Personal Experience: Eurocentric Beauty Standards

I’d like to say that my thoughts and actions aren’t dictated by race, but that would be a lie. That would be a lie for anyone. I was recently reminded of an old text post: “the first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think; what you think next defines who you are,” which made me forgive myself for the subconscious judgments that sometimes arise. What we have been conditioned to think could be what society tells us, what our peers tell us, and our past experiences. (These are not mutually exclusive categories, as one always affects the other, but they are good landmarks to look for.) I am always harsh and critical towards myself, and often will ruminate over a judgment I made towards someone, judging myself for having the thought in the first place. This is counterproductive, however, because thoughts are just thoughts.

Societal Beauty Standards:

The environment a child is surrounded by greatly shapes their views of themselves later into adolescence and adulthood. Offhand comments that may not seem like a big deal can have a huge impact on a child, especially when said by an adult. Being Chinese and born in Canada, I was exposed to many confusing experiences when it came to my self-worth, self-image, and ideals of beauty as it related to my race.

Living in a Western society, we subscribe heavily to Eurocentric beauty standards. This is ingrained into kids since birth. Representation matters. Growing up, I rarely saw role models or actresses who looked like me. I was mostly surrounded by other Caucasian kids but I never really thought much about it until someone pointed it out to me. It was unfortunately pointed out by a teacher, when I was only about 8 years old. We were doing an art project as a class, where we would stand in front of a light so the teacher could trace the silhouettes of our side profiles, then we would decorate or paint the picture. I remember in our there were only 4 Asian kids, all Chinese – 2 boys and 2 girls. The teacher was doing my tracing and she made a comment about how flat my nose was, and how full my lips were. I remember her laughing, and I really do not think it was malicious, but this stuck with me. Later, my friend compared my silhouette with hers and commented on how much flatter my face was compared to hers. This was the first time that someone pointed out I was different.

When I was 10 I got my first pair of glasses. The lady working at the shop seemed amused by how difficult it was to find a pair that fit me and didn’t slide down my nose because of my low bridge. In the end they had to insert nose pads into the frame so they would fit me. She was very friendly and good-natured about it, however I felt awful. It was another reminder that I was different, driving the wedge even further. I felt like I was an inconvenience for having my facial structure, and reprimanded myself for not being “normal”.

When I was 14, I was getting my makeup done for grade 9 grad. I went with a small group of friends and I was the only Chinese Canadian kid. The woman doing my makeup commented on how full my lips were compared to my friends. She told me not to worry, it was a good thing, and I was very lucky to have such big brown eyes. Although these words were kind and likely only had good intentions, I only felt like I was being singled out. As a very shy and sensitive kid in the first place, I hated being reminded that I was different. I didn’t want to look white per se – all I knew was that I wanted people to stop pointing out that I was different.

I do not think any of these people were being racist or trying to be hurtful intentionally. In the end, though, this took a toll on my self image and self esteem. I think that these experiences I went through are simply what happens when you are a minority. However, Canada is becoming increasingly multicultural, and I do think it is important to work towards a shift in attitudes that will reflect our multiculturalism. I think this can only be beneficial. The idea, however, is not to put down European/Caucasian beauty standards. They can still be embraced, while at the same time embracing the unique features found in different races and learn to measure our self worth with other means, not solely on beauty/appearance.

To read about my further confusing experiences of Asian beauty, see: Fetishism isn’t flattery

Reconciling identity disturbances

Before yesterday, I hadn’t written in almsot a month. Partially because I have no internet at home, but also because I’m typing out long posts and then deleting them when the perfectionist in my head starts pointing out every single flaw. I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to find the words to convey my thoughts when normally it comes very easily to me. Writing was my thing – I always thought I was a good writer, but recently I’ve been really struggling to communicate my ideas.

When I first moved, I made sure to take care of my health. Being physically active was very important to me, so I was at the gym almost every day. My friend here remarked how fit and active I was (jokes on her!). Last week I was bouldering and found myself so fatigued I couldn’t even make it halfway up the wall. And it suddenly wasn’t fun anymore.  I also had a cough that lasted for about two weeks, so I would also be coughing so much I couldn’t properly breathe at times.

I am studying nutrition, so I recognize the importance of good eating, but I also feel the need to fill the role of a “nutritionist” sometimes. I cooked homemade meals every day, I packed healthy snacks, and I made sure I ate at least three meals nicely spaced out throughout the day. Recently I’ve been so busy, I’ve barely had enough time to buy groceries or cook. I’m so tired I’m scrambling to feed myself, and as a result I am grumpy and sluggish.

These areas that I identifed with are currently damaged. How can I be “fit” or “healthy” or “a writer” if I am unable to do any of these now? An unstable sense of self or identity disturbance is considered a core characteristic of BPD. In general, I don’t feel like this is a characteristic that applies to me, but I do struggle sometimes with identity. One way that my therapist suggested I reconcile these difficulties is by identifying with traits, rather than roles.

Many of us, BPD or not, often define ourselves by our roles. This is why relationships can be so dangerous. My identity becomes “so-and-so’s girlfriend”. This is why I know I can’t be in a relationship right now, because I get sucked into that illusion of an identity. What happens when we break up? Who am I then?

I am proud to call myself a student and also a teacher. I am also compelled to define myself as a student and a teacher. Those are roles, though – they are not who I am. What happens when I graduate? What happens if I am no longer offered a teaching position? Who am I then? Instead, it is better to think of the traits that led me to be so successful in these roles.

I carry the role of being a friend, a sister, a person to lean on. But that is not who I am. I am empathetic (too much, sometimes), I am loving, I am protective and I am loyal.

I carry the role of being a teacher and a student, but that is not who I am. I am curious, I am creative, I am a problem solver.

I carry the role of being a writer, musician and someone who tries to be physically active and healthy (not always the case). But sometimes I sink and don’t have the energy to bring myself back up. Sometimes I can’t be a good writer. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed, never mind going to the gym for a good workout. Sometimes I don’t have the will to leave my house to get groceries to cook something healthy.

The thing is, I don’t write, cook, and workout because those roles have to define me. There’s a reason why I write, play music, stay active, and eat well – I want to recover.

I am determined.  I am strong. I am resilient.