"No, I'm Not Chinese": Colorism, Representation, & Beauty Standards In The Asian Community
At the beginning of the month, I introduced a new series that will run into September, and this is one of the stories I wanted to share. Very soon, I'll be featuring stories of some brave faces on my Instagram page.
Whenever people think of Asia, they think of countries in East Asia; China, Japan, and Korea. Countries in South and Southeast Asia, like the Philippines, India, and Malaysia are second to be mentioned. Is it the stereotype of Asians in the media that have to do with this? Small eyes, pale skin, black and straight hair -- that's how Asians have been represented in North America for years.
Well, guess what? My eyes are only small when I'm smiling, my skin is brown, and my hair is curly. Oops.
Is it weird that I don't identity with East Asians because they generally don't look like me? I'm all for any person of colour getting recognition and representation, but in terms of Asian actors and influencers, I wish I could see more people with flat noses and brown skin. Even if people point out that I'm light-skinned (to the point of looking east Asian), I see myself as brown. Filipinos are mostly brown, my family is brown, my last name is brown... well, Spanish, but let's not get into history today.
I do believe that my hesitancy to accept that I do look Asian, but not Filipino, stems from colorism and bigotry within the Asian community. Sure, my mom makes jokes about Chinese people having really small eyes or being cheap. Actually, my whole family likes to point out the fact that I don't look Filipino and joke that I'm adopted because of how light-skinned I am. Hey, in our messed up world, people would usually see it as a compliment to not be so dark, but because my physical features have to do with my identity, which is important to me, the jokes become more bothersome than amusable. It sucks feeling left out of your own kin when you feel just as brown and Filipino as them.
The older I grow, the more I question my place in my environments. I already know that I would love to be around progressive thinkers who are accepting, open-minded, and put love above anything, but it's been more difficult to find myself in a group of people who look like me. I even thought to myself, "What's so bad about looking Chinese? I mean, at least people get the race right."
Well, it never really was about looking Chinese that bothered me. It was about not looking FIlipino, having Mandarin or Cantonese-speaking people ask me for directions (plus, not being able to help them), and having people assume that I identity with a culture that isn't mine.
Other than the colorism issue, the absurd Asian beauty standards of having Eurocentric features were also passed down to my siblings and I since we were younger. I remember putting a clothes pin on my nose because my mom told me that having a pointy nose is "better." I remember feeling like dirt compared to my classmates in ballet school (that probably also had to do with social class), which is funny because at home, I'm admired for my lighter skin -- THE CONFLICT THIS CAUSED ME. I remember waking up extra early on high school days to straighten my hair or wear it up, because I was called bruha (which means witch in Tagalog) because of it and I also didn't know that hair products existed.
Asian beauty standards are the reason I stopped watching Filipino teleseryes, because all the lead actors are mostly mestizas (biracial, think literally every famous Filipino actor) or chinitas (women with Chinese blood, think Kim Chiu). Sometimes, there are morenas (women with brown skin), but they're really just above average looking brown people because they have Eurocentric features, like having a pointier nose or bigger eyes. I can't even see myself in media that stems from my own ethnic background. How crazy is that?
I don't like to think of the external differences between people. I'm sure we all didn't when we were younger, but it's society and their standards that made me realize how unjust and unfair it is to make someone feel uncomfortable in their own skin, whether it's through a lack of representation, bullying, or your general environment. Maybe it's growing up or maybe it's due to today's political climate, but I've become so conscious of my outer, physical identity -- its abilities to cause issues, be it an identity crisis or mean racism, but also its power. I don't think I'm powerless because I'm brown with curly hair. I think I'm powerful because of those things.