Pretty for a Chinese

Most preteens feel insecure about their looks. I was no exception. However, besides the crushing weight of normal insecurities brought on during that stage, I had to deal with much more.
When the thought of self-appearance came to mind, I had to deal with mixed feelings of shame, anger and self-rejection – all of which combined are basically a fancy way of saying that I felt ugly.
Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a girl who looked too Chinese to be considered beautiful. I cannot count the number of hours I practiced smiling without making my eyes squint. This is nothing new for some of us who have the “stereotypical Asian look,” which is a problematic concept since it generalizes all Asians as East Asians – but that is another story.
The “stereotypical Asian look” or “Chinese beauty” often includes the all too popular small eyes which is the butt of humiliating and racist jokes, a slim to the bone figure, straight ebony hair, and honestly too many others to name.
I have heard almost every kind of seemingly innocent remarks and quips regarding my “super Chinese” looks since my preschool days. As a child, I just went along and laughed because none of us knew any better. But after a long time, I stopped laughing when I realized they were not laughing with me – they were laughing at me. I always wondered what to say when people commented “Wow, you look so Chinese!” or “You’re so pretty – for a Chinese!”
That statement just confused me and I had to wonder: was that an insult or a compliment? Why is beauty subcategorized into levels? For the longest time I struggled with accepting myself for who I am. I did not want to be remembered as just the Chinese girl. It was more difficult to embrace and express the Chinese culture in me.
In fact, I used to wish that I was not born Chinese. I would have big, alluring, and colorful eyes like those described in stories instead of barely-there, boring, dark eyes. I would have beautiful light hair instead of boring dark hair. I tried to run away and reject Chinese culture because all I wanted was to be anything other than Chinese.
It certainly did not help that there was very little Asian representation in mainstream media at the time. If there were any Asians in movies or television shows, they were usually there just to fulfill the diversity requirement or be the audience’s source of laughter with an exaggerated and racist portrayal. Needless to say, it hurt and pushed down my confidence levels. It led me to believe that people with Eurocentric features are the ideal standards of beauty, and thus are the only ones deserving of being chosen for main roles or fashion models.
Furthermore, insensitive advertisements propagating this mindset from beauty companies that capitalized on this issue with products or services to convert natural features to Eurocentric features just made the road to self-acceptance more difficult.
Fortunately, representation and racial sensitivity has become more progressive today. There is still a long way to go, but seeing actors and actresses, music artists, fashion models, and other people of influence out there who look like me just makes my heart leap.
A big thank you is in order for inspiring every single person who struggled as I did with self-acceptance. They showed us that it is indeed possible to break through barriers and be whatever we want to be.
That being beautiful had nothing to do with subcategories. Although confidence and acceptance must not be based solely on the amount of representation in mainstream media, it definitely does not hurt to see more of it. I really cannot stress how uplifting representation is.
The journey to building up one’s confidence enough to accept who we truly are is long and arduous. I know because I walked down that road for many years and I am definitely not alone in this. Many factors can hinder a person from true acceptance but I ultimately realized that the biggest obstacle I had to overcome was myself.
Society will always play a role in what we think and believe in, but we are the ones who can choose to pull away and stop believing in it – no matter how difficult it is. Let us not be held back by any of this anymore.
Today, I am proud to say that not only have I achieved self-acceptance but also pride in who I am. I finally stopped being ashamed and fully embraced that aspect of my identity. It may have taken a long time but now I can finally look in the mirror and see a beautiful person – no subcategories.