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