It’s been a while since I last posted. I have been reading books for the most part. I have a topic that I really want to dive into more in-depth so I part, I was reading a book to research and collecting some articles to source. This writing won’t be about that though (at least not in its entirety although it’s highly related). Anyway, what has sparked this impromptu writing was seeing Crazy Rich Asians last night.
Hopefully, you’ve heard of the movie and maybe you’ve even seen it. If you haven’t, I would recommend giving a little bit of your money and time to go see this movie. I wasn’t initially excited to see the movie. I have reservations about marginalized populations focusing a lot of time and energy asking for the big machine that is Hollywood to “represent” them.
But I understood the significance of this film as it is the “first film in the modern setting by a major Hollywood studio to feature a majority Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club.” Many have described it as Asian America’s Black Panther or said that it’s not just a movie, it’s a movement meant to spark many more films. Therefore, I asked some of my Asian friends if they wanted to see this movie with me in the theaters and give some of our money to support our fellow Asian Americans.
And I wasn’t moved by it. I wasn’t blown away by it. I thought it was cute, but nothing extraordinary.
But I’m also a bit of a tough critic when it comes to movies and only really gets moved by objectively depressing movies.
On the other hand, my friends were crying. They were laughing and when we left the theater, we were all excitedly exclaiming how certain moments reminded them of their families, the places they lived back in Asia, the music they listen to. My one friend told me she was crying because she’s never seen anything like that before. Another one of my friends told me he related to the strictly family-oriented mother/girlfriend situation like what was shown in the movie.
I know that the reason I’m not as impacted by this film is one, I didn’t grow up in an Asian family or Asian culture so much of the cultural elements of this movie I couldn’t exactly relate to. Two, I have a slightly jaded stance when it comes to issues of “representations” and I don’t get as moved just by seeing someone Asian on the screen.
But there’s a big part of me that wonders if this movie would have made a difference if I saw it when I was a little girl.
I left the movies and told my friend how everyone there was so pretty. (He called Constance Wu “plain” in comparison to Asian girls which is a bit emblematic of the Asian and Asian American cultural divide in terms of standards of beauty but whatever). But I noted that because I feel like this is one of the few movies where Asians were portrayed intentionally as beautiful, rich, clever, elegant, and human.
I’ve always had to deal with fetishization and hyper-femininity that Asian women as oppressed with. Much of the roles in Hollywood have featured Asian actresses who are beautiful and all but their beauty is either fetishized and exotified or they are not the focal point and their role is secondary. But here, it was filled with Asian women who knew and took agency of their beauty, elegance, and power.
I wonder if I saw this movie, with all the beautiful Asian women who all looked very different from one another if I would have had a healthier relationship with my own self-image growing up.
Because I hated being Asian when I was little.
Back in college, I was talking to this a professional staffer about her research thesis. It was on the topic of internalized oppression that Asian women experience. Largely we were thinking of how to approach this topic and ask questions in a way that people would be able to understand. In other words, how not to be super academic and intimidate people with an academic elitism.
So we talked and blah blah but I ran across this article shortly after coming back from my trip to Asia. I brought it up with my friend doing the thesis. We both shared how it was painful to read because we could relate to it.
By the time I was fifteen, I wanted nothing to do with my race. I went to bed every night wishing I could just wake up white.
I remember wanting to look like a Barbie doll. I mentioned to mom how I wanted my waist to be smaller and round. I was small, maybe 4th grade or sometime around then. What I didn’t say is that I wanted my hair to be blonde and my eyes to be blue.
By the time I was twelve, I stopped eating the lunch my mother packed, and I started researching plastic surgeons that could turn my flat Chinese nose into a beautiful white nose, my small Asian eyes into round double-lidded eyes.
I remember in middle school how I hated my nose and my eyes. I put tape on my eyes for a couple of months straight back in middle school and every morning would wake up and push this metal tool into my eye socket to give myself a double eyelid. And then my eyes started to stay that way and that’s why I have double eyelids today. You can see the wrinkle marks where I would force a crease into my eyelid. I don’t think I would have double eyelids today if it weren’t for the years where I forced my eyes to be that way because I hated how they looked.
I remember researching rhinoplasty when I was young, in middle school and well into high school. I was happy when I discovered Chanel Iman because she was beautiful, and a model and she had a nose like mine. I remember seeing her in this blue dress and every single homecoming I tried to find a bright blue dress just like that because that’s how much just seeing a girl with a nose like mine meant to me. (Chanel Iman is 1/4 Korean and 3/4 Black).
During high school, I heard things like, “Have you noticed that there aren’t that many pretty Asians?” and, “Was the guy hot? Nah, he was Asian.” No one around me ever had a crush on an Asian person, and whenever someone told me I was pretty, they always told me I was a “pretty Asian.” As if the default appearance of all Asians was set to average-unattractive and the “pretty Asian” was an anomaly. I could never just be a “pretty person” because Asians were always judged separately.
This one time in high school, senior year in first period English, this guy who was in my friend circle loudly and unashamedly asked Jin if he actually liked Asian girls. Jin gave him a ridiculous look and said, “Uh of course?!” It was the kind of question where the assumed norm was that Asian girls weren’t attractive so why would anyone actually like Asian girls?
My favorite professor from college asked me and this group of other Asian American girls if we had been experiencing an influx of guys with Asian fetishes. It was this activity where we all talk about our experiences with racism at CSU. I remember it was quiet between us for a moment and I softly said, “To be honest, I think I’ve only really experienced people who want nothing to do with Asians both platonic and otherwise.” And the other two girls in my circle nodded and agreed. I remember being pushed out of literal friend circles, so I had to stand in the back or being overtly ignored by my friends when I spoke. I was so depressed that first semester of college because of all the discrimination I was experiencing just because I was Asian and I just didn’t know why.
When my Asian friends tell me they don’t find Asians attractive, I am angry, but I also understand. I have hated my appearance for nearly all my life, and this hatred has defined attractiveness as always white and never Asian.
So I left the theater and I’d like to think that if I was a little Asian girl and saw all those beautiful Asian women on screen, I’d leave loving myself a little more. Maybe I’d be able to look at Gemma Chan or Constance Wu and try to do my makeup and hair like them.
Now I have a much better relationship with being Asian. I resent all the things in the past that made me wish I was white because I love Asians. I love our cultures and languages. I love our food and families. I love my friends.
I’ve read articles about how impactful this movie has been for Asian Americans and even though I’m not one of those, I really do hope it’ll help some little Asian girls out there even if it’s just a little.