I attended a discussion panel hosted by the Asian American Studies Program this past week about Race & Beauty. There were about 30 people cramped into a tiny room. Some main highlights:
1. I sometimes feel a bit irked whenever someone assumes that Asians' beauty standards, such as wanting bigger eyes or whiter skin, is based off the desire to emulate whiteness. I feel this demonstrates a lack of understanding of Asian culture, and was glad one of the panelists brought this topic up. While Western beauty standards do influence the rest of the world due to globalization, I would not peg that as the driving force influencing Asia's beauty ideals. Rather, a lot of Asia's beauty ideals are based on class anxieties. Looking back at history, if one was a poorer laborer, one would have tanner skin. The rich would have paler skin since they didn't have to do manual labor. Thus, skin color was an indication of class. With regards to the double eyelid surgeries taking place today, one still needs a certain amount of money to finance it. (Granted, there are illegal, but cheaper, options available in some places). Overall, Asian beauty standards have evolved through a mix of factors.
2. Mindy Kaling. Many Asian Americans have been excited about her show's success and happy to see more Asian American female representation that's dimensional and isn't fetishized. However, she's now facing criticism about not introducing more Asian Americans in her show. Some believe that she has the responsibility towards the Asian American community to do so. Others are inclined to think it's not something she has to do. I personally don't know where I stand on this issue, but I do think The Mindy Project is a media landmark for Asian Ams.
3. Do we just eradicate beauty standards? Create new ones? I don't think it's possible to just remove beauty standards. As humans, we're also wired to value some aesthetics more than others. I spoke up in the discussion and asked, what then, can we pragmatically do? By wearing makeup and slathering on skin creams, aren't we perpetuating beauty standards? Yet how many, including myself, would be willing to give up wearing makeup? Can we afford to do so, as beauty is a form of power for women? If makeup gives women confidence, is it a crutch rather than a form of empowerment? I did a little experiment two years ago where I tried to redefine beauty, and focused on seeing the beauty in everyone. It's hard because I am bombarded by friends and society who are constantly evaluating how good-looking people are and putting them in a hierarchy. I think about the times my male friends would have number rankings for how hot a girl at a party was. I think about the times my female friends have made snide remarks about what another girl was wearing. I stand guilty too, and wonder if I hurt any of my male counterparts by fangirling about guys in the media. It saddens me to think about this, and sometimes feel lost about what I can do.
Overall, the panel was great food for thought. I'm hoping there will be another one in the future!