Wednesday, June 23, 2010

atypical appearances.

I never went to Chinese school nor did I have many classmates from preschool forward who were also Chinese, and none who were girls. That, coupled with my young alopecia diagnosis and the lack of Asian representation in mainstream Hollywood, influenced my perception of how the ideal Chinese woman “should” look. The Chinese heroines I saw in my mother’s Chinese movies had the same general features: thin bodies; long, black, pin-straight hair; delicate hands; perfectly shaped eyebrows above perfect, almond eyes. I looked in the mirror and could never see myself growing up into that ideal woman, especially after the first wig when I was eleven – I couldn’t see myself as any "type" of Asian.

On the occasion I would flip through a tween/teen-oriented magazine, I would stare transfixed at the pages detailing makeup tips and advertising various products. My most common concern: the elusive double eyelid. Online research and Asian American Psychology class have since taught me the methods Asian-American women use/have used to give the appearance of the double eyelid, from Scotch tape to surgery. Let's be honest though: any type of surgery is inherently terrifying. My (ir)rational fear of eyes has me squirming just at the thought of having the double eyelid surgery. We watched a documentary in Asian American Psychology that showed a woman going through this process and the way one's eye swells up post-surgery before looking "normal"...I shudder at the thought of the recollection. Is the pain and discomfort worth it? Many women will argue "yes," including some of my own relatives who've used the Scotch tape method.

Sure, it always bothered me that I couldn’t use eye shadow or that I couldn’t use eyeliner the way other women normally would. The fact that I couldn’t use mascara because of my condition was already a bother. But the lack of makeup products available to me helped me become less dependent on chemicals to feel beautiful. I enjoy makeup as much as the next Cosmo girl and my already incomplete eye features do feel even more incomplete without eyeliner, but I’m also aware that there are more important things: character, class, personality, etc.

But then here’s the strange dilemma: If I don’t look Chinese, what (who?) do I look like? As much as I’ve learned that looks are not all important, it’s hard to abandon that appearances do hold a key role in helping shape an identity early on. I can't pretend that my current identity crisis is related to my lack of identification growing up - a little like Gonzo in Muppets From Outer Space, I suppose. (And yes, I just made a Muppet reference. Serious business.) I grew up avoiding mirrors but now, in confronting them, I’ve become confused as to what I’m searching for.


  1. There seems to a be a strange new law of the universe in action these days-- if I learn about something in my intercultural communications class, it then pops up in conversation with my friends. I guess that means I'm studying something worthwhile.
    I must admit I know EXTREMELY little about Chinese culture and aesthetics, but what I find interesting is that the "hot skinny Asian chick" has largely been a creation of American media, I think. It is a stereotype just as much as the blue-eyed blonde Barbie is. How the US ideal of the "sexy exotic" compares to Chinese aesthetics, I don't know, but what I do know is that women around the planet watch American movies and music videos. According to American media hegemony, the whole of the female population ought to look like the ladies on Cosmo.
    My experiences are probably have probably been a good bit different than yours, because I'm pretty darn mainstream looking and my family background consists of white Europeans, but it's interesting that we all feel some variations of similar pressures.
    Anyway, I love you and I think you are gorgeous!!!

  2. I used to be really self-conscious about my eyes because I thought they were super small...and then I realized that I had a double eyelid that came and went. There's always something to be self-conscious about if we really look for them. :P