It took me a while to realise that wanting to feel beautiful and wanting to be smart and successful are not at all mutually exclusive.

Growing up, I, like possibly many other Asian girls, was told that to be successful in life and to achieve excellence, we had to reject ideas like fashion and makeup and traditionally “girly” things, to look presentable and well-dressed but not too well dressed that it would seem like we cared too much about our looks.

Of course, this was never communicated directly, only in small, passing comments which had more than small, passing impacts on my confidence. Small, passing comments along the lines of “You’re wearing far too much makeup” from my Vietnamese relatives at Lunar New Year, in caring, yet judgmental tones.Or “Do you really have to think about what you’re going to wear for that long?” or “Do you really need to buy that? Why do you care about your looks so much? There are better more important things in life!” Yes, there are more important things in life. But when beauty is viewed as such a poisonous practice that it cannot be at all considered if one wishes to achieve their dreams, when relatives discourage you wanting to feel good about your appearance under the guise of “caring for you” because it is too “superficial”, it becomes so hard for young Asian girls to experience the powerful feeling of loving and appreciating their own beauty, and feeling empowered because of it due to the fact that it has been subtly ingrained into their heads that it is unnecessary.

This idea in itself, of beauty and empowerment being seen as “unnecessary” in Asian cultures, seems to come back to beauty being viewed as a superficial aspect of life that was a waste of time and a waste of intelligence intelligence being highly valued in Asian culture. Valued, sometimes, over Asian girls and Asian women finding happiness and strength and empowerment in something as ultimately “superficial” as beauty. In society in general, beauty is still viewed as opposite and incompatible with being hardworking and intelligent.

This manifests in the “I’m-not-like-other-girls” phases that many young girls go through, and stereotypes that someone beautiful does not deserve their success or did not work hard for it, that they are an “airhead”. Think of how the character Fleur Delacour of Harry Potter was first perceived, when in reality, she was so much more than her fluttering eyelashes. The lesson that being beautiful whilst being smart are not conflicting is not readily available to Asian women growing up, yet it is of major importance.

Coming to terms with not having to feel guilty for feeling empowered from beauty is difficult for people who have been raised in a culture where the idea of beauty is supposed to be irreconcilable with over aspects that are viewed as more important and valued much more. But being successful and strong and intelligent and a badass is never mutually exclusive to being gorgeous and confident and empowered and beautiful. Another aspect of beauty that Asian cultures do not seem to recognise is its impact on our mental health.

There is little recognition of how healthy it is to not only be proud of our minds but to be confident in ourselves, and to love and appreciate our own beauty and feel so extremely empowered. To not only be proud of our sharp test scores but also our winged eyeliner, sharp enough to cut glass. This has haunted Asian women for a long time, so it is incredibly refreshing to be growing up in an era where Asian girls and women have been breaking traditional ideals of how beautiful we should feel.Within beauty itself, Asian representation, just as in media, is not the best. But, times are changing.

Slowly, perhaps, but still changing. Asian models and actresses and idols are on posters and displays everywhere, painted in products with shade ranges that cater towards Asian skin tones, beyond the stereotypically, and racistly, yellow that we were all once forced to wear due to the lack of alternative options. K-Beauty and J-Beauty (although heavily lacking in shade ranges) are not only increasingly available to but also increasingly appreciated by Asian people living in western countries, and are gaining recognition from major western beauty brands. These are Asian industries in themselves which should be respected as competition and are not just a niche to be brushed past. Now more than ever, Asians are able to find products we can use, that work for us, that we can feel empowered from; products that we can feel beautiful with, products that we love, products that fit us.

However the ever-present, “classic” (more like traditional and outdated) Asian beauty standards are still prevalent today, deeply rooted in many of our cultures, though we may do our best to combat them. White skin is still desired (rooted in century-old colourism that sees paler skin as more attractive and “better” than darker skin), to the point where Asians are bleaching their skin to fit into these beauty ideals. Perky, straight, eurocentric noses are deemed more beautiful than the variety of other noses all over Asia that are all equally beautiful. V-shaped faces, more prevalent in East Asian cultures, as well as “youthful” looking faces, double eyelids and more. These features themselves are not a problem, and are certainly beautiful, but when they are held as more beautiful, as “better” over the other – it becomes problematic, especially when people who don’t fit into these beauty standards feel as if they are worth less than people who do. When people in South Korea are rejected from jobs because they are “not beautiful” enough, that is a problem. When beauty is not only viewed as an unnecessary, poisonous, “airheaded” practice but also an elite, limited, specific, unachievable type, that is a problem.

Of course, not all Asian women and girls are traditionally feminine, or have any desire to be so or express themselves in a traditionally feminine way, and that’s okay. What is not okay is shaming Asian women and girls who do. We still have a long way to go with stopping the use of beauty to disempower and hurt women when they are not seen as “beautiful enough” when compared to degrading and linear beauty standards, or stopping the imposition it on people who do not desire to use it, and would rather feel empowered in a different way. We, the Asian youth, are realising that however we would like to express our beauty, in whatever way, or perhaps not at all, we are all valid and deserve to feel that powerful feeling of feeling empowered about ourselves. And that is a beautiful thing.And we do not need to wipe off our makeup or adjust it to how others want it to look to be able to wield our swords.

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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