Guest Bloggers, Intersectionality, Self-Image

Guest Post: The Fantasy of Being White

By Mean Asian Girl

I’m a friend, neighbor and grad-school classmate of Kate’s, but while I’m a faithful reader, I’m not much of a commenter. Every once in a while, however, here is a post that resonates with me to the point that I really have to say something. This was one of them.

Me and everybody else, right? So why do I get my own special guest post — a year late, no less? For starters, read that first part again. But secondly, and more importantly, as someone who has spent a lifetime passing for thin-to-average – and I say passing because, for what it’s worth, I weigh much more than people think I do — my perspective on the issue of self-acceptance is a little different.

First, a little background: as the name indicates, I am Asian-American, specifically Korean-American, and both my parents were immigrants. I grew up in a small city in the greater Detroit area that for most of my childhood was about 70 percent white, 29 percent black, the Gonzaleses, the Yamauchis and us. The Yamauchi girls each graduated high school in three years – partly because they were smart, but I think mostly because they were not enjoying high school so much that they really needed to stick around for prom. Let’s just say that while our community was diverse, it wasn’t exactly multicultural.

I hated myself for being Asian. I hated having a weird name. I hated having parents who ate kimchi and pronounced things funny. I hated my black hair and my bowl haircut.* I, who was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, hated being asked “Where are you from?” or “What are you?” In kindergarten, I drew pictures of myself with blue eyes and blond hair.

Since self-hatred is a pretty difficult concept for a five-year-old to grasp, I boiled down all of these feelings into an intense dislike of one feature: my eyes. They were the problem. If I had different eyes, life would be better. I’d be pretty. I’d be popular. At the very least, I figured, kids on the playground would no longer be able to make fun of me by pulling their eyes into slants and pretending to spout “Chinese” gibberish. What I really meant was, if I had different eyes, kids wouldn’t be mean to me.

I was lucky. I got older, I got smarter, I got nicer friends. And unlike the Yamauchis, I had a pretty good time in high school. I got good grades. I participated in various activities I enjoyed. I had male friends – I was especially popular when it came time to study for exams – who would occasionally turn to me for a sympathetic ear about how some girl wasn’t interested in them. But I, the weird kid, the “Chinese” girl, was clearly not date material.

I graduated from high school in 1986, well before the archetype of the “hot Asian chick.” There was no Lucy Liu. There was no … well, damn. I guess even today there aren’t a lot of specific “hot Asian chicks” who capture the collective imagination. But back then it was Farrah Fawcett, Christie Brinkley and the like. Needless to say, I fell very, very far outside that ideal.

And sure, maybe it wasn’t all about race. But honestly? I think part of it was. Again, this was long before we had a biracial president. I knew very few black-white couples, let alone white-Asian or black-Asian. It was not for nothing that I had to mark “Other” for the racial-ethnic category on standardized tests.

While I was smart enough to recognize that anyone who would refuse to be my friend simply because I was Asian was a racist asshole not worthy of me, I was incapable of applying the same logic to boys I was interested in. Clearly, it wasn’t their attitudes that needed to change. I mean, we all knew Asian girls just weren’t as attractive, right? With the eyes and all?

It was around this time that I found out there was surgery to de-slant eyes. Heavenly choirs started singing, people. I’d have this surgery, and I’d be pretty. It was so simple.

But of course, it wasn’t. My “Fantasy of Being White” wasn’t exactly the same as the “Fantasy of Being Thin.” Even if I could change all of my physical features**, I would’ve had to change my name and my family members and make up an entirely new cultural background for myself. Not that that wasn’t tempting at times.

Ultimately, I started to question what my fantasy really was, and what was driving it. Did I really want to be white, or at least non-Asian? Or did I just want people to like me? Was it worth it if they liked a version of me that had been doctored significantly to meet some cultural standard of beauty?

Those of us who are fat, or use a wheelchair, or have teeth that aren’t white, or skin that isn’t either, or slanted eyes, or hair where we shouldn’t, or not enough hair where we should, or a variety of other characteristics or combinations thereof, would have to do a lot of erasing and adding and subtracting to reach some kind of beauty ideal. If we don’t, or sometimes even if we do, at some point someone in this society will tell us we’re ugly. We hear it enough and we start to believe it. That sucks, and it’s hard to overcome. Despite my own efforts, I certainly haven’t managed to do it. But self-hatred is a lot of work, too.

What I have managed to do is find friends, a husband, a career – a couple of careers, actually – and some happiness here and there “despite” having slanted eyes. I also have a daughter – she’s “Whasian,” so her eyes aren’t totally slanted – whom I hope to raise with slightly more self-esteem than I had or have.

It would be a great world if we all loved ourselves as we are. But if we don’t, or we can’t, we can at least be aware that the version of ourselves that we’re so eager to change is worth a second look.

*I am willing to embrace the various physical and cultural attributes of my ethnicity, but I draw the line at the bowl cut, which I think to some extent is some westerner’s idea of what Asian children should look like. So long as I have control over my daughter’s hair, I will have eyelid surgery before I allow her to get a bowl cut.

**Fay Weldon has a great book about a woman – not Asian, but fat, actually – who did exactly that.

187 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Fantasy of Being White”

  1. There are like a hundred things I want to respond to here, but I’ll start with this: But self-hatred is a lot of work, too.

    As I just said to you on the phone, you are so good at saying things a million times more efficiently than I would. That line right there could pretty much substitute for this entire blog, and the entire book. If self-hatred were actually any easier than self-acceptance in the long run, I’d be all over it; I’m a big fan of making your life easier. But it really, really doesn’t.

    Thanks so much for this, M.A.G.

  2. This is a phenomenal post.

    Did I really want to be white, or at least non-Asian? Or did I just want people to like me? Was it worth it if they liked a version of me that had been doctored significantly to meet some cultural standard of beauty?

    Man, the simplicity of this just blows me away.

  3. I hear you with this for sure. I’m half Asian, but yeah, it’s not like there was a dearth of us in northern Colorado where I grew up. That feeling of “Other” spilled over into a whole lot more than just the standardized tests.

  4. Seriously awesome post. So much good stuff. I especially liked this:

    If we don’t, or sometimes even if we do, at some point someone in this society will tell us we’re ugly.

    …’cause I think we’re all so very trained to sort ourselves into a pecking order, so we’re always looking for *something* to compare and contrast.

  5. Great post! I am a fat white woman, but it took me almost 40 years to realize that not being fat wasn’t going to change most of the things that made me unhappy. It would remove some exposure to other people’s fat-hating prejudices, but I’d still find reasons to feel unworthy and blame it on some physical flaw.

  6. I am SO GLAD you wrote this post, because while I’ve never had a Fantasy of Being White (I’m practically translucent) or a Fantasy of Being (Much) Thin(ner), I certainly have had my share of Fantasies of Being Something I Am Not. And you have nailed every last one of them.

    Also, I now want “self-hatred is a lot of work” on a bumper sticker. :)

  7. Thank you for this post. I’m passing it on to my (fat and Chinese) fiance. He hates both his race and his body, and I hope this we’ll help him. We’re interracial, and we are the only Asian Man/White Woman couple I have ever met IRL.

  8. Was it worth it if they liked a version of me that had been doctored significantly to meet some cultural standard of beauty?
    I think whatever color(s) we are, this will resonate at least a little with any woman who has dieted/shrunk and had men subsequently bum-rush her, or had bust work that resulted in being pawed unmercifully in a bar, and wanted to kick the CRAP out of those men (or whatever beings, really – I generalize from personal experience, at least on point A)

    But if we don’t, or we can’t, we can at least be aware that the version of ourselves that we’re so eager to change is worth a second look.
    *sits in corner, all tough girl defenses having deserted, cries quietly*

  9. Also, this: While I was smart enough to recognize that anyone who would refuse to be my friend simply because I was Asian was a racist asshole not worthy of me, I was incapable of applying the same logic to boys I was interested in. Clearly, it wasn’t their attitudes that needed to change. I mean, we all knew Asian girls just weren’t as attractive, right? With the eyes and all?

    I so had the same logic going on, minus institutional racism reinforcing it. Friends who would reject me for being fat could fuck off, because “it’s what’s inside that counts.” But boys/men who would reject me for being fat? Well, that was expected and understandable. Fat’s unattractive! Universally! Everybody knows it!

  10. Awesome post. I sure hope my Whasian nieces don’t feel like they should have blond hair & blue eyes like their mom. Cuz they are totally beautiful.

    The Fantasy of [Being What You’re Not] extends to those blond haired blue eyed girls, too. At 7, I wanted nothing more to be a black girl with dreads. Or to be a boy named David.

  11. Though I’m a white girl, I wanted to express solidarity in hatred for the bowl cut. I had a Pete Rose bowl cut style haircut as a child and while I love my Mom dearly, I do want to ask what the heck she was thinking.

    I vividly remember going with my sister to pick up my oldest brother from where he was working at the time. I was about 5 or so and had the bowl cut going on. This older man at the office when I said goodbye said “Goodbye, sonny!”

    I wanted to die on the spot. It was hardly the last time my lack of femme performance of my gender would lead some ignorant or outright hostile person to say something to me, but I was 5 years old, it was out of my control, and dammit, I blame both the fat and the bowl cut. If I’d still had my pigtails it wouldn’t have happened.

    Erm, that became a lot about Me, sorry.

    Bowl cuts are evil.


  12. I know the point of this great post isn’t a request for book reviews, but I happen to have a couple on topic plots handy . . .

    I actually re read The Life and Loves of a She Devil (the Fay Weldon book mentioned in the post) a few weeks ago, and found it (again) a powerfully dark and thought-provoking book (loved the final statement). If I could make myself taller, thinner, and, say Asian (my best friend in elementary school was Taiwanese and I wished-wished-wished my eyes and hair were like hers), would I?

    That answer has changed as I got older. But, you know, even when I was younger, I liked how the movie version had Ruth kicking ass without changing her physical self much at all—if I’m remembering correctly, she simply wore more professional-type clothes and makeup.

    More recently (as in literally yesterday), I read Diary of an Ugly Duckling by Karyn Langhorne, which is about Audra, who believes she is too dark-skinned, too fat, and too ugly to belong to her family or to be loved.

    Desperate, she wins a place on a reality show, Ugly Duckling, and allows the producers to change everything about her appearance, right down to her skin color. Except her life isn’t changing for the better, she finds out her family and the producers have been lying to her . . . and now maybe she’s trapped . . .

  13. But self-hatred is a lot of work, too

    I need to put this on a huge banner and hang it in my apartment.

  14. I think it’s important to remember, as we talk about the Fantasies of Being [Not Myself], that the wishes by white people to be nonwhite are shaped by/complicit with the same cultural racism that sponsors the fantasy of being white: the idea that there is no such “thing” as whiteness, that being nonwhite means being exotic/interesting/ethnic/cultural.

  15. I (“Whasian,” which I hadn’t heard before and kinda like) would like to third the bowl-cut hatred. What is it about straight, thick, black hair that just screams “bowl cut” to parents? Like DRST, I had a traumatic gender confusion experience due to the bowl cut; another little girl in my ballet class at age 3 told me I looked like a boy, and I went home and told my mother I wanted longer hair, NOW. She had to explain to me that it doesn’t work like that.

  16. While I was smart enough to recognize that anyone who would refuse to be my friend simply because I was Asian was a racist asshole not worthy of me, I was incapable of applying the same logic to boys I was interested in.

    Oh, yes. Kate’s comment about swapping out “Asian” and institutionalized racism and slotting in “fat” and institutionalized social ideas about fat acceptability is painfully familiar,

    I have struggled with how to articulate my basketful of feelings and thoughts on this. I think it has to do with the fact that sexual/romantic attraction is supposed to be so *personal.*

    Americans, with our focus on individualism, don’t want to think that our class, race/ethnicity, and so on and so forth are powerful group identities that shape who we choose as partners and who we find desirable. We want to believe we choose based on a person’s merits, as opposed to refuse or don’t consider based on their demerits. This is especially true when “demerits” are qualities associated with discriminated-against categories.

    I guess, it’s okay that a person actively finds X, Y, or Z attractive, but I am less comfortable with the idea that a person is actively unattracted to A, B, and C. It doesn’t fly in friendship situations. that’s for sure. Is it possible to have physical attractions to people that are free of the weights of institutionalized racism, fatphobia, disabled-fearing, and etc etc?

    The intersection of the personal, individual and the categorical, institutional is a messy space.

  17. Right on, Sweet Machine. The Fantasy of Being White and the Fantasy of Being Nonwhite, while produced by the same racist cultural logic, are not at all symmetrical when it comes to the large-scale power dynamics at play.

  18. Wait.
    Wait wait wait.

    Didn’t they buy the movie rights to “She Devil” and make something – albeit very funny – with Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr?

    No no no.
    If so, then not the same.

    For Basic North American Female Self-Hatred in the Context of the Other, please start here:
    Toni Morrison, Sula
    Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
    Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
    (You will have to read between the lines with this one. No, I am not joking.)

    SM, you have said it much more nicely than I would have.

    (I won’t get into, here, the fact that to pose the argument as a binary really leaves some of us out of the discussion altogether. It really is another set of issues. I’d go sit with MAG’s daughter except I’m sure she does not want to sit with me today.)

    But I will say this:
    All-white people who grew up wishing to be something other than all-white in North America?
    Your pain is real, and there is empathy for that pain.
    But I don’t think this post is the place for that discussion.

    So some of us — who have seen this untold times previously ad infinitum ad nauseam, and so therefore may be somewhat sharper-tongued on the issue than you might think it would warrant, especially if you are committed to DLBs of feelings (plz see A Sarah’s most excellent post) –very much wish that you would not co-opt. (Yes. I know. You didn’t even realize you were doing it.)

    Why? Because it is NOT about you.

  19. Fab post ! But am I the only person here who thinks self-hatred’s pretty easy? I mean there’s so many resources out there to help us, whether we want them or not. Admittedly the poisonous effects of self-hatred leave one totally exhausted, but that’s okay because we also have all these resources that encourage us to hate other people, (generally the ones held up as examples of every kind of gorgeous we’re not), while we’re taking some down-time because sometime a change is as good as a rest.

    I’ve been practicing self-acceptance a long time and I can tell you, until I realised there were like-minded fats martialling their resources on the interweb, it was way harder to hate myself despite giving self-acceptance my all. Of course now I no longer blame my fat for all my problems I tend to blame my personality instead; that’s a whole different mountain to climb…

  20. AnthroK8 and littlem, I fixed your tags.

    Let me 3rd, 4th, whatever, that wishing to be non-white is a WHOLE different bag from wishing to be white, and I agree with littlem that this post is not really the place to discuss it. (I’m not slagging anyone who’s already mentioned something along those lines, but basically, if we devote much of this thread to unpacking the crucial distinction, it becomes a thread about educating white people, not a thread about M.A.G., racism and body shame.)

    Along the same lines, AnthroK8, I think your comment about attraction is great, but I deliberately said “minus the institutionalized racism” because that is a whole different bag from sizeism — which is systemic and to an extent institutionalized, but still not embedded in the fabric and history of this country to anywhere near the same tragic, violent degree. Since the broader subject is personal experiences of self-hatred and body shame, I thought it was worth talking about a parallel (and obviously don’t mind white people talking about what resonates with them here), but since the specific subject is a personal experience of racism and the resultant self-hatred and body shame, trying to make that correspond directly to white people’s experiences is a bad idea.

  21. But am I the only person here who thinks self-hatred’s pretty easy?

    Easy to do, not easy to live with. Self-acceptance is the other way around.

  22. Being Asian (parents were also immigrants, but I’m Chinese instead of Korean) and having people do the same to me as they did to M.A.G. (the slant eyes, the “attempts” at Chinese…) was laughable enough.

    I was also big for my age (5’5″ at 13, so I was called an Amazon), and have a skin problem (that had kids on the playground treating me like I was a leper or something)…

    Never mind the fact that while I may not look it, I’m 5’11” and around 250lbs. Quite possibly with an eating disorder, considering I go through phases where I will freak out and obsess over my weight, and what size my clothes are, then start slowly starving myself (reducing caloric intake) until I’m barely eating at all.

    I wasn’t date material either. I’m still not… not really. But I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really care whether I’m date material or not. It gets lonely sometimes, but it’s better than trying to find “the perfect relationship”, which I’ve been burned by before.

  23. What an amazing post, first of all.

    Second, is it coincidence that when I clicked on the link about the eye surgery, the giant banner ad at the bottom of the page was for the “Realize! Adjustable Lap Band”?


  24. Great post! I am half-asian too, and I not only hated my slanty eyes and my weird name growing up, I hated my round head too. I fantasized about having a thin “white” face (not to mention a thin white body). I also have struggled with what to mark on race/ethnicity questionnaires – on the one had I didn’t feel like I was asian enough to mark the “asian” category, but I also didn’t feel like I was really caucasian either.

  25. I almost feel like I shouldn’t reply to this, because honestly, I’m a white girl from Whiteville. I’ve never even had a bowl haircut to commiserate about. :) I feel out of my depth replying to any post involving race, because I’m afraid some white privilege I’m not aware of will pop out and make me look like an ass.

    I just wanted to say that I empathize with you as much as is possible for me; I obviously didn’t have the racial issue, but I remember hating my belly, my glasses, my bad teeth, and feeling like if only they were “fixed” everything would be better.

  26. Didn’t they buy the movie rights to “She Devil” and make something – albeit very funny – with Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr?

    No no no.
    If so, then not the same.

    The book is not the same as the movie (the UK TV miniseries was much more faithful to the book).

    Also, it’s the original poster who found that that book resonated with her own experiences of being “other” in terms of ethnicity/race/culture, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to say “NO” to her about whether or not she, personally, found the book resonant.

  27. It is interesting how consistently we attempt to locate the Problematic within (or on) our selves.

    It’s our hips, our eyes, our skin, our hair, our racialized identities, our whatever. (Returning to a conversation I recently had at another blog about street harassment, a lot of people even blame themselves for that by assuming it’s something about the way we look. I certainly have.) Maybe there’s something to this odd choice — an internal locus of control, perhaps, at least gives us a sense of control? Provided the guilty feature can be changed, even if by extreme means?

    Or maybe it’s the impulse toward socialization, but gone horribly awry? I mean, it’s one thing to bathe yourself and clip your toenail to receive a certain amount of social approval and acceptance — quite another to expect fundamental, basic facts of your personality or physicality to change in order to comply with cultural preferences (many of which are dysfunctional to begin with — to wit, racial and gender and body size preferences.)

    When we’re young, especially — but sometimes even when we grow up — it’s always us that’s wrong, never Them.

    I guess I’m a lot more comfortable shifting the blame to Them, these days.

  28. Great post. I’m of mixed race myself: mom is white, dad is Mexican. I’m too white for people to guess that I’m half-Mexican, but I look “other” enough that when I was in grade and high school, people would constantly get in my face and ask “What ARE you?” I can pass for white, but I will never, ever meet the Farrah-Christie-Barbie-Madonna standard of beauty that was predominant through my childhood (read: blonde, blue-eyed). A blonde, blue-eyed “pretty” classmate reminded me of this in no uncertain terms when we were first-graders: I believe her exact words were “too bad you aren’t blonde so you can’t be pretty like me”. 25 years later that still stings a bit. I wanted to be blonde and pretty SO badly. And don’t even get me started on standardized tests, admissions forms, etc. Only now are we getting “multiracial” as an option. I spent years picking “other”. Thanks, form designers, for making me feel like even more of a weirdo. I remember my school teachers standing over me during those tests to make sure I filled in the “Hispanic” box if there was one, since it made the school look more diverse. Oh, how I loved being a statistic.

    I never realized how unusual it was to be the child of a mixed-race couple in the 80s until I got out in the “real” world, since we spent a lot of time with family and all my cousins on my dad’s side are also mixed-race. Once I got into school, I realized that my friends all had parents who were of the same race, often of the same ethnic background (both parents were white-Polish or Asian-Indian, etc.)

  29. When we’re young, especially — but sometimes even when we grow up — it’s always us that’s wrong, never Them.

    Have I mentioned that The Fat Nutritionist is brilliant?

  30. This post was overwhelming, in an important way. Reading I was rushed with memories of being in elementary school and fantasizing about the adventures in My Future (which at that point was mostly high school) and the role of me – fat, Iranian kid – was always played by a thin, white girl (occassionally with blue eyes). Not only would I never look that way, but never looking that way meant I never believed I could be the person I wanted to be in a myriad of other ways.

    And that is SO MESSED UP. And important for me not to forget. Thank you for this.

  31. Along the same lines, AnthroK8, I think your comment about attraction is great, but I deliberately said “minus the institutionalized racism” because that is a whole different bag from sizeism — which is systemic and to an extent institutionalized, but still not embedded in the fabric and history of this country to anywhere near the same tragic, violent degree.

    A gradschool friend of mine once turned to me when I was being really obtuse about something and said “geez… stop sounding like such a white person.”

    Thanks for the tag fix. Thanks also for the focus/attitude fix.

  32. But am I the only person here who thinks self-hatred’s pretty easy?

    Easy to do, not easy to live with. Self-acceptance is the other way around

    Ah, now it makes sense :-)

  33. @MeanAsianGirl
    Your post was really great. I wonder if you have become more politicized around race? For me, becoming political about race was an important step in dismantling self hatred because the self hatred was a symptom of racist power systems. “Colonize This” is an *amazing* anthology of essays by younger women of color feminists you might want to check out.

    Also have you read this post of mine? “Thin is in and White is Alright”?

    I tackled more directly the idea of “The Fantasy of Being Thin” being a fantasy of *white* thinness. I think you might find it helpful

  34. Re: blaming us rather than Them when we’re kids, a friend who’s an abuse survivor told me that she believes kids who’ve been abused often locate the blame for the abuse in themselves, because the other option is that their parents/caregivers weren’t able to protect them from the abuse, and that thought is too scary for a little kid. Maybe similarly it’s too hard, when you’re a kid, to believe the world is just that unfair?

    Echoing the compliments on this post… Really, really awesome. Thanks, Mean Asian Girl. The point about self-hatred — and self-acceptance — being a lot of work, made me think again about how one of the reasons I’m able to devote energy to fat acceptance and feminism is because I don’t really have to divide my time between a whole lot of other loci for self-hatred that I’ve been taught since I was little. I suspect I can’t even imagine the mental and emotional energy that saves me.

  35. Thanks for posting this! I really appreciate reading your take on the Fantasy of Being Something Else. I have such a love of Korean things, culture, language, and I try to be cognizant of being respectful and not “locating” it in some kind of misguided exoticism. I don’t think I do too much, but clearly part of it is the attraction of the “other,” which, as a white person, I have to own (uncomfortably). So I welcome hearing your experience.

    But, on a light note, your comment about the godawful bowl haircut and how it’s someone’s stereotyped idea of Asian hair—got me thinking about another dumb US cultural thing. How, especially in TV shows from the 1960s and 70s, every East Asian person was named “Kim” as a first name. Good God, y’all (M*A*S*H writers, I’m looking at you.) And it seemed like even in real life, when Americans were adopting orphans from Vietnam and Southeast Asia, they all named them Kim. What was up with that?

    OK, sorry to be frivolous. I really just wanted to support you in posting here.

  36. Great post!

    I think I came of age right when Asian Fetish/anime craze was at its peak, so my Asian peers tell a very different narrative (I also went to a college that was close to 30 or 40 percent Asian). Still, I had my whiteness blinders on until I spent some time bumming around NYC and the Middle East with a Chinese-American friend of mine. She describes it as feeling invisible to everyone, unless she is being fetishized for being Asian. Cops aren’t hostile OR friendly–they ignore her completely.

  37. “The Fantasy of Being Thin” was a great, great read and resonated more with me than anything else I’ve yet read at this site full of talented, smart writers.

    Thank you; this was a great post.

    I see Asian features and I see beauty; just like I see it in so many other types of people. It hurts when I think of a child growing up and hating their body, or parts of them that are innate. It is sadly an experience that many children have.

  38. I really do not want to continue to be staggered by the white-hot racism that burns our culture to the core, but ‘Asian eyes surgery’ – like it’s a DEFECT?!? With a regular name to it, like ‘claustrophobia’??!?

    Holy effing maude, I just don’t know what to say here. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. And I feel stupid saying I’ve never heard of this, but I haven’t.

    That the surgeon advertising for many of the ‘procedures’ is himself (apparently) Asian makes it even more deeply sad.

  39. @Lu – we did a performance of M*A*S*H* (the play) in high school and the whole Ho-Jon thing in that play was deeply, deeply embarrassing and also the whole interaction (“I’m very grateful to you generous white people for taking me to The Wonderful America!”) very starkly racist. WTF?? I know there isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to plays appropriate to put on in a high school, but that fucker took the cringe-producing cake. I still can not believe we were involved in it.

    And I still cringe that I was too cowardly to protest in some useful way at the time. (Altering the lines of the play would have demanded permission from the publisher – ad-hoc alteration only on performance nights, we could have got away with.)

  40. This is kind of a technical point, but that eyelid surgery doesn’t “de-slant” eyelids but adds an extra fold to the upper eyelid. Some Asian people (I read up to half of all Chinese people, and most Koreans) have that fold in their eyelids naturally, so getting the surgery doesn’t necessarily make an Asian person look Caucasian.

    Blepharoplasty (and other facial work) can be used to make an Asian person look caucasoid, but that is not necessarily the intent of people who have the surgery.

    It’s a fascinating subject. Blepharoplasty is popular in certain cities in Asia that are almost 100% racially Asian. I’m not sure where the standard for double-eyelids came from; I read one place that it’s an older Chinese cultural thing, and somewhere else that it started in Japan after WWII due to the influence of Western media on the women there. I’ve watched interviews of various people who’ve had the surgery, and their reasons are pretty much the same for anybody anywhere who has plastic surgery: all my friends did it, I want to look like the people in advertisements, I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. One woman said that she couldn’t really wear eyeshadow before she got the surgery, but afterwards she could wear even three colors at the same time.

  41. Did I really want to be white, or at least non-Asian? Or did I just want people to like me?

    Excellent post! This quote really resonates for me. It’s sad that the fantasy of being __________ is really about being treated as a human being with intrinsic worth. It’s sad, but it’s also kind of great to figure these things out.

  42. Thanks for this post! My husband is Whasian (half Japanese) as well, which means that I may have to deal with this stuff with our own children. He and his siblings have expressed varying degrees of frustration with people’s ignorance. For example, the people who assume he speaks Spanish, because in Texas brown = Hispanic = of course you speak Spanish, and Ed’s features don’t read Asian to alot of people. Then there are the idiots who think his younger brother has Down’s Syndrome (I SHIT YOU NOT!)

  43. I’m half asian, and my whole life I’ve gotten the ‘where are you from’.
    Now that I’m an adult, I smile politely and in my most Katherine Hepburn accent (the one that usually only comes out when I drink), say ”Connecticut, how about you?’

    It’s true, AND it’s fun!

  44. Um, so maybe I should’ve mentioned that the reason I rarely comment is that I am often away from the computer for long stretches, and so every time I have anything to say, either someone has already said it way better than I could’ve, or I’m wanting to respond to comments made so long ago that no one even knows what I’m talking about.

    That said, thanks, everybody, and esp. to Kate, FJ, SM and AS for letting me have a tiny spot on your platform.

    @Meg, my husband and I joke that Whasian couples where the man is Asian are “not the cool kind.”

    For others who asked, I think “She-Devil,” the movie w/ Roseanne Barr, was in fact loosely based on the Weldon book. I saw it. Ed Begley Jr. was in it. Nuff said.

    DRST and others, I think bowl cuts are prohibited under the Geneva Convention.

    C. Shuy, as someone whose parents gave her grief for putting on weight when she hit puberty, I realize that being fat and Asian goes beyond the equivalent to any other double-whammy of “unattractive” qualities. I’m not trying to win the our-discrimination-is-worse-than-yours sweepstakes, but — and I’m generalizing here — East Asian cultures are rather fatphobic. Witness the prohibition of fat parents adopting from China. I once overheard two very thin Asian-American college students talking about how their parents were upset at how fat they were. There’s a lot of pressure to be perfect. One of the aforementioned girls was saying she failed an exam, and the other asked, “Did you really fail? Or did you Asian-fail?” Which, I presume, would be getting a B or something.

    And this bears repeating. I tried to italicize it but somehow couldn’t: “When we’re young, especially — but sometimes even when we grow up — it’s always us that’s wrong, never Them.”

  45. I have a good friend who is Turkish (actually Laz) and Kurdish. She once mentioned how frustrating it was to look at Barbie as a kid and know she could never look like that. I knew how predominant western images are in terms of global marketing but it was a very powerful image to put it all into perspective. And the funny/sad part is that Barbie never had anything over this woman. She’s one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen and was an adorable child. That, of course, doesn’t make the inherent neo-colonialism of global marketting any less damaging and I don’t want to trivialize the experience of living as the ‘other’ in that scenario. But it really steams my clams that white is the standard of beauty for Madison Ave. It’s a big damned world out there and the sun done set on the British Empire and every other empire for that matter.

    I also wanted to put in my distinct dislike of the term Caucasian and definitely Caucasoid. As a geographer it makes me want to tear my hair out because I’m as white as it gets and ain’t nobody in my family that’s from anywhere near the Caucasus Mountains. More importantly this term is based on the same pseudo-scientific classification system of the early twentieth century that called Africans ‘negroids’ and Asians ‘mongoloids’and tried to find ethnic superiority in skull sizes and soil samples. I just don’t like reifying systems that are crazy and harmful.

  46. White as white, and I still had a bowl cut. I think it’s the straight hair on females thing. I can understand not wanting to fight with a child about hair brushing and detangling and all that crap, but there has to be a middle road.

    Now, of course, I have grown it long, and am being told much to my surprise that I have “good hair”. Which is another mindfuck, for another post.

  47. About 15 years ago, I picked up a women’s magazine in a doctor’s office. I flipped through it. I found a column by a young man. He was Asian.

    The headline was: Have you ever found an Asian man sexy?

    That headline made my jaw drop. I grew up in a family environment where there was a lot of criticism about appearance, and I had reached a point where I thought everyone who *wasn’t* white was sexy, and everyone who was pale, blue-eyed and fair-haired was definitely not attractive.

    I think this is referred to as “exoticizing.” I didn’t do it with malice. I just thought beauty was a genetic impossibility for me. Perhaps this makes me much more like nonwhite women than I ever imagined.

  48. @Mean Asian Girl

    I by no means saw your examples and your expanding on things as “my discrimination is worse than yours”. It is helpful in knowing that I was not the only one put through crap by parents and stuff. And it helps, IMO, to learn that it is more a cultural thing than a “it’s all just YOU!” thing.

    As for “Asian-Fail”, Oh. My. GOD… getting past that mindset is really difficult.

  49. White as white, and I still had a bowl cut.

    Dorothy Hamill did us no favors. Did you mom also buy you Short N’ Sassy shampoo to emphasize your bowl cut?

  50. Oh M*A*S*H. I love it so but it was frustrating when I got old enough to look at it and see the horrific stereotyping of Asians in a lot of the episodes. The gender dynamics of the show I can put into perspective given the time frame, but the racism is just inexcusable (and of course, I’m just observing, not part of the group being misrepresented so badly).

    PS – if bowl cuts aren’t prohibited, they need to be. Though I also blame Dorothy Hamill, who had a similar style, for making it common on girls of a certain era.


  51. I’m not trying to win the our-discrimination-is-worse-than-yours sweepstakes, but — and I’m generalizing here — East Asian cultures are rather fatphobic

    It’s interesting that you say that. My experience with Asian cultures is rather limited, but I did live in Japan for a year (teaching job) and a lot of teen and 20-something students bemoan the crap they got from their parents and grandparents about being fat. None of them were fat by any means, but they were all taller and bigger around than their older relatives, sometimes significantly so. One girl was already 5′ 7″ at the age of 16. Her mother was a shade over 5′ and jokingly complained about her daughter’s “massive” size and the difficulty in buying clothes . Not surprisingly, the daughter was pretty self-conscious about her size.

    Of course, as an actual fat woman and an obvious foreigner, I got my share of pointing and comments. It was an interesting experience, but not a comfortable one.

  52. Another thought comes to me. My partner is Mexican American. People often think she’s Asian.

    She practices medicine, and wears a name badge that says her last name: Gonzales.

    She’s astonished by how many people think she’s Asian in spite of the last name.

    That’s always made me wonder if that had to do with the assumption that being brown while practicing medicine = Asian to most white patients.

  53. Oh man. Thank you, MAG, for this post.

    When I was a little girl (and even a slightly bigger one), with frizzy, dull hair and a Jewish beak, I so wanted to be a Marcia Brady type (back when the Brady Bunch was in its first run). Long straight blonde hair, tiny upturned nose, tannable skin, and a voice like tinkling wind chimes. Even a lot of us Caucasians don’t have a shot at the WASP ideal, and it just killed me.

    What I did NOT know then, and would not for decades, was that I was also autistic, and that if I looked like that I’d just be a Marcia Brady lookalike who would, at best, get invited to Cool Parties until she developed a reputation for making a complete ass of herself at them, a girl who entie guys would want to date until they found out how W-E-I-R-D she was, someone who “looked” like she should “fit,” but never really did. Would I have felt any less lonely? Probably not. But try telling my kid self that.

  54. I know it’s already had props, but THIS:

    “It is interesting how consistently we attempt to locate the Problematic within (or on) our selves.

    It’s our hips, our eyes, our skin, our hair, our racialized identities, our whatever. (Returning to a conversation I recently had at another blog about street harassment, a lot of people even blame themselves for that by assuming it’s something about the way we look. I certainly have.) Maybe there’s something to this odd choice — an internal locus of control, perhaps, at least gives us a sense of control? Provided the guilty feature can be changed, even if by extreme means?”

    It’s not half so damn scary if we nurture the fantasy of being able to ‘control ourselves’ (in whatever form that may take) enough to pull the teeth of our ridiculers. But still, massive fail. I’m all for blaming Them.

    Me with the kinky-curly midbrown hair … when my mom was getting her hair done, I used to go through the little “hair color samples”. My most-desired color was darkest blue-black, stick-straight, glossy “Asian” (I assume that color was meant to represent) hair. I always thought it was the epitome of gorgeous.

    Great post.

  55. So, I’ve been reading for a while now but this post really made me want to comment. I’ve definitely had to deal with the “what are you?” and I usually find it amusing. I was born in Brazil to Panamanian parents but did the highschool thing in Connecticut. My town was 97% white and to be honest I usually tend to forget I’m not white until someone asks me or I get a curious look. I go to school in Maine now which is even less diverse (if that’s even possible). The majority of people are more curious in a casually ignorant way than actually racist and I’ve been asked if I’m half black, or indian, or middle eastern.

    In highschool I definitely wondered whether I wasn’t dating because I was fat or because I was hispanic. Of course looking back now I realize I wasn’t actually fat I just thought I was because people (family even) kept telling me I was which made me diet and binge eat and eventually actually become fat.

    Despite the rampant fat phobia in the u.s I’ve actually found that panama is actually worse in some respects. People openly criticize other peoples size no matter what it is. Either you’re a fatty or you’re anorexic or you had plastic surgery. On top of that the racism is bizzare, brown people are actually racist based on the shade of brown and white people are treated like celebrities. I wonder how much of that has to do with the u.s occupation and the spread of “western” media, i’m guessing alot.

    Well now that i’ve written a few thousand words, i’d just like to add that this site is complete awesomeness and the posts and comments section always give me a mood boost :)

  56. This is kind of a technical point, but that eyelid surgery doesn’t “de-slant” eyelids but adds an extra fold to the upper eyelid.

    Rebecca, I think “de-slant” is more of a metaphor here. And as you point out, the reasons people give for doing it tend to be the same as for any other plastic surgery — i.e., I wanted to be closer to an ideal. Since the beauty ideal in this culture is white just as much as it is young, thin, able-bodied, etc., I really don’t think you can remove that when you’re talking about Asian-Americans having the surgery, at least.

  57. I had a friend growing up who was whasian or something like that, and her parents had surgery done to her to make her look more western (her eyes and nose). Now I understand she had some facial deformity before that, but I do not think it has anything to do with her eyes, maybe her nose. But when I found out, I was really horrified. Now in retrospect, I think they did it to help her “fit in” but I still think it was illegitimate. And I lost touch with her ages ago, so I don’t know how she feels now. But her original response to my aghast, was that she defended her parents, who were definitely white, and said she was glad she didn’t have asian eyes. (actually, “asian eyelids”) She wasn’t the only child I knew who had plastic surgery at a young age — noses got de-bumped, etc, one girl had breast reduction/reconstruction. (Yes, I grew up around affluent people, but my family wasn’t) but she was the only one who had it done to her before she was old enough to talk. It bothered me for a long time.

  58. Cindy, perhaps people think that your partner is Filipino–Filipinos usually have Spanish last names. (I’m half-Filipino.)

  59. Fat Asian here – grew up in Singapore. Wasn’t even fat growing up, just before growth spurts. But I was taller and larger than the average asian (as were my brothers). Eventually all of us dieted to fatness.

    Didn’t matter that I grew up as part of the privileged race, the beauty ideal was still Western. Went to school with someone who got the double-eyelid surgery at 15 (it ended up getting botched too, and now she can open her eyes fully).

    Could be the spread of Western media, certainly that’s the most plausible explanation. All I can tell you is that from the word go my mother was encouraging me to suck my stomach in all the way (earliest memory of this was when I was 3-4, my brother hadn’t been born yet) and to open my eyes wider. She’d always made fun of me for my eyes not being big enough (even though they’re not stereotypically squinty) and often lamented that I didn’t inherit her double eye lids.

    So many issues. All converging on the impossible attainment of the skinny, blonde, wide-eyed, double-lidded Western ideal.

  60. I’m white, have very straight hair, and am naturally thin.
    And I spent my childhood bemoaning my big, ooked nose and wishing I could get surgery already – and contacts to make my brown eyes blue. This in a region of a mediterranean country where most people looked exactly like me, but their Barbie dolls did not.
    Growing up, I added t this the “problem” of a sallow complexion and body hair growing up… about everywhere. My mother had me waxed and shaved and, in her desperation, brought me to an endocrinologist – who sa me, told her it was most likely a hormonal problem, ordered a blood test, and conclude that I was completely healthy, just hairy.
    It took me very long to accept myself despite being part of the majority.
    I can only imagine what being part of the minority would be like.

  61. Littlem, thanks for the Morrison references–I was just gearing up for a long Morrison-based response when I found yours. TBE in particular really says, if not everything, then a whole hell of a lot. And when I teach it, the work it takes to convince a largely-white class that race and ideals of “beauty” do in fact work together like Morrison says they do…well, no doubt you know.

    Sometimes I start that segment by having every student write on the board the name of his or her “most beautiful person in the world”, and most of them are just what you’d expect–all celebrities, mostly white or white-ish, thin or thinnish. It makes a good entry into this discussion, for people who are just opening their mouths to say, “But of course I don’t buy into these shallow cultural standards.” But once, maybe six or eight years ago now, there was this one glimmer. One student, an African-American of what might be called “medium” size and appearance (not fat, not thin, not conventionally gorgeous, not conventionally plain), wrote his own name on the board. While he was being funny, it wasn’t entirely a joke: that self-acceptance gig that takes so much work and resistance and luck, he got it. That we don’t have to wait to be “beautiful” to be beautiful. It was beautiful, and so was he, and that made me happy for a long time.

  62. And a PS. Two of my neighbors have adoptive Asian daughters who are going to grow up in a somewhat insular rural communities. All three are beautiful girls even by popular standards, now that we do have Lucy Liu. I don’t doubt that they’ll get a lot of what Mean Asian Girl documents; but I also don’t doubt that they’ll be simultaneously fetishized as exotic “lotus blossoms” based on fantasies of submissively erotic Asian women so popular in white pornography. (Or they’ll be “dragon ladies” if they talk back.) That is, some or a lot of boys their age will find them “beautiful” and want to date them and fuck them, but some or a lot of that desire will be based on treating them as objects of desire rather than contempt, or at the same time as they’re objects of contempt (men, oh boy–how the hell do they manage that? File under “unsolved mysteries.”)

    Anyway, compared to Mean Asian Girl’s narrative of being constructed as smart but sexless, will that be any better? Will it help to be found “beautiful” as well as “different”, if the regard, like the contempt, is based on “difference”? Will the parents know how to help them figure this stuff out? Because I’m not sure I know how to help them figure this stuff out.

  63. Cat @ 12:23 pm: A-yep. Recently over at Salon, there was an article on this very phenomenon — namely, the belief among insecure Western males that Asian women are submissive little sexpots who’ll never ever backtalk their lords and masters — and it was instructive to watch how many woman-hating male writers crawled out of the woodwork.

  64. As a half-Filipino growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (populated mostly by folks of Finnish descent), lots of what you said resonated with me. Well, said, M.A.G.!

  65. This is an amazing guest-post. Thanks so much.
    Why is it that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Fox or Bravo or some other network were to come up with show like The Swan, only called, “Make Me White!” Yes, there would be public outrage, but you know people would watch it anyway. “Join us as we transform the lives of these wretched people by making them less Other-y!”

  66. Great post. Fantaaaaastic post.

    DRST and everyone else, you’re not alone with the boy-haircut-anxieties. My mom insisted, ALWAYS, that I have super-short hair as a little girl. Not a bowl cut (thank goodness for small blessings) but just plain… short. I desperately wanted it to grow out. But at the first sign of growth or length, zip, off to the salon to get it all chopped off. I wanted pretty hair in pigtails and ribbons with barettes and… here I was, getting mistaken for a boy. It only got worse when my once-straight hair went hyper curly at around the age of 9 or 10. I hated my hair, hated it with a passion. I wished I could have pretty shiny hair like all the other girls. Then I’d be pretty and popular and the boys would stop calling me names!

    It was all nonsense, and it still is. I finally shook off most of my hair issues after a hairstylist straightened out the curls for a formal dance. I looked WEIRD. I looked utterly unlike myself, and it wasn’t an improvement. Curly hair suddenly made a lot more sense. As did all the people who would come over to me and coo and pat my head and go “oh wow I wish I had hair like YOURS.” (Although seriously, geez, my head is not public property and petting it is damn rude.)

    The Fantasy Of Being X is damned haunting. But KNOWING about it, having something you can point to and go “AHA! So THAT’S what’s bugging me!” can really help in getting your head together. And experiencing for yourself that no, the grass really isn’t greener was something of a wakeup call for me.

  67. Cindy, Some Anglo-Indian families also have Iberian-peninsula-sounding surnames like Rodrigues, De Rosario – actually Portuguese names. (Very brief explanation for people unfamiliar with AI people: the community has its roots in mixed marriages in colonial India; by the mid 1800s mixed marriages/ relationships were definitely seen as a bad thing and so the mixed families intermarried; the AI community was the result.) I don’t know if doctors of south Asian ancestry are as common in the US as they are here in the UK.

    I have mixed feelings about my own family members cutting off that aspect of their ancestry; I have cousins who don’t know they even have some non-European roots. But I appreciate that life was a shedload more difficult when a person was nonwhite in the 1930s, and if people assumed you were white and you got equal treatment, it wasn’t going to get knocked. It saddens me to think that even today people should feel pressured to conform to one notion of beauty. You’d have hoped we’d moved on…

  68. I think it takes tremendous courage to share such deep and personal stuff on a public forum. In my culture, as well as others I have noticed, there is major pressure to keep anything that is less than flattering “in the family.” Actually admitting the wish to be white, even as a child, is strictly taboo.

    I think this kind of honesty is truly liberating because it shows in a very real way how you have struggled with the “tyranny of the majority” and your realizations of the meaning of your struggles as an adult. You are far more eloquent than I, but the message that you realized you were not defective but that it was the culture that made you feel defective because you were not white should be loudly heard by all..

  69. Thank you for this post, MAG. It was pretty amazing.

    I run into problems in my life because I can pass for white, a significant portion of my ancestry is white, but growing up in California with even a smidge of Hispanic ancestry means you’re Mexican. Even if your family’s not from Mexico– part of mine is but that part was pretty well surpressed in the 1940s and 1950s when passing was safer (cf. Zoot Suit Riots, no it’s not just a song) and had more economic advantages. Yo hablo espanol, but I had to learn it in high school and can’t speak it around my mother ’cause it makes her get a little twitchy.

    And it confuses me now that I live in Oregon it’s assumed I’m either white or part black (there was a famous U of O football player in the 1970s with my last name who was black).

    So, fat, mixed, queer, short— anyone got a bingo card they want filled out? I’m also farsighted and have a couple awesome moles on my face I refuse to have removed. I’M IN UR CULTURE, ALTERIN’ UR STANDARDS OF BEAUTY.

  70. Knithappy,

    I wonder if that’s why my partner has a lot of servicemen over 50 ask her if she’s Filipino or Anglo-Indian?

    And to be fair, she and her mother are often mistaken for being Filipino.

  71. Great post.

    That’s it. I am officially trashing my Fantasy of Being Curvy And Boobalicious. I am a grown woman, I am happy, strong and well-nourished, I have a partner who loves me how I am and I need to stop focusing on trying to change how I look.

  72. PS – in my case, if I chose to have the plastic surgery for the fold in the eyes, I would only need it done on one eye. My other one has it already. I was born that way.

  73. Cindy – could be. I’m not particularly familiar with the places US servicemen get stationed, but historically AIs were the people who operated the telegraph, postal service, police service, railways (operated, not managed…) and so would have been unavoidable for people stationed in that part of Asia. There’s no one ‘colouring’ for Anglo-Indians, everything from blue-eyed blondes to brown-skinned brunettes. I wish I’d inherited the black hair!

  74. Not trying to play into the Oppression Olympics or start a inferno here but; am I seeing a deeper intersection across the ‘Changing one’s self to be more acceptable’ paradigm? Reading this, most excellent, post I couldn’t help but think about MJ (That + the saturation news coverage of his death) and his time-lapsed endeavors to become white (He DID have the surgery, and lots of it).

    MJ and his ‘changes’ eventually led me smack into one of THE most heated contentions regarding the intersections of race, sexual preference, and body size. Of course, that would be the argument that ‘fat hate cannot be compared to racism or homophobia because the the state of fatness can be changed’.

    Is this just a simplistic first impression? An isolated instance? Might there be something to this or am I just headed off in some weird, Rod Sterlingesq, direction?

  75. I distinctly recall watching Sesame Street around age five and suddenly realizing that the cast was all different races. I’d seen the show many many times before, but that time something clicked. I had a similar experience when my girlfriend, who is Chinese and stunningly gorgeous, unexpectedly blew up one day and began complaining that her skin tone was “too dark.”

    I, being convincingly white (of Italian/Jewish background but identified as white nonetheless), had honestly never compared our skin tones or thought anything of hers until that moment. It really bothers me that she’s so down on her appearance over such a relatively minor thing, but I don’t feel equipped to persuade her that she’s beautiful, and not “in spite of” her tone, either. (What am I supposed to say? “It doesn’t matter?” of course it doesn’t matter to ME, I’m white, I have no idea what it’s like to have her complexion.)

    If anyone can advise me on how to make her feel better, I’d appreciate it. I have tentatively asked her why she wants to be pale, and she says she was much lighter as a child and it provides “best contrast” against her naturally black hair.

    We also had an amusing disagreement about noses and what constitutes a ‘big’ one…I was griping one day that my long, beaky Jewishy nose was sooo huge and she responded with disbelief — I had the tiniest, *narrowest* nose, she observed, and indicated that she would much rather have this sort of nose than her own — which was itty-bitty when looked at in profile, but a bit wider than my own when viewed head-on. It’s funny how different cultures can have such different standards for “most pleasing” body features.

  76. It’s funny how different cultures can have such different standards for “most pleasing” body features.

    I just read Latoya’s latest at Racialicious, which talks about black beauty standards. Outstanding post.

    I don’t know how to help your girlfriend specifically, but I do think it all comes down to what M.A.G. said — do you actually want to look different, or do you just want to get the reactions (i.e., being treated better) that would come with looking different? That is such a fucking powerful point. If you imagine a world in which no one ever treated you like shit because of how you look, in which the media never told us that only certain kinds of bodies and faces are beautiful, in which women aren’t taught that that an enormous part of our worth lies in how sexually attractive we are… would you have ANY motivation to change how you look in that world?

    I’m thinking no, at least in the vast majority of cases. The desire to change our appearances comes primarily from the (too often justified) belief that people would treat us better if we looked different. (Or if we didn’t look “different,” as it were.) It seems like that should be obvious, but it’s not always. We’re so conditioned to make the logical leap from “People give me shit/don’t find me attractive” to “There’s something wrong with my body,” we don’t even realize it IS a logical leap — that there’s a pretty crucial missing link there, which magically transforms fucked-up, exclusive cultural standards into a bunch of intrinsically, “objectively” ugly bodies. But if you ask yourself if you’d still want to change if you knew everyone would treat you well, and you’d have access to plenty of love and sex, and you’d never feel like an outsider, it becomes really clear that most of our reasons for wanting to change have nothing to do with our actual bodies.

  77. Wow! I love the quote” It would be a great world if we all loved ourselves as we are. But if we don’t, or we can’t, we can at least be aware that the version of ourselves that we’re so eager to change is worth a second look.

    I spent so much of my life wanting to look like what I saw on TV! I am African-American and I, like you grew up with TV images that did not look ANYTHING like me. I so longed for care free hair that I could actually go out in the rain in without it turning into an Afro. Oh yes the fantasy of being white!

    Try as I might to overcome, I still struggle. Your post reminded me that I at least deserve a second look (LOL)!! We have got to teach our kids to LOVE themselves!!! Self-Esteem affects soooo many choices in life.

    Thanks again

  78. ABSOLUTELY! Your honesty just blows my mind. I’ve had to deal with that moving from Nigeria to Jamaica and then Oxford, Mississippi at an age where I didn’t understand what self-hatred was. I just didn’t like being different and I felt I had to change to be accepted. i love this. Thanks a lot for sharing :)

  79. Thanks for directing me to that post, Kate — really fascinating and quite a bit helpful :)

    I actually think I’m starting to get an idea now…as for my girlfriend, I know she got a whole lot of flak from her mother (!!!) moreso than anyone else for her perceived darkness. She’s also hypersensitive about her nose due to some silly remark someone made to her back in grade school. Like my skin tone — I was allowed to develop a “don’t really care” attitude about my coloration because most people in the media have my skin tone and it’s seldom noticed, let alone criticized.

    I think I’m going to try to help her deconstruct it your way (and the explanation was extremely helpful). I know sometimes when I tell her “I love your (contested feature)” she comes back with “But that’s JUST YOU! everyone else thinks it’s ugly!” And while that may also be false, I’m going to try pointing out that EVERYone has differing opinions on virtually any body part you can come up with, and really there’s no yardstick for measuring beauty/attractiveness in objective terms.

    My girlfriend deliberately flouts a lot of convention with regard to the way she acts and dresses, and she encourages me to do the same; I doubt she really thinks about how people’s opinions of her clothes “don’t matter” but their idea about her weight or complexion is somehow very very important.

  80. I really enjoyed the insights from your post. I’ve always found the idea that Asian women would want to change their looks perplexing, because as far as I’ve been aware of fashion and what men find desirable, I’ve found Asian women to be incredibly beautiful.

    There’s also the increasing interest in Japanese culture, so it’s strange, now it’s almost like White people want to be Asian.

  81. I’ve always found the idea that Asian women would want to change their looks perplexing

    That’s called white privilege, but we’ve tried to explain the concept to you so many times that every time you comment I’m surprised you’re still allowed to post here.

  82. Great post! If we connect to the recent post on Michael Jackson, self-hatred is self-hatred no matter what your race or size. And it sucks, especially if/when it comes from people we love. And I’m white as the Pillsbury doughboy!
    @Lampdevil, I can identify! No bowl cut, either, but I remember my dad taking me to a barber when I was about 4 and getting the “pixie”, but shaved up the back like a boy (think that gave me a message??). I hated it, but continued to get a really short haircut til about 7th grade when I insisted on long hair. That was when I learned I have fine, limp hair which often looks messy, no matter what.
    I think many of us hate our hair, along with our bodies. Another thing to fill in the blank…!

  83. This was a brilliant post. I have a lot of respect for your strength, MAG.

    I grew up in rural America, I was homeschooled, and have been stereotypically rural “white” for most of my life – and I got a fair amount of flak for it, to be truthful. I will admit to never having wanted to be any other specific race because up until my teenage years, I liked my body and never considered myself “white”. I have always thought of myself as a mutt, because I am a mixture of multiple nationalities, and although most of them are pale skinned, I didn’t think that Caucasian or White defined me. Why do we need to define by race, anymore?

    I can’t imagine the troubles or negative experienced you had, but I know that race is still too big an issue in the States, and it just needs to be nonexistent anymore. I get treated badly for being pale-skinned, and others get treated badly for being any other melanin mix – why does it even matter? Beauty is so much more than that! Beauty is your thoughts, your strength, your heart – and even for someone shallow like me, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what shape your face is, it’s the full package, and no matter how “pretty” your exterior is, if you’re a bad person, you’ll become uglier by the moment to me.

    I hope that soon, change will happen.

  84. Sorry; I’m back again to say four things:

    1. Yeah, it’s not actually de-slanting, but that was how I perceived it at the time.

    2. Thanks, @JennyRose, and I wish I had the courage to post non-anonymously. My parents’ heads would explode at pretty much every single word in this post if they knew I wrote it.

    3. Oh, @Cat. If it wouldn’t have made the original post ridiculously long, I was going to get into the fact that while no boys my own age found me attractive, from the time I was about 17 through the present day, lots and lots of older men — the age of, say, Korean War vets — always commented on how beautiful I was or how much they loved “Oriental” women. I took no comfort in this because I thought — rightly, I think — that they weren’t seeing my individual beauty, such as it was, but rather an exoticized girl who was supposed to talk softly and have bound feet or something.

    4. Thanks for the links, everybody. I will check them out if I have time before Mean Whasian Toddler wakes from her nap.

  85. Sorry; I’m back again to say four things:

    Why sorry? I’m amazed you’ve only commented twice on this thread! But then, maybe that goes back to the whole you know how to say things efficiently and I don’t thing.

  86. Why do we need to define by race, anymore?

    Free tip: When you start sounding like Stephen Colbert, it’s a sign you might want to do some deeper thinking.

  87. Free tip: When you start sounding like Stephen Colbert, it’s a sign you might want to do some deeper thinking.


    First, why was that even necessary?
    Second, what is wrong with thinking that race should be discarded as the major item that defines a person? There are so many people of multiple races that it seems like an incredibly generalized way of defining someone. I can see it being a part of the way you define yourself if you so choose, but why is it necessary? Why is it always such a tag on someone’s identity? Very little of my ancestry has influenced who I am today, and I cannot be the only person like that. I don’t think that every time I fill out a college form I need to write in Native American/Italian/Dutch/Irish/English/Italian, or describe myself as having the cheekbones of my Irish ancestors or the skin color of my Dutch ancestors or the health problems of any others.

  88. I didn’t think that Caucasian or White defined me.

    Actually, it does, because we happen to live in a society in which being white means a great deal in terms of safety, respect, economics, political clout. You name it. I’m not saying that you, personally, are all about being white or that white people don’t have problems, but when you live in a society when white is defined as “the norm” much as being male is defined as “the norm” you can’t help but be part of it.

  89. I couldn’t help but giggle that MAG had EXACTLY four things to say. I’d say that’s efficiency alright LOL

    @BrieCS That’s the whole problem, racism and racial hierarchies exist and because we’re white we think we can give pat answers like ‘color shouldn’t matter’. The whole ‘I’m a mutt’ thing is a way in which white people dodge white privilege.

    Again with geography but once of the best ways to get my students to think about privilege is to imagine different people doing different things in different spaces. The easiest way is to imagine a couple walking down the street holding hands in Anywhere USA. Normal right? Okay, imagine two gay men holding in that same space. Their safety is at risk at that point. At the very least they’ll get stares or comments. You hear people say all the time ‘I don’t have a problem with gay people I just don’t want them to shove it in my face” This usually translates to… don’t display your sexuality in my space.

    But it gets murkier to explain how racial privilege works because we want to tell ourselves that we’re color blind. Think about a black person visiting your hometown. Do you think that they would feel comfortable in that space or do you think they would have to maybe change the way they talked, the way they dressed, their leisure activities, where they worshiped if they wanted to fit in or have a life? Do you think that people in your town would have preconceived notions about what a black person is like because they’ve had very little experience around black people? And what model do you think the locals would use to judge whether or not this is a person worthy of knowing or employing or whatever… they’re going to judge that person by what’s appropriate in their community… which is mostly white.

    And believe me you don’t realize that white is an identity until your in a scenario where you’re the minority. I needed some sunscreen in Charleston SC and I thought I would make a quick stop into Piggly Wiggly in downtown before I went to the beach. I found some sunscreen but it was low SPF like 4 and I couldn’t figure out what the deal was. I’m used to grocery stores having more sunscreen that you can shake a stick at. Well, after looking around the store it suddenly occurred to me that the clientele most likely didn’t need the 70 SPF I was looking for. There was no malice there but I wasn’t their target clientele.

    The truth is that the people of your town would probably be very nice to this person. And its possible this hypothetical person grew up around a lot of whites, like Condoleza Rice, and be relatively comfortable in your hometown but not everybody would. Just because someone isn’t burning a cross in your front yard doesn’t mean that racism and privileged don’t exist. Its definitely not fixed by pretending like color doesn’t matter.

    A friend of mine from high school now teaches in a southern-er state with a larger black population. She once sent me a relatively short email that said ‘you know, this school has a black choir, step teams, and a lot of black kids. I was sitting at the pep rally the other day and I realized how lonely it must have been to be black and grow up where we did.’ And she’s right.

  90. BrieCS, start here:

    And then maybe go here:

    Second, what is wrong with thinking that race should be discarded as the major item that defines a person?

    Because only white people get to walk around pretending they have no race. Look, I approved your comment because you seemed well-meaning but I figured people here might point you to some Anti-Racism 101 ideas/links/etc. Please take the time to read, at the VERY least, the first link above before you comment on this thread again.

  91. BrieCS I’m copying a link of an article for you to look at if you want. It basically looks at how race works in the workplace. There are a lot of assumption that we make about how people should act in the workplace that are totally racialized. Another deals with the experience of blacks in the UK and their experience of returning to their parents’ homeland.

    You can access the abstracts online if you don’t have access to the journals or if you’re interested I could even email them to you.

    Uncovering the white place: whitewashing at work
    Author: Reitman, Meredith
    Social & Cultural Geography, Volume 7, Number 2, April 2006 , pp. 267-282(16)

    Phillips, J., & Potter, R. B. (2006). ‘Black Skins-White Masks’: Postcolonial Reflections on ‘Race’, Gender, and Second Generation Return Migration to the Caribbean Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 27, 309-325.

  92. Just want to add to the horde of voices pointing out that the only people who can ask “Why define people by race” are the people who have had the privilege of being out and about in their lives without OTHER PEOPLE defining them by their race.

    Walk around and have people assume you’re not local (despite not having too different an accent), compliment you on your English (code for “you’re so much better than those other immigrants who REFUSE to assimilate” – p.s. Singapore education is conducted in English, I’ve been speaking it my WHOLE DAMN LIFE, THANKS), snicker when it turns out that you’re really good at math and super fast at counting up money, constantly ask how many other languages you speak, try to greet you in a language other than English (or what I call “Look! I’m so worldly I can greet you in YOUR LANGUAGE! Gimme cookie”)…

    When you walk around in those shoes. Just for a week. Then you can ask me why we define anyone by race anymore. It’s not something we *want* to be doing. I assure you.

  93. fatsmartchick i totally agree with your comments about target audience. I always get so excited when i go to a store and they carry foundation in my skin tone :)

    also, today i went to the mall with my boyfriend who came to visit me from his native Holland and I was suprised at the number of weird looks we got just walking around holding hands. not to mention how he was the one adressed by store clerks and cashiers… now is that because i’m the brown one, the fat one, or the woman?

  94. I actually had a long, long conversation with my (otherwise well-educated and reasonable, which is why this came as a fucking bolt out of the blue) uncle a few weeks ago, and his premise was genuinely, GENUINELY that America (where he lives) is not a racist society. The fact that he’s never been not white in America and a great many of those who are are pretty fucking certain that racism is happening to them, thanks, is apparently “perpetuating a victim mentality”.

    I’ve always thought of him as an intelligent man, and he was seriously arguing that people who are not white in America have the same opportunities and advantages as white people (“Look at Condoleezza Rice!”) and that American society is not racist, AND THEREFORE (which is the important bit) federal funds should not go “disproportionately” to non-white groups, affirmative action should be made illegal, black people clearly like living in ghettos and murdering each other so they’re the problem not society (paraphrasing), etc etc etc etc.

    Saying racism doesn’t exist or that race isn’t an important defining characteristic anymore is so often just a cover for opposing any action that attempts to level an institutionally racist society at the tiny tiny expense of the privileged white folks (including having to acknowledge that privilege, when you want to believe you got where you are all by yourself). As others have pointed out, you get to ignore race when your race is the one defined as “normal”.

  95. I remember back when we were very small (second grade? third? somewhere around there) and teachers were first (to my memory) explaining to us about the Nazis. What we understood of it, at that age, was that they wanted to kill everyone who wasn’t blond and blue-eyed.

    We understood that this was bad. But at the same time, many of us immediately felt the need to say “Well, *I’m* safe!” or “I *half* qualify… You still like me, right?” or point out the kids who “failed”.

    We understood that the Nazis were bad… but we still wanted to be approved by their standards. It’s a bit weird to remember.

  96. ”Look at Condoleezza Rice!”

    “Look at the fact that you just had to say ‘Look at Condoleezza Rice!'”

  97. @fatsmartchick, can you email me that article? I’d be really interested in reading it. Don’t have journal access now that my brother has graduated :P

    jsient (at) gmail (dot) com

  98. “Look at the fact that you just had to say ‘Look at Condoleezza Rice!’”

    Well, right? He also played the “I know one black person who says ‘racism’ is an crutch black people use to justify their own laziness and lack of ambition, so it’s racist of YOU to contradict his opinion” card. Well gee, I guess internalised racism is a figment of our collective imagination, then. That’s me told.

  99. This makes me think of how when I was a kid I was sure that if I could magically become pretty everyone would like me… because I figured that would also magically give me better social skills. The two things were totally linked in my mind.

    Then when I was 15-ish I thought that if I could somehow have big boobs it would magically give me social skills with boys. Ha! My sister (who did have a Rack of Doom) clued me in to the truth about that one.

    I totally had the bowl cut in kindergarten. I could have stunt doubled for the kid in the original Battlestar Galactica. :) But it was a disastrous shag a few years later that kept me from cutting my hair shorter than mid-back for about 17 years.

  100. “If we don’t, or sometimes even if we do, at some point someone in this society will tell us we’re ugly. We hear it enough and we start to believe it. That sucks, and it’s hard to overcome. Despite my own efforts, I certainly haven’t managed to do it. But self-hatred is a lot of work, too.”

    we? i’ve never had the fantasy of being white, or even lighter, and it’s not because people were showering me with compliments. it’s because it never occurred to me that racism was a credible worldview so whether i was attractive by racist standards was really neither here nor there. to me the trouble isn’t the ethnic distribution of mass market poster models, it’s that people buy-in so thoroughly that they can get upset over such details.

    that there are lots of asian women who have captured the collective imagination — from corazon and michelle yeoh to ang san suu kyi to sammi cheng. anyone who thinks those examples don’t count is reproducing what they claim to be criticizing.

  101. Not to mention if Laura Bush were caught on camera making a similar expression, there’d be no comment on that either.

  102. m, are you saying that the problem isn’t racism, it’s that people who belong to minorities give in to racism? that’s kind of victimizing, isn’t it?

  103. Thanks for sharing that Liz but I hope you’re going to pay for a couple of gin and tonics for all of us later on.

    How on earth can people be so sadistic to speak of another human being that way , much less a CHILD who is in the public spotlight through no fault of her own.

  104. @Emgee – OH GAWD, the razor! The razor up the back of the neck! I’d get that, too! What the heck was going on with that? They’d do the same thing to my hair. Is this some kind of 80’s thing, or some kind of Horrible Haircuts From People That Hate Us thing?

    …yes, my mom doesn’t hate me. All those bad haircuts and lousy outfits weren’t the results of malicious intent, as upsetting as they were at the time. Kids very much WANT to conform and fit in and mesh with the group, as was said upthread. There could be a zillion reasons for it not happening, and it’s easy to blame one’s bad hair, big nose, weight, skin color, cheap clothes, or the wrong kinds of fruit snacks in your lunches. And years after getting out of school, we can still lug that baggage around.

    …and I’m not sure what m is getting at, either. Uh? This is more of the “well I don’t see it so it doesn’t exist and you all need to cram it” logic, isn’t it?

  105. m, are you saying that the problem isn’t racism, it’s that people who belong to minorities give in to racism?

    Yeah, that’s what I got out of that, too, and I’m none too comfortable with it. M., please note that this entire blog is dedicated to the subject of how our culture can warp women’s body image, with its insistence that only women who meet a very narrow standard of beauty — which is white, among other restrictions — can be beautiful or valuable. We’re all here precisely because we want to resist buying into those standards, but doing so is far from simple for most of us. This blog does not see internalized self-loathing as a matter of personal weakness, but as a completely understandable consequence of soaking in a racist, sexist, ableist, sizeist, homophobic (et fucking cetera) culture from day one.

    I think you’re absolutely, 100% right that we would all be better off refusing to buy into that shit. But if it were as simple as making that decision, I can guarantee you that no one here would still struggle with body image, and it would be a much less widespread problem for women overall. The reality for many of us is, as M.A.G. said here, knowing it’s bullshit is a very different thing from being unaffected by it. Getting how fucked up it is intellectually is a very different thing from overcoming internalized shame that started long before we developed solid critical thinking skills.

    Admitting that for many of us, there’s a gulf between where we’d like to be emotionally and where we are right now, because we all have to live in a society that tries its best to keep us ashamed and passive for various reasons, is not weakness or capitulation — much less contributing to the problem. It’s telling the truth about our lives. If you don’t think women should be doing that, this is probably not the blog for you.

  106. “This blog does not see internalized self-loathing as a matter of personal weakness, but as a completely understandable consequence of soaking in a racist, sexist, ableist, sizeist, homophobic (et fucking cetera) culture from day one.”

    Well-said. When talking about women and their bodies, I think we need to be careful about how we discuss internalized self-loathing (or the internalized self-loathing we percieve – because sometimes we think it’s there when it’s not) – especially when it comes to the drastic measures people may take (I’m thinking not only of skin-lightening, eye-surgery, but breast augmentation, etc). Sneering at people or being condescending or saying or inferring they are weak… that’s not for me.

    “We’re all here precisely because we want to resist buying into those standards, but doing so is far from simple for most of us.”

    Yes. We *want to resist*. That doesn’t mean we’re all awesome and every one of us is doing the perfect job “overthrowing the patriarchy” (a term bandied about so much it starts to seem a little catch-all and bland to me) or whatever. I hope it also doesn’t mean you’re only allowed to join the club, or the discussion, or the effort, if you in any way are still participating in the problem (or if someone ELSE claims you are by wearing makeup, or straightening your hair, or whatever) unknowingly or clumsily so.

    Um, I tried to make sense, but basically, what I’m trying to say is, I like what Kate just said.

  107. I don’t think m is saying that it is the fault of POC who are wounded by racism. I think she is saying that she personally, was affected differently by racist beauty standards. Although I would say that no one can fully escape racist beauty standards since our culture is thoroughly marinated in racism and promotion of whiteness.

    I was thinking about this over lunch. About some of the reasons why POC have different reactions to racist beauty standards. The biggest reason I see is are they, or their family/community, politicized around race.

    What I mean by “politicized around race” is being aware of racism as a systemic system. Knowing that racism isn’t really about individual acts, but rather society wide patterns of oppression which are sometimes manifested in individual acts.

    Being politicized around race means you don’t try to ignore your race, minimize it, or hope to be considered as good as white people. It means you recognize that “I don’t think of you as [insert race]” is a profoundly racist statement, not a compliment.

    Being in a community that is politicized can help POC not internalize racist ideals and standards as much. For instance the “Black is Beautiful” movement was a political movement that attacked racist beauty standards that made black women consider themselves ugly.

    Not all POC are politicized around race, or come from communities that are. Which means they will have radically different experiences around race and racism. Some POC are firmly entrenched in denial or the idea that if they are nice and try hard enough, then white people will like them.

    (FYI, POC will never have a nice enough tone to satisfy white people who are defensive about their racism).

    One last thing, while there are a handful of models, celebrities, actors, etc. in the US who are POC, they are always in the minority (hah!). They also tend to be POC who happen to be somewhat in line with white beauty standards. POC actors also rarely play the leading role. For MOC it is incredibly rare for them to play a romantic leading role (as opposed to an action or comedic role).

    I am not saying actresses like Halle Barry are unattractive or “not really POC” because they are light skinned with “european” features. I am saying that the reason Halle Barry is attractive is not because she is light, bright and damned near white.

  108. Many women will not consider that standards exist and buying into them is damaging. Many in the ED recovery community will rail at the very suggestion. They will not consider the suggestion that media and cultural standards are not a problem and certainly not part of their ED. I don’t agree and I get very angry when greater societal issues are dismissed*. The typical reply is along the lines of “JennyRose -do you think I am so stupid as to have caught my ED from TV, movies etc? The person defends herself by denying a problem exists.

    But there are standards, immense pressure to meet those standards and continuous representation of those standards. It becomes so pervasive that we don’t notice because such standards have been normalized. Many of these ED women want to be strong and are hurt and insulted by the mere suggestion. But it is there and pretending it’s not will only strengthen it. It is tempting to deny because who wants to admit they have been influenced by such seemingly trivial things as movies, magazines and TV. If a woman admits such cultural standards exist, she can feel horrible about herself for being sucked in. If she pretends they don’t exist, she feels horrible for not meeting them. At first blush, this seems like a loose-loose situation. But wait, if you admit such standards exist, you can get angry, question them, see how absurd they are and feel better about yourself. You see the absurdity for what it is and you no longer hate yourself for not meeting a standard that cannot be met.

    It is true that there are some women who have not been influenced or have overcome these standards but I don’t want to live in a world where only a few are able to shine a light on those standards and break free of them. I want as many people as possible to do this.

    A good book on the subject is “When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies.”

    So yes, standards do exist and they are damaging even if some individuals do not buy into them.

    *EDs are complex and I am not suggesting that cultural influence is the only cause.

  109. Julia, thanks for the perspective on how getting politicized can be a life-changer. I think what was making some of us bristle is that this is a post about M.A.G.’s experiences with racism and body shame dating back as far as kindergarten, when one can hardly be expected to be politicized — especially if her parents aren’t helping in that regard. As you said, “Not all POC are politicized around race, or come from communities that are. Which means they will have radically different experiences around race and racism. Some POC are firmly entrenched in denial or the idea that if they are nice and try hard enough, then white people will like them.”

    And some are working their way from point A to point B. Even as adults, even after becoming politicized, many people still struggle with internalized shame and self-loathing. That’s true of members of any marginalized group, and it’s an experience we’re in favor of discussing openly here. I read M’s comment as dismissive of that struggle, and of the power that societal influences can have even over intelligent, introspective people. So I wanted to make it perfectly clear that at this blog, we aren’t cool with criticizing people for admitting they can be swayed by those influences, even as they try to resist them.

  110. Also, Julia, I finally had a chance to look at the links. Thank you. As my reading material tends to be more fiction than non, let me recommend, for you and for anyone else, the title story in Don Lee’s short story collection “Yellow” (how does one italicize here?). The main character is a man, but it says a lot about how Asian self-hatred can be internalized.

  111. The title of this post really drew me in. As a young immigrant from the Caribbean (from a place – Guyana – no one in my new hometown had ever heard of) you don’t know how many times I had the fantasy of being white.

    And the name (what KIND of name is Gillian?!?!) I hated that name well into adolescence, because it was so easy to make fun of.

    Hair was my big bugaboo. It was never straight enough, and I wished many times to trade in my dark brown curls for straight, blond hair. I even uttered the words “I wish I was white” in the presence of my mother, who – not surprisingly – was less than pleased.

    [i]But self-hatred is a lot of work, too.[/i]

    THIS! On some level I understood this even as a teenager. But somehow, it wasn’t until recently (I’m in my mid-30s), that I could actually start to live it, at least in part. The battle against self-hatred is a tough one, because whole sections of our society seem to be built on making everyone feel like shit about themselves so they can buy stuff they don’t need.

    Thank you for this post. Thanks for reminding us all that we’re not alone.

  112. I realize this has been said before, but this really was a great post. Thanks to Mean Asian Girl for writing the post and for sticking around to comment.

  113. What an AMAZING post!
    When I was little, one of my best friends was Japanese-American and another of my best friends was Vietnamese (Her adopted sister was African-American). This was the 70’s and, yes, they got made fun of A LOT. And it hurt them, A LOT. (I was one of the few Jews in our town and was also considered fairly “Exotic.”)
    Now, I’m married to a Filipino man who is an actor. When we lived in L.A. he was told he wasn’t “Asian enough” because his eyes are round. Never mind that he was born in Manilla.
    Meanwhile, another friend of ours, a Chinese-American actress, was told to lose a bunch of weight because “Asian women are tiny.” She’s about 5’6″. (They didn’t ask her to lose height.)

  114. From Joie
    When you walk around in those shoes. Just for a week. Then you can ask me why we define anyone by race anymore.

    From my limited experience, I’d say even that won’t help. I’m white, and have twice spent a week in Japan, being defined almost entirely by race and gender (“Oh, you can use chop sticks?”, “Wow, you like sushi/sake/edamame?”, “You are very strong for a woman (with respect to alcohol tolerance)” etc), and I don’t think it came even close to exposing what I’ve been lucky enough to avoid as a white person.

    The part of the Japanese culture I was interacting with was openly racist, and I think that allows me to separate myself from their attitudes*. However, in cultures that claim that racism is minor or isolated, but continue to have racism entrenched in behaviour and attitudes (like pretty much everywhere that isn’t openly racist, as far as I can tell), not only are people treated differently on the basis of race, their experience is then denied.

    This is me trying to get my head around this, as a white person, so I apologise if I’m being an asshat. I’m a person who always wanted dark skin. I never thought it had anything to do with race, and certainly the desire comes from old fashioned beauty norms and not anything to do with race, but when there is a connection between my beauty-norm chasing desire and a non-white person wanting to change their skin colour in order for people to stop treating them as non-white, it trivialises the latter’s experience and denies the reality of the racism they experience. I think.

    I may have just demonstrated exactly how much experiencing a couple of weeks of racism doesn’t help me to understand…

    *Which is certainly secondary to the simple fact that I get to go home, where I am default again

  115. @Ariane:

    It’s interesting you mention your experiences in Japan. I was thinking of my husband (Mr. Wonderbread himself :P)’s experiences when I brought him back to Singapore.

    He was certainly treated differently and subject to many stereotypes, but none of them threatened his position in the world. For example, he was routinely given forks instead of chopsticks, but that action wasn’t value/morally laden – know what I mean? Where someone telling me that my English is fantastic, well there are a thousand and one implications that come along with it (British imperialism being the first that comes to mind).

    So you’re right in that the situations aren’t exactly equal, and it’s hard for someone in that privileged position to get perspective on it. But that was what I was kind of getting at anyway.

  116. @Joie

    I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to undermine your comment, just support it and say “and even then”, sort of.

    Actually, the most significant racism I have experienced has come from Singapore, and it has been very much aimed at my position in the world, questioning my ability to do my job on the basis of being white, but it has come from only one or two individuals, so I can’t say it reflects the culture. My experience in Japan was a little different, because I went there as a “hired gun”, hired by a Japanese person, so to insult my ability would be to insult their boss… However, I saw plenty of other people dismissed for being non-Japanese as being incapable of doing anything much at all.

    I guess the thing is, because it is rare for me to feel it, it is highly unlikely I will internalise it – find fault in me rather than in them – to paraphrase the original post. I’m arguing with you in total agreement with you, and I’m not sure why,

    Maybe I’m venting my frustration that my kids are taught that racism is being nasty to someone because of their skin colour, when that bears no resemblance to the kind of racism they actually see, so they are inclined to grow up believing it doesn’t exist too. (I’m doing my best to combat that, don’t know if it’s working.) I think that is really, really dangerous.

  117. This is a great article and a really great discussion.

    This is really a pretty obvious point to make, but the “subtle” racism which Ariane refers to above is much harder to expose and confront; white people often aren’t even aware when something racist has been said, which is why it’s definitely not up to us to tell people of colour when something is or isn’t racist (not what’s happened here, but is often the catalyst for discussions of race on the internets).

    I’m certainly not trying to compare racism and sexism in the Oppression Olympics, but I think the dynamic is similar – it’s pretty easy to point out overt racism and say it’s wrong, but much harder to understand why someone saying “You speak English so well”, to use Joie’s example above, is a loaded comment; just as it’s pretty easy to understand that paying a woman less than a man for the same job is wrong, but harder (unless it directly affects you) to understand why publishing “funny” lists of how to pressurise your girlfriend into losing weight is deeply sexist.

    And that’s before you get to any issues of intersectionality…

    As for differing degrees of awareness of cultural pressures on people to look white… there’s a reason we say that fish have no word for water. All of us are swimming around in the cultural ocean, polluted by all this racist, sexist, fattist, homophobic etc. crap, and it’s hard sometimes to tell what’s the sea-water and what’s the sewage.

    I can remember first finding feminism and really understanding why people used to call it “consciousness-raising” – I felt like my head had been underwater and I’d finally pulled it out and was able to breathe and see clearly for the first time. That kind of clarity doesn’t last and it’s a lot of work to keep your head up – work that it’s easy not to do if it doesn’t directly affect you every day.

    I’m still a Clueless White Lady and still feeling my way on this, so while I’m trying to get it right, I’m sure I’m probably still bumbling around like an idiot.

    I’d like to see some of these Shapeling bowl-cuts. We could have a Shapely Prose version of What The Hell?.

  118. I skimmed a lot of the comments, so my apologies if I missed a post that said this. I think, for women, the deep sexism in the culture that says a woman’s worth is based on the extent to which her appearance reflects multiple cultural ideals simultaneously allows these stereotypes to persist. I am not, repeat NOT, arguing that the cake of institutional racism isn’t there just because it’s covered with sexism frosting. (Sorry, this fat chick loves cake!) But non-white girls want to be white, so they can look like the blue-eyed blonde girl, so they can be pretty. White girls want to be ‘ethnic/cultural,’ because they want to be sexy. Women of all races want to be thin, so they can be feminine. (None of this means that racism doesn’t hurt men, because it does. But their racism cake is served, for the most part, without sexism frosting.)

    Blonde jokes actually fit into this, believe it or not. The point of focusing on multiple standards at once is to make women feel unworthy. If you have most aspects of the ‘ideal’ appearance, ‘blondes are ditzes.” My siblings and I all have super-fine, straight, blond hair (my sister even had the bowl cut as a kid, but she was born in 1990), and my brother and I both have blue eyes. When we were kids we used to joke that we were the children of the corn. In any case, I did not fit the ‘ideal’ appearance, largely because I was fat. However, even my seemingly ‘ideal’ blonde hair made me the butt of many jokes too. So not only was I ‘stupid,’ ‘lazy’, ‘ugly,’ etc. because I was fat, I was a ‘ditz” who didn’t know anything. When I got to college (I went to a great school where I was never called a single name), I dyed my hair auburn (for other reasons), and then something happened. People from professors to parking attendants took me more seriously. People actually had increased of my abilities because my hair was a different color. I said this to my mother, and she said, “You should let your natural hair color come back in. Blonde jokes are just dressed up sexism.” And it is. I think appearance-based (as opposed to sociocultural and economic) stereotypes largely apply to women. As long as it’s ok to make fun of the Asian girl’s eyelids, as long as blonde jokes are not called out, as long as a black girl’s @ss is treated as ‘booty’ in more than one sense, we will know (in case we need reminding) that sexism is still armed and dangerous.

  119. @Kelly:
    Is it really possible to make dark skin lighter? I thought all skin lighteners did was prey on people’s self-hatred and give them cancer.

  120. This may be a little late, but I have some barely noticeable vitiligo (lack of pigment in some areas). I’m a light to medium brown on the color scale, so my mother noticed it right away but most people don’t see it since its around my eyes and i wear glasses. when i was younger i was given a list of possible treatments. Among them was some sort of laser treatment i believe, that was meant to eradicate all pigment cells, which turns all the skin a milky white color and makes you extremely sensitive to the sun. Luckily my parents didn’t find it necessary but i often wonder if that’s what MJ decided to do.

  121. And it is. I think appearance-based (as opposed to sociocultural and economic) stereotypes largely apply to women.

    Yes and no. Women generally get slammed with certain expressions of appearance-based prejudice a lot harder than men do, but you can’t ignore that racism is a pretty fucking big appearance-based prejudice all on its own. I mean, it’s inextricably tied to all sorts of wider-ranging stereotypes, but Square One is “You look different from me, so you frighten me.” Men of color are absolutely subject to the message that they look “wrong” every day.

  122. Great article; very socially aware! I loved your Whasian title for your daughter, using that logic my daughters a Whindian LMAO which sounds more like a Bollywood fart rather than Anglo-Indian girls.

  123. I am sorry if what I said sounded like it diminished racism. I cannot, of course, know what other people’s experiences are, or how deeply they affect them. And if I hurt anyone, I am truly sorry. I think the statement to which you are referring came out wrong. I was not trying to say that racism has no basis in appearance. Let’s see if I can be more clear putting it a different way. It seems to me that the messages to women promote ‘beauty’ first and whiteness second. So, in many cases, when a woman wishes her skin were a different color or that her eyes were a different shape, it seems like she’s thinking about whiteness as a means to beauty, not as an end. Although obviously there is racism inherent in believing that in order to be beautiful, one has to have a narrowly defined set of features that are more impossibly far from most people of color’s appearance than from white girls’. It seems like men of color are not judged so much on ‘their race’s features’ ‘attractiveness,’ but more on the stereotypes attached to the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, the shape of their eyes than the features themselves. People seem to be reacting to men based on their beliefs about what how men of that ethnic background will act (which has nothing to do with the realities of people’s backgrounds and everything to do with the culture’s racist expectations). Women, on the other hand, since they are placed by our culture into the role of sexual object, are judged first on how closely they adhere to the ‘ideal,’ and if they are ‘pretty enough’ (small nose creased eyelids, ‘European’ textured hair), and only after that on the stereotypes about people in their ethnic group. This is inference, not experience, so if anybody thinks this still sounds wrong or offensive, call me on it and tell me why.

  124. @Cecilia- I worked at a pizza chain one summer during college break. I can’t remember the circumstances but one of my older coworkers (probably in his 50’s) looked at me and said ‘wonder of wonders, a blond who can walk and chew gum at the same time.’ He was serious. He scared me enough that I didn’t even respond. I don’t scare easily.

    Not surprisingly, female coworker (who didn’t witness the scene mentioned above) pulled me aside one day and told me he was a suspect in a series of rapes in our local park…

  125. in many cases, when a woman wishes her skin were a different color or that her eyes were a different shape, it seems like she’s thinking about whiteness as a means to beauty, not as an end.

    I think that in response to this particular post, that’s probably a reasonable observation (M.A.G. can correct me if I’m wrong), but I’d be careful about applying it generally. I think “beauty first, whiteness second” is still a really problematic way of putting it, because it separates things that can’t really be separated. (I see where you’re going, and sure, for some women, it might be true under some circumstances, but teasing apart sexism and racism is pretty much impossible.)

    And there are a lot of nasty stereotypes about men of color’s sexuality/attractiveness or lack thereof — black men are sexually aggressive and east Asian men are nerdy and wimpy, for instance — on top of the fact that they, too, are all shut off from the male physical ideal, which is white. Even if men aren’t expected to perform beauty the same way, if nothing else, men of color are told they don’t deserve women who are close to the white beauty ideal, ergo they’re worth less as men (which is a nice way of reinforcing that women of color are less valuable, too) — and often punished if they do end up with white women. Sometimes punished by extreme violence or death.

    So basically, I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think trying to separate out what’s racism and what’s sexism is all that useful. Both work together to oppress women of color, and ultimately, it comes down to what Mean Asian Girl said — fantasizing about looking different = fantasizing about not being treated like shit based on your appearance. Men of color, women of color and white women all have the experience of being treated like shit because we don’t look like white men.

  126. I’ve been keeping REALLY quiet on this one – mostly because I have some strong opinions that would not go over well with some people.

    First, I have a really hard time with the whole idea of ‘white privilege’ not because I believe it doesn’t exist in North America, but because I really do not believe that it’s a global phenomenon.

    I lived in Japan for seven years. Now, some Japanese women do whiten their skin, and they do dye their hair, and a few (none where I lived) get eye-tucks, but they do this to look like lighter-skinned Japanese, NOT to look like white foreigners. If you told a Japanese woman she looked like a white gaijin, she would be shocked and insulted. Mixed-race children do not have an easy time in Japan – it is always assumed that their ‘foreignness’ is at odds with their ‘Japaneseness’. So, for the Japanese women I knew, there was no problem separating the desire for whiter skin (something that goes back for more than a thousand years in Japan, to the pale-skinned Heian beauties) with the desire to be white – nobody I knew wished to be ‘othered’ to that extent.

    As I said, I lived in Japan for seven years, in the countryside. Three years with my husband, and four years, later, with my husband and two small girls. My older daughter went to kindergarten and first grade there – she longed for black hair not as a wish to be exotic, but merely to fit in with her schoolmates.

    One of the problems with looking at things like skin-whitening and saying, “They want to look like us” is that it puts us at the centre of the narrative without really questioning if we are really that central to their story. Some Japanese women get eye-tucks because their idea of beauty is Japanese women who are born with an epicanthial fold – if you told them that their real template was the Caucasian model, they would deny it, and they would have no doubt that you were wrong.

    I loved living in Japan – that’s one reason this has been hard to write – because being white in Japan means that you are always a foreigner, always sub-par, no matter how well you speak the language, no matter how hard you try to fit in, no matter how long you live there.

    I think it’s good to remember that sometimes our interpretation of the world around us isn’t just based on our colour and sex – geography and culture play a huge part of how others interpret the world, and our culture, our North-American all-about-us-even-the-bad-parts world-view simply don’t apply.

  127. One of the problems with looking at things like skin-whitening and saying, “They want to look like us” is that it puts us at the centre of the narrative without really questioning if we are really that central to their story.

    This is an excellent point. However, the fact that white privilege may or may not be as pervasive globally as it is here doesn’t diminish its relevance to a discussion about western culture and beauty standards.

  128. And that’s why I waited so long to write something – because it’s so hard to quantify my particular issues with reading some of the comments in this discussion. There has been this kind-of theme that white women can never understand racism and white privilege because we are always the benefactors. In North America, for the most part, yes – that’s true. In my experience, and for a good chunk of my adult life, that wasn’t true – for me, for my husband, for my children.

    It’s that intersection of general social theories/politics and my own life experience that causes problems – because I’ve been on the other side, and seen that sometimes little white girls want black hair to fit in, not to stand out.

  129. I don’t know, I don’t want to pile on, but while I’m sure your experiences in Japan are very different than the white privilege we experience in the U.S., Japan is also literally the only place I’ve ever heard Westerners talk about experiencing that privilege reversal. Which doesn’t make it any less difficult for those Westerners, I’m sure, but I’m not sure what generalizable lessons we can draw from it for anyone who isn’t a Westerner who lives in Japan. Add to the fact that, as far as I know, most Westerners living in Japan are doing so purely out of choice not because they are compelled to do so for socioeconomic or political reasons, and my sense that the lack of usefulness of bringing up that dynamic in general discussions of white privilege grows.

  130. Kimberley, I think it’s that white women cannot understand racism in a context in which they have white privilege. Your experiences in Japan clearly have some similarities, but are nonetheless different from the way people of color experience racism in North America. Though I think privilege being the product of regional history is a very important point.

  131. I think this was a really intresting post. Although your Asian and I’m Black I still struggle to figure out if I should be who I am deep down inside or if I should act like people want me to act. In the Bronx {where I reside} people have always called me the the Oreo {black girl who want’s to be white}. But in reality I feel like I’m happy with myself but I also like the nickname and I wouldn’t mind being white. Here in the Bronx we are supposed to be tough and you can’t let anybody see that your not or else they can step all over you. Sadly enough, I’m only 14 and I need to grow up a little bit faster because of the place of my upbringing and I always thought and still do think that if I was white things might be a little bit better for me.

    Your post really made me think about myself, thanks for writing it.

  132. MAG, thank you so much for writing this post.

    I am mostly white, with a Latino grandfather. I have light skin and pass as white to most people. One of the most shameful and, yet, most liberating moments of my life was when I realized in college that all of the parts of my body and face that I hated and wanted to change were the ones that I inherited from the Latino side of the family. I realized that the voices in my head that told me I wasn’t attractive enough were really telling me that I wasn’t white enough. It was a completely sickening realization, but it helped me to realize that the problem wasn’t with my body…it was with a twisted culture.

  133. @ Lilah Morgan – I’m not sure you can finesse the difference between encountering pervasive racism in a country where you have to live versus pervasive racism in a country where you choose to live – there’s a whole huge slippery slope if you argue that racism in the chosen country is … more okay, because you can just go home if it bugs you too much?

    I don’t talk much about the racism I encountered in Japan – I loved living there, and it seems like a betrayal of the true, deep friendships I found with many Japanese people to really go into the details… Well, there was this one time when the right-wingers were having a rally in the neighbourhood, driving their scary black-windowed RVs up the main street, calling for the government to expel all the foreigners from Japan (and a thousand-year reign for the emperor). Their message was pure hate, broadcast through loudspeakers on the slow-moving vehicles. Nobody was on the sidewalk – the right-wingers are often affiliated with the Yakuza, and you really don’t want to get on their wrong side. I rode my bicycle up to the road and stood there on the sidewalk, staring into each darkened windshield as they drove past. If they were going to ruin my Saturday-morning pancakes with their hate-filled propaganda, I was going to spend that time just standing there, trying to make eye contact with maybe one person who might understand that the foreigner they were describing wasn’t running and hiding – I was right there, looking straight at them.

    I don’t know – maybe that’s not quite racist enough to qualify. Maybe my “Hello Gaijin Party Nose” story would have been more effective.

    I think my original point was that its’ so easy to go down the path of original guilt – that white privilege is unique – or even that it’s recognized as white privilege in other parts of the world. My experiences are … well, okay, I know a lot of foreigners in Japan, so my experiences don’t feel rare to me at all, but I do understand that, in the context of this discussion, my experiences are rare and my opinion is uncommon. But – doesn’t mean they’re not worth bringing up, I think. I’m just not North-America-centric in both my experiences or my thinking.

  134. @Kimberly O – I completely relate to your experience of the North-America-centric standard description of white privilege. To be fair, this post started out as a discussion of an experience of racism in North America, so the NA experience being the default is probably reasonable in this discussion.

    I also think that white not actually conveying any privilege is not especially rare – and it does annoy me that whole cultures are dismissed as a rare anomaly if they are brought up. I think that the NA default for discussions of white privilege is worth examining. Which doesn’t change anything about what M.A.G. said, of course.

  135. Hmm. I’m sort of reluctant to jump in here because I see the point Kimberly is trying to make, and agree to some extent, but I also think that it’s kind of a derail from the original point of the post and might seem to be attempting to downplay the issues the post is about.

    However…I grew up in the Middle East and Asia, and yeah, sometimes white people are the targets of racism too. I used to get rocks thrown at me on a regular basis in Libya and Saudi, and once got my head split open badly enough to require multiple stitches. So yeah, it happens.

    On the other hand, the existance of white privilege and the colonialist history is part of WHY it happens. Those kids weren’t throwing rocks at me just because of racism, there’s a long history there, and a lot of legitimate grievances (even though throwing rocks at 5 year olds probably isn’t the most productive way to address them).

    About the idea of white privilege and beauty standards, this is where I agree with Kimberly a bit. I hear the argument that x or y looks are popular in Japan because of a desire to appear white all the time and…eh, not really. The preference for pale skin pre-dates contact with the West, for example.

    I guess the reason I find myself feeling sort of uncomfortable but not sure whether to say anything when this subject comes up is that I work with a lot of Japanese bands, so I’m exposed to what the actual beauty standards are in Japan (because meeting those standards is important to the guys I work with keeping their jobs), and honestly, they’re really very different to the standards here. In fact, of all the guys I’ve worked with the one who gets given the hardest time looks-wise in Japan is the one who best meets American beauty standards. In Japan, though, he gets jokes made about how he “looks like a gorilla”, gets called fat even though his BMI is under 19, etc. Basically this guy doesn’t meet the Japanese beauty standard because he has a much broader build than is typical there, and his facial features just aren’t typically Japanese (also people seem to find his big feet endlessly amusing). And yet everyone here seems to think he’s gorgeous.

    So yeah, it’s a totally different beauty standard, and it’s really not about looking white. I think the reason that assumption makes me so uncomfortable is that honestly, it seems wierdly racist, because it seems to be based on the assumption that Japanese people, born and raised in Japan, somehow consider their own physical characteristics inferior to those of white people, and in my experience that’s just not true. In fact, Japanese people often have not very positive at all opinions on what white people look like.

    Now Japanese (or other Asian) people born and raised in America, that’s a whole different situation, and as Mean Asian Girl described, it’s going to be almost impossible to avoid internalising American beauty standards, which favor whiteness. And which make life suck for anyone who isn’t white.

    Which was of course the point of the original post, and which I totally agree with. I just wanted to chime in because I see the assumption that white beauty standards are universal all over the world made all the time and in my experience that’s not entirely true. I dunno, it sort of seems like a case of Americans not realising that the way things are here isn’t actually universal.

  136. Kimberley, I think the point was that it’s very different to grow up with privilege and then be placed in a situation where you are a minority and the target of systematic racism, than to grow up as the target of systematic racism (e.g. your children’s experience vs. yours, particularly if you had stayed in Japan). I bet you internalized the beauty ideals a lot less than you would have if you had grown up with it. I don’t think anyone was arguing that the racism you experienced doesn’t count.

    And the argument still stands that because the history and culture are so different, that experience of racism is rather different from the way in which racism is experienced by people of color in the U.S.

    I really didn’t read anyone say that white beauty standards are globally universal. They are widespread in societies where white bodies are in the majority and are in power.

  137. Now volcanista’s last point I agree with. As much as it sucks to be the target of racism in any situation, it sucks a whole lot less when you have the option of leaving. A comparable situation to what we have in wouldn’t be white expats in Japan who stay for a few years, it would be Chinese or Korean people born and raised there.

  138. Yeah, everything Volcanista said, plus a reminder that this is a post talking about an American woman’s experience with internalizing American beauty standards.

    I cannot understand why we’ve now spent a dozen long comments on the topic, “White Americans, when they go to some foreign countries, experience racism, too!” What does that add to this discussion? Seriously, please think about what happened here: A post about a woman of color experiencing racism throughout her life in the U.S. has now turned into a thread about white women trying to prove that they’ve been victims, too! Really, stop talking about that stupid American racism, and LISTEN TO HOW HARD I’VE HAD IT AS A WHITE PERSON!


    Also, I call bullshit on the purpose of this derail being to remind us that North America isn’t the center of the universe. Nobody here is being U.S.-centric in such a way as to suggest we think it’s like this everywhere, or the whole world wants to be white. We’re being U.S.-centric in the sense most of us are Americans, reacting to an American talking about how she’s experienced racism in America. As in, we’re fucking staying on topic.

    Turning this into a thread about Asian people being nasty to white people in entirely different cultural contexts is not OK. STOP. Maybe there will be a thread for that in the future, but all that topic does in this thread is center fucking white people in a discussion of American racism. Again.

  139. I am sympathetic to Kimberley’s points, because I spent some of my formative years (ages 5-9) in Hawaii where, unless you live in a wealthy protective bubble, there’s a hell of lot of systematic racism directed at Caucasian people. Being an only child military brat whose parents certainly couldn’t put me in one of those bubbles, I got it bad from both teachers and classmates, and never told my parents about it because I didn’t know it was wrong. The only hint they got was that I did the same thing as the Mean Asian Girl and longed for the hair and eye colors that I saw around me but which I didn’t have. When I returned to the mainland, the first teacher I had thought I was mildly mentally disabled because it was months before I spoke in class.

    I’m still dealing with some of the psychological consequences of this. But I’m also very aware that I had a fairly unique experience for a white girl on planet Earth today.

  140. Um, Kate, for the record, if part of that is aimed at me, I agree with you – the fact that sometimes Asian people can be nasty to white people is a separate issue, and doesn’t in any way counteract systemic racism in the US. In fact part of what I was trying to say to Kimberly (apparently not very well) is that yeah, racism can be directed at white people too, but often there’s a context to that and it’s not just about racism. If that’s coming across as oh pity the white people then clearly I’m not expressing myself well.

    Not quite sure how saying that sometimes beauty standards in Asia are their own thing and aren’t about white people at all is centering white people but…ok?

    Anyway, sorry for the temporary derail..

  141. Thanks Kate! I get all nervous that I’m going to be too snarky these days, which I know is dumb. I should bring more snark. Richelle, your last sentence sums it up. (And Hawaiians were direct victims of colonization and systematic oppression by white people, so your experiences might be more similar to being white in a predominantly minority neighborhood in the mainland U.S. than like being white in Japan.)

  142. Actually, there are very few native Hawaiians left in Hawaii. In fact, Pacific Islanders as a whole make up only a little over 10% of the population. But Kate’s issued the Big Drop-it, so I’ll close the topic.

  143. Not quite sure how saying that sometimes beauty standards in Asia are their own thing and aren’t about white people at all is centering white people but…ok?

    Again, not necessarily a derail on its own as an observational statement, but it is about why white people experience racism too. Imagine a conversation about gender discrimination in the US in which a man comes in to talk about how there are some countries in which men aren’t as privileged as they are in the US—total fucking derail, right? Anything to avoid talking about women!

    Don’t flagellate yourself; let’s just get back to the original post.

  144. So, and I mean this question honestly, what would be an appropriate response to this post from white women? What can we say that adds constructively to the discussion and remains on-topic? How can we engage with this problem?

  145. Imagine a conversation about gender discrimination in the US in which a man comes in to talk about how there are some countries in which men aren’t as privileged as they are in the US—total fucking derail, right? Anything to avoid talking about women!

    This. This this this.

    Let me state for the record that I am not accusing anyone of having ill intentions here. I don’t think anyone was thinking, “Ha ha, let’s make this all about white people’s victimhood!” I just think that’s essentially what happened.

  146. SM – Eh, I really am expressing myself badly today. What I was trying to say wasn’t that Japanese beauty standards somehow discrimate against white people so much as that white people are just sort of irrelevant in that context. I guess I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I’ve been watching so many of these guys who weren’t raised with the white beauty standards and always saw themselves as the default come here and run smack into all the wierd creepy cultural assumptions America has about Asian men, and seeing how that hits them like a ton of bricks precisely because they didn’t have to grow up immersed in it. So I was bringing a personal/work related preoccupation into this discussion, where it probably doesn’t belong. Sorry if it came across badly.

    Since someone brought up Hawaii, I wonder how growing up there affects the self perception of Asian Americans. Certainly being much less of a minority has to make the experience a lot different than growing up as one of only a handful of Asian people in your town, even if you’re being exposed to the same media images. How much of our self perception is based on what we see in the media and how much is based on what we see around us every day? I know that the Asian American people I know who grew up in Hawaii, or even California, seem to have had an easier time with this stuff than those who grew up like Mean Asian Girl in places where they were a very tiny minority.

  147. what would be an appropriate response to this post from white women?

    There are loads and loads of responses from white women upthread that the mods have deemed appropriate. But I would also point out — and this isn’t a message to you specifically, just a general point — that one response that’s always appropriate for white women in discussions of POC’s experiences is not to say anything. It is a real option, which we often don’t even consider, because we’re so used to jumping in wherever we like (at least in woman-centered spaces) and assuming our perspective will be useful and valued.

    And if you’ll look back to the beginning of the derail, you’ll see that I applauded Kimberley O’s central point in her first comment — I thought that was great, just tangential to the discussion of Mean Asian Girl’s experience, and I was trying to head off the very fucking derail we’re now in. Fillyjonk immediately got snarky, then removed it when I said basically the same thing. Now I wish she hadn’t, because maybe immediate snark was the better way to go.

    Also, for the record, if you want the textbook definition of getting off on the wrong foot around here, here it is: “I’ve been keeping REALLY quiet on this one – mostly because I have some strong opinions that would not go over well with some people. First, I have a really hard time with the whole idea of ‘white privilege’…” Kimberly’s first comment got a lot better after that, which I acknowledged, but when you come here and announce, “I know I’m going to piss people off, but I just can’t stay quiet anymore! And it’s because I’m skeptical of white privilege!” we’re not going to be predisposed to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    Anyone who’s still having trouble figuring out why this derail was deeply fucking problematic, this is probably not the blog for you. I am so tired of this shit.

  148. Attentive listening is an excellent practice, both to learn and not to dominate the discussion, however unintentionally. But…is there a point (perhaps not yet reached) beyond which there should be something more?

  149. I fail to understand how people are so confused and baffled by “but listen to the time I experienced racism as a white person” being an inappropriate response that they now feel the need to ask for step-by-step instructions on how not to sound racist. Is this too challenging? Or are we THAT devoted to making this post about M.A.G.’s experiences as an Asian woman interacting with white beauty ideals into a conversation about white people and how hard things are for them?

  150. Actually, I’m being uncharitable: I do understand it and I’ve made the same mistake.

    But guys, let’s not make this post into a conversation about how hard it is for white people — in Japan, or talking to POC about racism, or wishing they looked all exotic, or whatever — okay? Surely you can see that that’s jackassy?

    Free hint: the way for white people to engage in conversation about the racism that POC experience is to TALK ABOUT THE RACISM THAT POC EXPERIENCE.

  151. I think that its really uncomfortable for a lot of white Americans to realize we are apart of systemic racism whether we “choose” to or not. So we try to push that discomfort away by relating to MAGs experience. I think its the same motivation that makes people claim that having a black president means there’s no more racism.

    The fact of the matter is that if you are a white person living in the United States today you have benefited from colonialism, genocide, and racism. Sometimes we just need to sit with that and listen to others perspectives on what it feels like to be a target of that. (I’m not sure if target is the word I want to use but there it is).

  152. Would this have been better:

    You know, I really respect what you’re doing here, because I’ve had people decide to hate me just because of my race. I don’t know what it’s like to be a POC in this society, but I know what it’s like to be judged negatively because of my skin, hair, and eye color. It fucking sucks, so the FoBW resonates with me, and I hope I can be an ally.


    If not, I’m sunk.

  153. I clicked that link to the eye surgery and was horrified. What ever happened to “first do no harm?”

    Got me thinking about plastic surgery. It’s not all harm – it’s a boon for those who’ve had injury that would seriously impact their quality of life, for example.

    But then you’ve got folks removing their noses and eyelids, fat or skin.

    These surgeries categorize our bodies as injury.

  154. You know, I really respect what you’re doing here, because I’ve had people decide to hate me just because of my race. I don’t know what it’s like to be a POC in this society, but I know what it’s like to be judged negatively because of my skin, hair, and eye color. It [sounds like it] fucking sucks, so the FoBW resonates with me, and I hope I can be an ally.

    There. Not about you.

  155. I am truly sorry – My postings were more of a reaction to some of the comments than they were about the original column.

    It was a derail – one of those times when something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately was triggered by something someone said here, and I was turning it all into my own issues.

  156. That paragraph is actually from the Eleventh Rule of the comments policy, with a few changes. But then there’s the very potent First Rule, which is cool.

  157. Well, and the same Eleventh Rule discusses how fat and race aren’t directly equatable or analogous, but there are grey areas all over, for sure.

  158. The Eleventh Rule has lots of good stuff; that bit about fucking up and deserving to be called on it also strikes a chord….

  159. and the same Eleventh Rule discusses how fat and race aren’t directly equatable or analogous

    Exactly. This is one of those times.

    The “gotcha” angle wasn’t very cute, Richelle.

    Kimberly, thank you.

  160. Right, and if that had been what you wrote the first time, I doubt anyone would have blinked. Since you asked about how you can focus less on yourself and more on the topic at hand, my edits did an even better job.

  161. I thought this was a great post.

    I’ll admit, I did relate to it – as fatsmartchick has said, probably because it’s uncomfortable to realize that my race is still oppressing others even in the presence of (admittedly ridiculous) beauty standards.

    I grew up in Southern California, the land of plastic surgery and tans (real or fake). I take after the Irish side of the family, and am so pale that when I went on a study abroad to the UK, I was whiter than all of my English and Welsh housemates.

    If that can be as oppressive as I remember, I can only imagine how much heavier those standards fall on people who are farther from ‘meeting’ them. I’m not intending to go all oppression olympics here, and I hope it doesn’t sound that way – more thinking, if my deviation from the standard was enough to make me HATE my skin (and torture myself with mild sunburns countless times in the vain hopes of getting a tan), how much heavier that standard must feel when you’re automatically disqualified because of your race.

    Beauty standards are so fucking stupid! The amount of self-loathing they cause us to internalize is nauseating. Perhaps some day we can figure out a way to break free of them…and in the meantime, a way to mitigate the harm they do. I guess this is more proof that we still have a lot of work to do. MAG, thank you for giving me at least a glimpse of how race plays into beauty standards. I will try to carry this lesson with me.

  162. This post is awesome. I imagine it must suck very badly to have to detangle an extra layer of racist-body-shaming from your brains as well as the general body shaming which will have been shoved in there as well. Good old society…

    Richelle – another reason why your alteration of the text from rule 11 doesn’t really work is that, well, while being skinny doesn’t = being oppressed in the same way as a fat person is, it does still (at least potentially) put one in the path of body shaming and suchlike, albeit possibly a milder form thereof.

    That is to say, the “just eat a sandwich!!!” type crap is much more directly analagous to “god, stop eating so many sandwiches, lardo!” than the experiences of a white person in a not-mainly-white country are to the experiences of a non-white person in a mainly white country.

    I’m not saying that it doesn’t suck to have people hate you because you’re white, it just sucks in a totally different way because, well, because it’s just really bloody complicated! Unfortunately, racism and white privilege are FAR too complicated for any kind of direct comparison to be worthwhile. It’s comparing apples and scooters.

  163. Basically, being a white person in Japan is (I would say) much more like being an immigrant in the UK or US, in that there’s clearly the potential for some pretty horrible stuff to go on, but it’s just not the same situation as being in the country where you were born (and possibly multiple generations of your family were, too) and having people act as though you are somehow still a “foreigner”.

    (nb, I do not in any way mean to sound as though treating immigrants like shit is ok or understandable, it’s not. but, at least in the UK, the most recent wave of immigrants are mainly white East Europeans, and they still get a hell of a lot of shit, so it’s xenophobia rather than necessarily racism, although obviously a lot of immigrants are brown and thus also experience all the racism too.)

  164. Sorry, Richelle, you were talking about Hawaii, but I think my point is still basically the same point, except that obviously Hawaii is in the US. Oh, and because I would imagine that at least some of the ill-feeling towards white people in Hawaii is similar in origin to the ill-feeling towards white people which can occur in ex-colonies of Britain, though I could be wrong on that point as I don’t know a great deal about the history of Hawaii and that.

  165. Last words to try and clean up after my bout with foot-in-mouth: I was confused at the reaction to my comments, but I’ve been poking around some other blogs and I’ve got some context now. I had no idea how treacherous these waters are and I completely see the need to cut the bullshit early and with firmness. Mea culpa.

  166. Great post MAG, thank you so much for taking the time and energy to share your experiences.

    It intrigues me that it seems to be acceptable in the US for people to refer to themselves/be referred to as being ‘half this and half that’ in regards to ethnicity. In my experience with the Australian Aboriginal population (my husband, daughter and extended family are Aboriginal and I am extensively involved in our local Aboriginal community) it is considered extremely offensive to refer to someone has being ‘half Aboriginal’. The only time I have heard the ‘half’ term being used is when the person is of Aboriginal and some other non-white ethnicity. If the person is of Aboriginal and white ancestory, they either identify as Aboriginal or as white. I have never heard someone identify as ‘half Aboriginal’, as I said, it is considered disrespectful and offensive to do so (at least in the communities I have been involved with). I am not saying it never happens but it seems to be quite rare over here. Another one of those cultural faux pas that someone from the US could unknowingly commit if they came over here…

  167. one response that’s always appropriate for white women in discussions of POC’s experiences is not to say anything

    Oddly, I’ve been training myself to do the exact opposite of this, on the basis that writers appreciate feedback, even if all I say is “that was interesting”. Perhaps this is less important on Shapely Prose than it is in my normal hangouts, but still …

    That was interesting. I enjoyed reading it. It informed me.


    (I’m also used to a forum where outrageous topic drift is standard, so the SP way takes some getting used to.)

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