An Asian American In A Makeup-Dominated Society

Jenn Im, my favorite Youtuber. source: jennimgifs

As often as I’ve analyzed my relationship with makeup, I’ve always done so in a love-your-body, self-esteem-centered light. Not until recently had I considered it in a racial context.

Looking in the mirror, I’ve always seen myself as an Asian girl who was often surrounded by Caucasians, as I went to private middle school and high school and am now at a private university. Aside from the Asian American community in which I spent some of my early years, I’ve always felt like a member of the minority.

But after years of mind-wracking, I finally realized how much of an impact my specific racial situation has had on my approach to makeup.

When I was in middle school, I was not only relatively “white-washed” (meaning that I largely assimilated into Western society), but I was also quite ashamed of my ethnicity. This was true in relation to my culture, but also in relation to my physical appearance. What I envied most was the thick, naturally curved eyelashes of Caucasian girls and how their eyes were defined and penetrating without additional enhancement.

I ignored the fact that my Asian skin was comparably clearer, that I tanned without burning, and that my Asian hair was so thick and silky that it never knotted.

Perhaps what led me to envy the Caucasian girls were all of the quotes I’d been exposed to throughout my childhood, which painted eyes as the window into the soul.

Naturally, I feared that no one would be able to read my soul through my thin, straight lashes…after all, my eyes were comparably less defined.

Many Asian girls that I know don’t even bother using mascara on their lashes until they’re all clumpy and spidery-looking. Instead, they’ll use half a container of liquid liner, painting on eyeliner thickly to create the illusion of definition. Every now and then, I combine a toned-down version of that with mascara to dramatically define my eyes.

In comparison, my eyelashes are naturally longer than those of many other Asian girls, and I also have defined eyelids.

Whenever I woke up late for school (a common occurrence) and had to do my makeup in the school parking lot, I would reach first and foremost for the eyeliner and mascara. This decision perplexed me.

I tried to decipher my judgment, asking myself: If I had blemishes on my face and my same eyes, would I choose concealing the blemishes or defining my eyes? I’d likely choose eyeliner.

Why? Because acne is something that most everyone has grappled with at some point in their life. Due to a timely surge of hormones and stress running through teenagers’ bodies, acne has become a sort of accepted norm, however unflattering and unfortunate it may be. Bottom line: Western society is more forgiving of acne.

On the other hand, as a white-washed Asian American female attending a largely white private school, where physical appearance was highly valued, I believed that undefined eyes made me instantly inferior. At least, that’s how I saw it in the 7th grade.

Still, I did not start wearing makeup until 10th grade. I remember penciling in that life-changing line above my lashes and being thoroughly impressed by the improvement in my physical appearance.

My relationship since that year has been an uphill-downhill battle. My skin has gotten more disruptive, and yet I’ve learned the importance of skincare in helping my skin out in the long run. I’ve discovered and aimed to enforce No Makeup Mondays, and I’ve come to understand myself better simply because of the way I treat my personal appearance. I have found confidence in both my outsides and insides.

I’ve stared myself down in the mirror for a combined who-knows how many hours just inspecting my skin, my nose, my eyes, assuring myself that I look great the way I was born.

The best part? I believe myself.

– originally posted on the NU Asian Magazine website


A song my friend JP told me about:

and Jenn Im’s recommendation:

19 comments

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  4. Katherine Rebekah

    Loved this post! I find it kinda ironic seeing as how I’m white but so enamored with Asian culture (I watch anime, Korean dramas, and documentaries on Chinese and Japanese culture. I even chose China as my country to do essays on last year) and I’ve always sort of envied Asian girls eyes. I think there beautiful, dark, and mysterious, like they could stair strait into your sole (Okay maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I think they’re pretty, okay?).

    Anyways, I guess what I’m saying, is that we all have insecurities about ourselves, and it seems that no one is ever happy with what they got. But, personally, I think that women of different ethnicities are beautiful and unique, they add something interesting to look at, as apposed to seeing the same bleach blond white lady over and over again. I find it sad when women who are naturally unique in their beauty jump through hopes to conform (For example, that eye tape that is so popular in Asian countries right now, and all that dramatic eye makeup, just so beautiful girls can look like Western Barbie dolls). I’m glad you know that your uniquely beautiful, you are an example to all girls out there (not just Asian!). Keep on keeping on with the No Makeup Mondays, it’s a great way to be comfortable in your own skin.

    BTW sorry this is so long. I just feel strongly about the subject. :)

    Like

    • catdiggedydog

      Hey namesake! I love long comments like yours! Haha, it’s awesome to hear the opposite perspective about Asian eyes. It’s refreshing really, thank you! I totally agree. I think about this all the time, and I think that while everyone will always have their own individual preferences, but what’s most important is that people feel both comfortable and beautiful in their own skin.
      Of course, it makes sense to dress up every once in a while for a special event, but I think something like No Makeup Mondays helps bring us back down to earth and see ourselves in our bare skin and be okay with it. Your heartfelt comment really made my day, honestly. HAVE A GREAT DAY!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Katherine Rebekah

        I totally agree. I think makeup (just like clothing) is fun for special occasions or just for putting your best foot forward every day. The only problem is when it becomes a mask, something to hide your insecurity behind. But you already said that, didn’t you. :)

        I’m glad my comment made your day. Is it to twilight zone to say that my comment making your day made my day? Either way, you have a great day yourself and happy blogging!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Leni

    So much in this essay resonated with me. I remember my teen years obsessed with my appearance in relation to my American classmates. I wanted to look like Barbie so bad! It took a long time to accept myself and reconcile what I was told with what I saw in the mirror.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Olivia

    Really interesting perspective on this issue – I definitely feel that though make up is fun, it can be really corrosive especially to young girls who are trying to fit to a certain ideal! Thanks for sharing :)

    Like

    • catdiggedydog

      Definitely! I think the younger they are when they start wearing makeup/are heavily exposed to it, the more detrimental it can be. In my experience, I need lots of time to become confident about myself through other ways before I can allow something like makeup to rely on. Thanks for reading. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Andrea N.

    I love this post! My family has Indian heritage and I can relate to what you’re saying about trying to assimilate to western culture in order to fit in. As someone who suffered from acne (and still struggling!), it’s really hard to feel as if you’re accepted due to your culture and body image. It’s really hard to deal in a society where perfect skin, hair, and makeup determine the beauty of a woman, but it should not be the case. Thanks for sharing your struggles and know there are a million more girls out there like us!

    Like

    • catdiggedydog

      Ahhh! Thanks so much for reading, Andrea! It’s really awesome to know that other people feel similarly. And yeah, acne is awful but at the end of the day, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” :)

      Liked by 1 person

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