White skin. A nose with a high bridge. Double eyelids.
Those were all things that I wish I had growing up. Growing up in a Chinese household my mom and aunts were constantly making comments on my outward appearance. This was my mom’s and aunts’ way of showing they care because basically when they do this, they’re saying, “see, I do pay attention to you,” but as a Chinese-American who was raised in the States, I just thought it was a rude thing that my family did. Every time someone made a comment about my physical appearance, it made me insecure and self- conscious. Growing up, I wished for my face and body to change and transform into a different face and body than my own, but that never happened.
Whiter skin, high noses, and bigger eyes were valued and seen as more beautiful in my family. I blame the influence of western beauty ideals and the desire to want to fit into white America. I blame the concept of whiteness being more superior and beautiful than brown or blackness. I blame the sexist and racist expectations of how I’m supposed to show up in the world as an Asian woman.
Those beauty standards paired with the way I was looked at by my white peers, made me struggle with the way I looked.
Day 1 of kindergarten, I was made fun of because of the shape of my eyes. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, schoolmates would comment on how short and skinny I was and because of my stature, people constantly patted me on the head like a dog or picked me up without my consent. At home, any change in my appearance would be commented on.
I used to hate how my skin would get really tan during summers while my sister and mom maintained their porcelain complexions. Before the days of Asian beauty vloggers, I had no idea how to apply makeup to my monolid eyes and I never could buy sunglasses that I wanted because they would always slide down my nose. I felt shame about the way I looked because I didn’t fit into those beauty ideals. I would never have white skin or a curvy body or big doe eyes like the people I was used to seeing on TV and film. I felt inferior.
But then something changed, and I realized how ridiculous and messed up it is that we put so much power in whiteness. If I want to fight against white supremacy and racism, that means pushing back against beauty ideals that feel oppressive or that make me, as a woman of color, feel inferior. I’m not saying it’s been easy or that I don’t still sometimes struggle with my physical appearance but I’m working on it. I’ve learned to embrace the features that my Chinese ancestors have given me, including the way my eyes are shaped, the way my nose is shaped, and the color of my skin. They are mine and I honor them. And that is beautiful.