The Impact of Beauty Standards Through An Asian, Millennial Lens

I was once that impressionable adolescent who seeked ways to adhere to the thinness and euro-centric “ideals” that continue to be heavily projected in mainstream media. I was the tallest kid in class until middle school, which made me stand out like a sore thumb. I also developed physically faster than the majority of my female peers, which gradually made me slightly self conscious from late elementary to early middle school. Being a unique individual was a concept I couldn’t grasp at the time. I would often ask myself these two questions:

  1. What if, I had the opportunity to rip myself out of my body and start all over again?

  2. What if, I could magically fix all the attributes I didn’t like about myself to feel more satisfied about my external appearance?

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Mainstream media and pop culture, as we all know continues to profoundly impact the way we see ourselves and the world. Being constantly exposed to that made me think about getting eye surgery at 14 or 15 to make them look more “Caucasian”. I even watched a couple of plastic surgery documentaries set in South Korea out of curiosity. However, I didn’t do any research on the precautions, nor did it occur to me to save up. During that stage, I wouldn’t say I was insecure about my appearance, although I wasn’t content either. When I was 16, I experienced a significant drop in my self esteem. It was a wave of complex emotions I couldn’t always put my finger on. Adolescence being synonymous to turbulent hormonal changes didn’t make things easier either. A month after my 16th, I began to respond to the social pressures of attaining a visibly smaller body. I went to the extreme of having only a wedge of pineapple and green tea for lunch at school for roughly a month. A few weeks later, I got a major health scare Frome collapsing during a taekwondo class. Unfortunately that didn’t make me any more vigilant in ensuring my well-being was on track. I did however slowly educate myself on healthier ways to lose weight. Social media is a double edged sword- as far as beauty standards are concerned, it both reinforces and challenges mainstream “ideals”. When Heidi Klum said, “one day it’s in, the next day it’s out”, this isn’t limited to just fashion trends, but also body types. While we become increasingly aware of those with a shared burning desire to advocate for body inclusivity, we also see people going to extreme lengths of attaining society’s momentary “ideals”. I know that people have extremely polarizing views on plastic surgery, although it ultimately comes down to what makes you happy. I’ve done minor semi-permanent procedures. I got my eyebrows microbladed at 16, as they’re naturally sparse. I’ve also been permanently straightening my hair since I was 18, to be more manageable in humid South-East Asia, where I’ve lived for two decades. I did the aforementioned procedures out of my own desire and no one else’s.

They’ve both been confidence boosters, even though I personally have nothing against sparse eyebrows and frizzy hair. Everyone is responsible for their own happiness.As much as I’m learning to embrace myself as I am, I’m only human after all. Like everyone else, I’m susceptible to rock bottom days, months and periods. My experiences may not be completely universal, although I wouldn’t invalidate anyone who’s not content with their appearance either. I see my experiences as a way to emphasize with young girls who aren’t confident with their appearance and subconsciously succumb to social pressures for acceptance. Someone who’s been in their shoes and managed to conquer any obstacles in my way. Someone who’s gets it and reminds them that their feelings are valid. As I’ve gotten older and more mature, I’m gradually starting to find beauty standards more and more absurd. I’m aware of the historical context of certain “ideals”, for instance fair skin being associated with socio-economic class, which is still a prevalent issue in Asia. Like the rest of the human species, Asians DO come in all shapes, builds, heights, sizes, I could go on. I’m hopeful that the ethnic diversity of Asians in Asia and diaspora communities across the globe will be represented in mainstream media. I genuinely am.Being preoccupied with beauty is inevitably a universal norm. It’s also interesting to see how beauty standards differ across countries and cultures.

Ultimately, we all have to realize that peoples’ worth are more than outdated beauty “standards” as society becomes more cosmopolitan by the day. The world is such a vastly diverse and beautifully unique place, yet some people would rather be completely close minded and rigid. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, although it will never justify belittling someone just because they’re not physically “attractive” to you. Looking back almost a decade later, I’m thankful that I didn’t get any eye surgery after all, and chose to embrace my eyes instead. I’m also thankful that I was able to spare myself the turmoil of extreme body dissatisfaction. It has taken me many years of un-programming and reprogramming on what it means to be beautiful and confident. To say it was a rocky journey would be a massive understatement, and I’ve also realized that it won’t ever stop from there. I’m also not ashamed to admit that responding to the social pressures during my adolescence was from a less informed place. I want everyone in this world to strive to be their own kind of beautiful, and that we continue to foster an environment where it’s completely acceptable to do so. Everyone deserves to be heard and represented. I am determined to be a living example of someone who continues to break the cycle in most Asian cultures on conforming to norms and upholding the status quo. Be the reason someone feels encouraged, inspired and uplifted. We must all be the change we want to see in this world.That’s my wish. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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