Does your Culture Make or Break You?

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The Asian culture has always been chock full of colorful traditions, beliefs, and practices regardless of the region, something the rest of the world has marveled at. Recently, multi-talented Asians have been taking over various segments of world entertainment, which instills Asian pride in the rest of us. However, no matter how wonderful it looks to the rest of the world, there are always two sides to the story from the Asian point of view. To begin with, Asian culture often encourages us to be proud of our background and to confidently represent the country we come from.

This has been especially imminent lately in terms of media and entertainment. From movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Jumanji to shows on the Disney Channel all the way to Late Night TV shows, Asians personnel are celebrated and given recognition. Household names such as Brenda Song, Ken Jeong, Shah Rukh Khan, Constance Wu, Aishwarya Rai, Deepika, Nora Lum (better known as Awkwafina) and Lilly Singh (known on youtube as IISuperwomanII) are tearing it up on our TV screens and proudly representing and advocating for Asia as a whole, proudly showcasing their cultural backgrounds and physical features.

In the realm of music, the world screams for musicians who have more talent than seems humanly possible – BTS, Ailee, Big Bang, Blackpink, Exo, AOA, Got7, and Twice, among other solo and group vocalists, dancers, and rappers running the show with Kpop, closely followed by J-pop, Mando-pop and various musicians and genres enjoyed throughout the region (all of whom deserve to be named individually but that would make for a REALLY REALLY long article for me to write). Not to mention all the beautiful Bollywood movies and music that’s got people grooving globally. All these talented individuals also have another thing in common – they love who they are and where they come from, and they use to bolster their uniqueness. Asian Visuals are also gradually gaining attention everywhere, with models of all skin colors and backgrounds being celebrated for their beauty and confidence.

Celebrities all over Asia (South Korean rapper Jessica Ho being one of the more well-known examples) are starting to speak out in support of tanned skin and darker tones, shedding themselves of the stereotype that lighter skin is the only beautiful skin. In South Korea, a country where slim bodies are celebrated, plus-sized models Taylor Tak, Yeom Yoon Hye and Bae Kyo Hyun are gaining lots of positive attention, playing significant roles in slowly changing the perspective that supermodel slimness isn’t the only body shape worth celebrating. Along with the visuals and features of the human face, the traditional clothes donned by Asians all around the world are also in the global spotlight, from the Indian Sari to the Chinese Qipao, from Vietnamese Ao Dai to Indonesian Kebaya. The world is in love, trying to borrow and pull off the original style of clothes or similarly styled outfits.

While some of these attempts, unfortunately, get called out as appropriation, the majority of these inspired outfits are actually wonderful pieces that appreciate the Asian culture and represent them well in their own unique way. Additionally, I know nothing about fashion (to the exasperation of my friends), but even I know Jimmy Choo, Kimora Lee Simmons, Alexander Wang, and Vera Wang, all of whom are globally worshiped in their industry. Even in the sports scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find ANYONE, even non-sports fans, who haven’t heard of athletes such as Yuzuru Hanyu, Naomi Osaka, Park Jisung, Sachin Tendulkar, Jeremy Lin, Yao Ming, Kim Yeonah or Joseph Schooling. All of them also empower themselves, only slightly differently. Instead of culture, they have a specific sport into which they dedicate time and effort to master, and they are aware that every fibre of their being is fully embedded into being the Number 1 in their sport.

On the other hand however, there are ways in which the Asian culture can completely strip one of their confidence and self-esteem. Picture this scene, which some of us may find all too familiar:  A pretty young girl about 5 years of age is shyly dancing in the middle of the floor while her parents and relatives are clapping and laughing appreciatively, while her 4-year-old sister is slinking back into the shadows, watching on longingly at the attention her sister is getting. The difference between the two innocent girls? The older sister is tall, slim and fair-skinned, while the younger one is chubby and dark-skinned. Fast forward 10 years. Both sisters have shed their baby fats and are now toned, healthy teenagers. However, at gatherings, school or even on the streets, people come up to the older sister and praise her beauty, while the younger sister is given plenty of ‘tips’ and ‘advice’ on how to lighten her skin, ranging from hurriedly whispered recipes of yogurt, tamarind, and chickpea flour all the way to ‘Fair and Lovely cream works wonders, my dear, just buy and try it.’

Another reason why her older sister is adorned with praise – she loves wearing flowy dresses and pretty accessories, can whip up multiple dishes with chef-like sophistication and is never seen without her girlfriends in public. She is the epitome of femininity, with plenty of guys milling around her hoping for just a second of eye contact and a hint of a smile. On the other hand, her sister has always had a keen fondness for outdoor activities and therefore is always wearing baggy tee shirts, shorts, and running shoes. Comfort is her middle name, and she is always ready to run around and play rough with the guys during sports games. Adults all sigh and shake their heads when they see the younger sister rough-housing with guys, with some even outwardly expressing their indignation.

‘Doesn’t she have any self-control’, they ask, ‘she is playing with boys like she is one of them. Soon, they won’t even see her as a woman! Who’ll marry her if she can’t cook or clean, and is always tossing a football or basketball around?’‘Shame on her’, one sari-clad auntie shrieks, ‘she wears these short shorts exposing her thighs and ankles. She’s not sanskaari, not decent at all! I wouldn’t want a daughter-in-law whose body all the neighborhood has seen.’’

Eventually all the comments get to her and she consigns herself to the kitchen to catch up with her sister’s skills, hiding herself away in baggy clothes, gaining weight as she no longer lives a happy healthy active life. And yet, comments continue to flow, only now they snidely mention her heavy weight and lack of cheer in her eyes. This brings us to the next reason why Asian cultures can be inadequate for building one’s confidence. Females are traditionally viewed as the silent dolls of the house, who should be seen and not heard.

Their main role, especially true in more patriarchal Asian countries, is thought to be the gentle and nurturing mother – not just to the children, but to the men of the house as well. They are expected to be the glorified housemaids, preparing meals, cleaning the house and looking after the children, but also dutifully and faithfully attend to their husband’s beck and call. God forbid he should have to lift a finger to do any housework. How could he, the main breadwinner of the house, have to CLEAN? No, no, the wife will do it.

The children hurt themselves while playing? He impatiently glances over before returning his attention to the television, the ice cubes in his whiskey glass clinking. ‘Can’t you hear them crying, woman? Go and see what happened.’ Here comes mom, hurrying to se
t the children right before lunch burns on the stove. A few countries over, a young girl has just been slapped across the face for arguing with, and eventually pushing the neighbor’s son, even though he’d been the one teasing and irritating her. ‘Boys will be boys, you should be mature and tolerate him!

If you can’t handle a bit of good-natured teasing, how will you be able to stay quiet if your future husband comes home tired and irritated and snaps at you?’Little do the parents of both households know, the boy had been snapping her bra strap and calling her derogatory names he’d heard his father drunkenly hurling at his mother. Once a precocious pure child, he’d been conditioned to believe that boys could lord over girls with no consequence. After all, his dad did it and his mom never fought back.

Furthermore, as the only son and therefore the prince of the household, he got away with way more than he should have every single time. It is a sad truth that most Asian countries continue to reinforce over the generations, although the younger generations tend to do it unconsciously due to such behavior being the norm in their household growing up.

Every story has 2 sides to it, and while the rich Asian culture that the world glorifies is indeed beautiful, one can only hope that the negative side of culture will change for the better as the world slowly modernizes and equalizes. To end off, I pose this question to you, my dear readers. Having seen the good and the bad of each culture, and with the possibility of having both sides embedded in your conscience, which side will you choose to act upon? Will you use your unique features empower yourself, or will you melt into the background of ‘there’s millions of them and they all look the same’?

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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