There’s just something so riveting and empowering about being able to walk through the door and see other people who look like you; who understand why it can be so damn hard to style your straight, black hair; who get the struggle of curling downward lashes (not to mention stubby eyelashes…); who know how time-consuming it can be to find the right products for your ever relentless oily skin and large pores…people who even have the same search histories as you (“best lipstick shades for tan Asian skin,” “quality drugstore foundation for oily Asian skin,” “eyeliner tutorial for Asian eyes” etc.)
It’s a reality that I’ve been fortunate enough to immerse myself in the last two months while staying abroad in China.
While I’m definitely not the only Asian girl in America, European features seem to be the only beauty standard catered to in my daily life, both by cosmetic brands, the media, and society. I mean, it only makes sense for a dominantly white nation to embrace their white roots and European heritage, right? Even if that means excluding most POC (people of color)? And forcing mainstream beauty to be exclusively lighter complexions, lighter colored hair and lighter eye-colors in comparison to their Hispanic, black, Asian, etc. counterparts?
Don’t worry, I’ll save my salty rant about beauty standards & diversity for another day, but what I really want to get at in this post is how different it is to live in a world (okay, COUNTRY) where your features are shared by the entire ethnic population. While this sounds dumb, I never realized how many varied Asian features could be (yes, that’s the sort of bubble I live in America) or how simply being can make you the mainstream beauty standard.
Two months ago, in Boston, Massachusetts, I would never of imagined myself so much less self-conscious around others and so appreciative of my double-lidded eyes, weirdly tailed eyebrows (which apparently isn’t just something that runs in my family – in runs in almost EVERY Chinese family!) or sleek black hair that never holds a curl.
You see, here in Beijing, I can browse through makeup aisles without worrying whether or not the eyeshadow palette I’m buying will have shades that actually compliment my warm undertones, or be forced to accidentally buy something way too light for my skin or way too dark. Even the Sephoras in China have set up their aisles accordingly, and Korean skincare is as easy as walking into any store and looking around.
Before any of you assume that I have zero-contact with other girls who look like me or have seen any Asian models or Kpop stars (China lives for Kpop) online – trust me, I have. And yet even then, the models have usually had their skin airbrushed to a pale perfection and have their features photoshopped until they’re as docile and delicate looking as possible. Unfortunately, both my melanin and genetics leave little room for pale Asian skin or those big, “kawaii” eyes that people seem to dig. My bad!
On the Beijing subways, I see skinnier Asians, larger Asians, Asian girls who do have more going chest-wise and girls who have little to none. Asians who are tall and those who are on the shorter side, Asians with extreme acne and Asians who know how to do their foundation right or are simply blessed with clear skin. Asians with lighter skin and those who are tanner. Asians with natural, black hair, and Asians with dyed hair. Asians who choose ripped jeans over a floral skirt and Asians who wear only high-heels. Asians who look like me and those who don’t.
Asians after Asians after Asians and they’re all so unique and beautiful in their own right that in these last two months, they have made me realize that I don’t need to compare my own beauty to ANY beauty standard, European, Asian, etc. My beauty is my own and my ethnicity doesn’t define my confidence because EVERY. ONE. LOOKS. DIFFERENT. EVEN. THOSE. OF. THE. SAME. RACE.
And that, my friends, is the most important thing that traveling has taught me. Not only is diversity powerful, but it’s also not limited to race versus race. Diversity exists even within every race, appearance, sexuality, belief, etc. because no person is the same as the next and everyone is so different from everyone else.
It shouldn’t have taken traveling six thousand miles across the Atlantic for me to realize that, or should it take any girl, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, size, skin, etc. to realize that hey, turns out that you don’t need to look like everyone else around you. But it did, and I’m glad it did because I’m thriving now, completely and utterly within myself and wonderfully confident and happy in my own right.
Remember: It’s not that seeing other people who look like me has made me more “beautiful” or crap like that, but instead, it’s being around those people that have made me finally embrace my Asian heritage and beauty. Of course, I still feel flawed and imperfect, but who isn’t? Confidence is key.
To everyone still struggling with self-esteem (I know I still do every once in a while, even after my trip): You’re crazy beautiful no matter what, and if it does make you feel better to know that someone, somewhere, shares the same features as you, embrace that! Follow people who understand your skin struggles on social media, ask them what makeup products are their favorite. Look up girls who actually look like you (no, not just models who share your ethnicity), and then look at yourself in the mirror. Embrace your beauty and embrace others as well, but keep them separate. You are not them, but you can be inspired by their beauty as a way to love your own.
While it sounds contradicting to say that you should stop comparing yourself to others but also be using others who look like you for inspiration, I promise that once you try it out, you’ll get it. No matter who you are or what you look like, it works to start embracing yourself a bit more everyday. If you can’t do that yet, learn to. And maybe if you can’t do that either or aren’t ready to, just know that you can.