.
Let’s look at the current beauty standards in Asian countries today. Did you know 1.43 million people in 2014 in South Korea got a surgery that essentially changed the flap on their eye to be a double eyelid instead of a monolid as Asians are (wrongly) classified as typically having. The exact term for it is blepharoplasty.
But the way that it originated is almost horrific… or startling at the very least.
In 1964, Dr. Ralph Millard, an American plastic surgeon who was stationed to do reconstructive facial surgeries for wounded American soldiers in Seoul, met who he described as,”..a slant-eyed Korean interpreter, speaking excellent English, requesting to be made into a ’round-eye.” Let’s just deconstruct this– due to American influence invading a foreign country, the standard of “round-eyes” became a desired norm likely due to appearances of a developed Westernized nation… and it quickly caught fire from then on.
Now let’s just do a quick 40 degree turn and address the common practice of skin bleaching in Asian countries as well. In a survey conducted by an independent research group in 2016, 4 out of 10 women in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea used a skin whitening cream. Andrew McDougall, the founder of www.cosmeticsdesign-asia.com even predicted the global market for skin whiteners is,“projected to reach $19.8 billion by 2018, driven by the growing desire for light-coloured skin among both men and women primarily from the Asian, African and Middle East regions.” That’s insanity.
Nineteen point eight billion spent on skin whitening products and creams.
Not only was I just one girl who felt pressured to adhere to the pervasive beauty standards of the West, but Asian men and women have felt that same pressure since Westerners have colonialized in their lands for hundreds of years.
It’s up to us to open a dialogue, to promote more diversity, and to address this issue. But where does one even begin when it’s a systemic problem spanning hundreds of years, rooted not only in Western culture, but Asian culture as well?
Confession: I never felt pretty growing up.
Confession: At 20 years old, I no longer feel the desire to look like anyone else but myself.