If it isn’t obvious already by my almond eyes, the golden pigments in my skin, the crazy amount of Spam in my kitchen cabinets, or how I manage to slip in the peace sign at every group photo, then let me re-introduce myself: my name is Carla, I’m a senior at Cal State Fullerton, and I am a FOB– that’s "fresh-off-the-boat" for all those who are unaware of the term.
My entire family before me was born and raised in the Philippines, and I was fortunate enough to not break tradition. So when I broke out of my mother’s womb on that beautiful October morning, I can bet that all my aunties, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins, and family friends came to the hospital in packs, brandishing baskets of warm pandesal (Filipino bread), ube spread (purple yam jam), and rice just to catch a glimpse of Dionisia and Rolando’s first born– if you haven’t noticed yet in this seemingly epic (end sarcasm font here) anecdote, that Filipino families are pretty tight-knit.
I came to America in 1991, a year after I was born, but inside our luggage in between the tsinelas (house slippers), and family photos would be our never ending supply of family values. Being from such a close, and traditional Filipino family does have its perks. I always have someone I can count on, I get to be best friends with all my cousins, and best of all, FOOD will always be in abundance for any family gathering. Being raised Filipino teaches you the importance of family, sacrifice, hardwork, and of course love– but what it doesn’t teach you, is self love.
Several weeks ago, I came across an article featured on the homepage of Yahoo!. “Julie Chen’s Big Reveal: ‘I’ve Had Plastic Surgery’ it read in bold letters. Why I decided to click on it, is beyond me, but if I hadn’t then I wouldn’t have a reason to write this blog post. If you’re unfamiliar with Julie Chen (like I was before I read the article), she is one of five hosts on the CBS daytime talk show called "The Talk.” I’ve never seen an episode before but according to the super reliable Wikipedia, “The Talk” features “six women talking about the day’s headlines." The discussions, and the opinions stemming from an episode’s topics are suppose to be from the viewpoint of mothers. Again, I’ve never seen an episode so I really can’t hold the show to its claims.
Anyway, back to the article. I clicked on it, read it, and BAM was hit with a different take on plastic surgery. Usually I hear about people getting nose jobs, boob jobs, hand jobs (JK!), but unlike the typical augmentation stories I often hear, Julie Chen underwent a surgery that took me off guard: eyelid surgery.
Eyelid surgery. Eyelid surgery! If you don’t know, Asians are born with a monolid which make the eyes appear smaller. This is where most stereotypical, and racist jokes come from: our eyes. I’ve heard countless jokes from comedians on TV, films, and even friends about Asian eyes.
"How do you blindfold an Asian? With dental floss!”
Even Miss Wrecking Ball herself, Miley Cyrus knows Asian eyes when she sees them.
Julie Chen kept her surgery a secret for almost 25 years, and the reason behind the surgery shocked me more than the surgery itself. Being that she was an aspiring news anchor, Chen wanted to fill in for an anchors who wanted to take holiday vacations. Her news director denied her request because (1) she was not relatable to the city of Dayton, Ohio which had a very small percentage of Asians living there, and (2) her “Asian eyes.”
“So, what am I supposed to say to my boss? I wanted to cry right then and there. it felt like a dagger in my heart, because all my life I wanted to be a network anchor." -Julie Chen
Julie’s story actually touched because I felt bad for her. Asian women altering themselves doesn’t begin, and end at Julie Chen. It’s less of an Asian woman burning fat because she’s over weight, or getting her nose done because it’s too big, it’s more of a desire to be like a typical American woman, and succumbing to Western notions of beauty.
Tall, thin, light skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair.
This is what media presents to us, and therefore this is what we believe to be the only type of beauty. On television or film, a lot of the female characters we watch and love are played by actors who are beautiful, white women. Take the CBS hit sitcom "The Big Bang Theory.” Ditzy and sexy, Penny is played by Kaley Cuoco.
We all love to quote Mean Girls (“she doesn’t even go here!”), but as we all know, the lovely Cady, and the Plastics are played by Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and Lacey Chabert– all light-skinned girls.
In 2010, Vanity Fair magazine released an issue featuring “The Fresh Faces of 2010,” which celebrates certain celebrities who are on their way to a skyrocketing career. However in this edition, the celebrities chosen were all very white.
In a blog post from Beauty Redefined, the author expresses the underrepresentation of women of color, and when women of color are recognized in a positive light, it isn’t often. Beauty is a multi-million dollar industry that thrives on forcing women to look at themselves, and find flaws that weren’t there to begin with. These “flaws” go unnoticed until there is a product advertised to fix said problem. The media is of course the main influence of a women’s perception of beauty.
Growing up, I used to see my mom use a specific face soap that had bleach in it, and using it often would gradually lighten the complexion. When I was younger, I didn’t see this as a problem. I thought it was just some “grown up” beauty product. But now as an adult, and someone who has taken several psychology and sociology classes, I’ve come to the conclusion that my mom’s brain has been influenced by Western ideals of beauty. Whether my mom knows this or not, the media she was exposed to helped aid her view on what is beautiful.
“Hey, don’t play out in the sun too much. You’ll get dark,” -my mom
Dark. Sure, skin cancer isn’t a problem, but darker skin is? I guess?
There’s a stereotype in the Philippines (at least where I’m from), that light-skinned Filipinos are more “spoiled”– that skin complexion represents class, and the lighter your skin is signifies a sense of wealth, or job description. Darker Filipinos means hard physical labor– out in the rice fields, the farms, building homes etc… Dark complexion constitutes for lower/working class.
In the Beauty Redefined blog, the author mentions the names of successful, and powerful women of color. Women such as Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyonce are just a few who have established themselves in their line of work, but instead of taking them as they are, media as a way to make them “fit” into an ideal beauty.
“The mainstream beauty ideal is almost exclusively white, making it all the more unattainable for women of color… media representations of these women have become increasingly “anglicized” or “whitewashed” over time…”
If you know me well, then you know that I’m a huge fan of the television show “Pretty Little Liars.” You would also know that my favorite character on the show is Emily Fields played by the beautiful Shay Mitchell. A Canadian actor and model, Shay Mitchell is of Filipino, and Irish/Scottish descent with naturally dark hair and olive skin. Personally, I think she’s freaking gorgeous and I have the biggest girl crush on her, but growing up in Canada, Shay was surrounded by girls who looked far different that her.
In April of 2013, Shay was featured on the cover of Teen Vogue, where she mentions her perception of herself as a young teen. She dyed her hair blonde, wore blue contact lens, and stayed out of the sun to keep from getting darker, all to look more like her friends and peers.
“I look back at these photos, and I’m like, 'Why was I trying to change who I was?’ If I just enhanced what I was born with, I would’ve been a lot happier. Embrace who you are and celebrate the fact that you’re unique. That’s what makes you beautiful.” -Shay Mitchell, Teen Vogue, April 2013
It doesn’t stop at just skin and hair. The issue also includes body image, and the globalization of the size 0. While the number on the scale does not define beauty, it has, unfortunately, become a key element in a woman’s outlook on herself. TV, film, magazines, whichever form of media, all we see is thin.
In an article written by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown for The Independent, she exposes the truth behind a culture change among women in Asia. American-made super stars such as Katy Perry is part of a shady globalization marketing ploy that tricks young women into believing that they can be like her. Katy Perry is beautiful, successful, and thin, but is packaged to be like any normal human being by being a spokesperson for Proactive acne solution.
“The celeb culture holds up the thin look, rarefied and glamorous women and at the same time it invites us to see them as ordinary - we can have a life just like them.” -Arabella Weir, writer
Alibhai-Brown mentions the country of India and it’s transition to a more western culture. 15 years ago, women would wear their traditional clothes as part of their everyday attire. However, now everyone wears their western clothes.
Although I was born in the Philippines, I was raised with western culture. I grew up watching American television, and vying to be like my American peers. Anyone remember my cereal story at the beginning of the story? Yea– even as a child I knew that my home was different from everyone else’s. But my skin color, my eye shape, and everything on my 5 foot-nothing body are things I can’t change. I can wear contact lens like Shay Mitchell, or lighten my skin like my mom with special soap, but underneath the lens and soap, are the same dark brown eyes and golden skin I was born with.
And even though I like to believe that God made a mistake and accidentally gave me jet black hair instead of Little Mermaid red, my roots will perpetually show as my dyed hair grows. Kinda like life and change– alter yourself all you want to fit into a certain mold, but in the end your true self, where you came from– your roots, will always show.
:: carla jara