Eurocentric Beauty Ideals as a Form of Structural Violence:

When I enrolled
in “Writing 101:
Violence and
Suffering in the
Contemporary
World,” my
mind conjured
images of war,
destruction,
weapons, and bodily injuries.
However, I quickly learned that
violence is not always physical,
tangible, or even visible. In this
course, the term “violence” became
associated with structural violence,
a form of institutionalized violence
in which social structures harm
or disadvantage specific groups
of people. This completely shifted
my view on violence; rather than
focusing on blatant destruction, I
began to consider the pervasiveness
of structural violence and how
society can favor one group of
people while harming another.
I focused on a topic close to
home. Blessed with a button nose,
a round face, and a short stature, I
have always struggled with my selfimage. My mother often teases that I
was lucky to even be born with eyes.
During my travels to China, I have
noticed that the standard of beauty
is shifting to a universal, Eurocentric
one. Even Asian models are selected
based on European features – light
skin, round eyes, a long nose. This
observation correlated with the
increased reports concerning the
incidence of plastic surgery in Asia.
I began to wonder from where this
Eurocentric ideal arose and why
Asian women were going to such
extremes to meet this unrealistic
ideal. What does it mean to be
“beautiful,” and why does society
place so much emphasis on meeting
this expectation? How does having
this Eurocentric ideal harm diversity
and women of color? In the end,
I hope that readers of my paper
will realize that cultural diversity
makes us unique. We should not be
ashamed of our ethnic heritage and
the physical markers of our race.
And upon finishing my paper, I have
begun to acknowledge this fact and
accept myself for who I am – tiny
eyes and all.
Eurocentric Beauty
Ideals as a Form of
Structural Violence:
Origins and Effects on East Asian Women
Lei Zhang
Violence and Suffering in the Contemporary World (Spring 2013)
Professor Saiba Varma
Abstract
As globalization and Western media have increased their influence in East
Asia, the universal ideal of beauty has become increasingly Eurocentric. Many
Asian women, through plastic surgery and cosmetic products, strive to achieve
features associated with Western beauty, such as round eyes, defined noses, and
double eyelids. Focusing on the causes of this Eurocentric ideal of beauty, I examine
the convergence of historical Asian classist divisions, Western colonialism, and
globalization to uncover the historical basis of this standard and examine how
it persists today. I also examine how these Eurocentric standards of beauty have
become a form of structural violence, causing unique ethnic characteristics to
fade as women of color unconsciously conform to a single perception of beauty
while viewing this conformation as an investment for the future. While Asians may
claim that their motives for undergoing surgery is to appear more attractive overall
and not to look more “Westernized,” an understanding of societal factors allows
us to recognize that the Eurocentric standard of beauty is indeed the global ideal
to which Asian women unconsciously conform. This standard of beauty, naturally
unattainable for most Asian women, leads to detrimental psychological effects and
can result in poor self-image and self-esteem. Movements by individual activists
and companies have begun to promote natural beauty as a response to the “cultural
imperialism” and uniformity of Eurocentric beauty.
Introduction
An advertisement featuring Emma Watson for skin-whitening products
was the first thing to greet me as I stepped off a sixteen-hour flight into Beijing
Capital International Airport. As someone who has visited China every other year
since 2006, I have noticed the increasing influence of the West on Chinese culture.
China’s economic growth has not been unheeded by other countries, which have
seen in it a vast field of marketing opportunities. American superstars appear on the
covers of Chinese magazines while advertisements for European designer brands are
emblazoned on the billboards above major Chinese shopping districts. The images
of Western faces appear everywhere in Chinese cities. I counted at least twelve more
advertisements depicting Western models before boarding my connecting flight.
The emergence of Western media is a phenomenon not unique to China
but increasingly seen throughout Asia. Intermingling and intimacy of Eastern and
Western cultures in Asia is seen in the use of Western models for distinctively Asian
cosmetics products. The message in these advertisements is clear: if you, as an Asian,
4
use this company’s products, you too can look like a Western model. These Western
models, with their elongated noses, large eyes, and light-colored skin, represent the
Eurocentric ideal of beauty, an ideal naturally and ethnically unattainable by the
majority of Asian individuals. In a world in which appearance can determine job
opportunities, young women across Asia pour their money into cosmetic products
and alter their bodies with plastic surgery to try to fit this unrealistic Eurocentric
ideal. Through Western imperialism, the historically ingrained Asian cultural
values of beauty converged with the universal Eurocentric/Western ideal of beauty,
and present-day globalization only further ingrains and perpetuates this ideal to
Asian women. This Eurocentric ideal of beauty, with its institutional and historical
roots, now serves as a form of structural violence by constricting Asian women,
inflicting onto them harmful psychological effects, and leading them to choices
such as plastic surgery.
Structural violence is defined as long-term, systematic, historical,
oppressive, and unintentional “social arrangements”
that either “harm individuals and populations” or
otherwise “disadvantage them” (Farmer, “Structural
Violence,” 1686). Paul Farmer claims that these
arrangements are “embedded in the organization
of our social world” and that through historical
processes and forces, structural violence “constrains
individual agency,” the ability of an oppressed
person to act or make change (1686). Structural
violence today continues to hinder social progress
by targeting particular populations by factors such
as race or class. Because of the common belief that
Asian women undertake plastic surgery or make up
their faces just to “make themselves feel beautiful”
and not to “look more European,” it is important
that we recognize the Eurocentric ideal of beauty
as a form of structural violence, as it is oppressing
Asian women into conforming to a standard of
beauty they cannot naturally obtain and labeling
them as inferior to Western women.
This paper will explore the causes and
effects of the Eurocentric ideal of beauty in presentday Asian society. Initially, I examine how historical Asian social divisions and
Western colonialism merged and solidified the Eurocentric ideal of beauty. I will
investigate how globalization further cements the Eurocentric beauty ideal as the
universal beauty ideal. After examining how Eurocentric ideals of beauty constitute
structural violence and the effects of this form of violence on Asian women, I will
discuss the rise of the plastic surgery and cosmetics markets in Asia, which leads
to controversy as women who undergo plastic surgery forego their unique, ethnic
features for more Western characteristics. Next, I will examine the responses of
many activists to this Eurocentric ideal of beauty and the movement to promote
“natural beauty.” In the final sections of my paper, I will discuss the effects of this
ideal on my own struggles as an Asian American who grew up in the United States.
The Roots of Beauty
Certain aspects of the Eurocentric beauty ideal, such as having fair skin,
were ingrained into Asian society before Western colonialism. A fair complexion
has been historically valued in Asian societies as it serves as a marker of class;
this is a parallel also seen in early European societies, though this worship of fair
skin in Asian societies predated European influence. Light skin is associated with
wealth (Bray). Historically, the poor, constricted by poverty, were forced to perform
manual labor outside under the sun. Even today, poor people in Asian countries
5
tend to have dark, tanned skin. Thus, Marianne Bray states
that a “white complexion was seen as noble and aristocratic...
Only those rich enough could afford to stay indoors.” One
ancient saying in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese societies
goes, “A white complexion overrides three appearance flaws”
(Wagatsuma 407; Bray; Tsai), emphasizing the long-standing
importance of light-colored skin in multiple countries
across Asia. According to Eric Li et al, Japanese men have
long valued white skin as a “significant element in judging
the beauty of Japanese women,” associating light skin with
“femininity, chastity, purity, moral virtue, and motherhood”
(445). As a result, women in Japan have been lightening their
faces with lead-based products since the Meiji era (18681912) (Li et al. 445). Similarly,
Li and colleagues state that
during the Koyro dynasty
(918-1392), Korean children,
striving to be “respected”
and to achieve a “noble”
appearance, would “wash
their faces with peach flower
water to make their skin
clean, white, and transparent”
(445). Certain characteristics
of the Eurocentric standard
of beauty, such as white skin,
have been culturally and
historically ingrained into
Asian societies long before
Western influence.
In The History of
White People, Neil Painter
argues
that
Western
scientists and scholars first
propagated the general idea
of Eurocentric beauty as
the universal ideal. Painter
claims that beauty became a
“scientifically certified racial
trait” from the inception of the term “Caucasian” (80). J. F.
Blumenbach coined the term “Caucasian,” referring to people
of European descent, from “Mount Caucasus” because “both
its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces
the most beautiful race of men” (qtd. in Painter 81). Thus,
the historical background for the term “Caucasian” itself
suggests that Europeans and their features create the “most
beautiful race.” Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the father
of art history, openly criticized non-European features. For
example, he was known to have openly pronounced Chinese
eyes as “an offense against beauty” (Painter 59). Painter also
argues that the value of white skin as beautiful came from
Winckelmann, who investigated many Roman copies of
Greek statues; these statues were carved from marble that
“shone a gleaming white” (61). In this way, Painter states
that Winckelmann “elevated Rome’s white marble copies
of Greek statuary into emblems of beauty and created a
new white aesthetic” that would apply “not only to works
from antiquity, not only to Greek art, but to all of art and
all of humanity” (61). Thus, with the assistance of Western
scholars, the “gleaming white” skin of ancient Greek statues
became a universal notion of beauty to strive towards. These
Eurocentric ideas of beauty from early European scholars
thus spread to the rest of Europe through scientific books and
articles that these scholars would eventually write. European
imperialism and colonialism would later spread their ideas
to the rest of the world.
Colonialism fused European ideals of beauty with
Asian cultural values to produce the universal Eurocentric
beauty ideal that we see today.
According to Christopher
Houtkamp, Europe’s rise to
power on the world stage
following the Industrial
Revolution, combined with
social-Darwinism
and
the “white man’s burden,”
caused Europeans to believe
that they had the “right to
dominate the rest of the
‘inferior’ world” and the
“obligation to educate the
‘others.’” Houtkamp claims
that Europeans decided that
they needed to “export…
values to all other parts
of the world” because
European leaders “firmly
[believed] that Western
values were universal, that
all people from all different
cultures ultimately wish to
live just like [they did].” The
Eurocentric ideal of beauty
was just one of these values
that “was exported” and thus became universal through
colonialism.
Due to the dominance, power, and influence
that Europeans held in their colonized countries, the idea
of “white privilege” heavily spread to colonized people. In
Dutch-occupied Indonesia, Luh Ayu Prasetyaningsih claims
that half-Indo half-Dutch children, due to their European
features and lighter skin, were given favorable treatment, and
half-Indo half-Dutch women became the “most desirable
marriage candidates for European men in the colonial
Indies” (20). Even countries that remained independent
felt the increasing influence of the West. As a result, Li et
al note that eventually “contemporary meanings” of Western
features, such as white skin, combined with “Western massmediated ideologies and traditional Asian cultural values”
(445). As Western influence rose, John G. Russell claims,
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“Western-centrism and cultural hegemony [interacted] with Asian ideologies in
strengthening these [beauty] ideals,” including that of whiteness (qtd. in Li et al.
444). As a result, certain Asian values, such as the popularity of the voluptuous
body type (Kolesnikov-Jessop), shifted to match the modern Western ideal of
beauty (slenderness), while other values that aligned with Western ideals, such as
white skin, became even stronger.
Globalization
Globalization has become a force that is quickly propagating
cultural values, such as the perception of beauty. Western media
is now virtually inescapable in Asia; its omnipresence has
made Western features and beauty a kind of social “norm,” as
increased exposure leads to something becoming more and
more familiar and normal. The remaining Asian models in Asian
advertisements also have Westernized ”round-eyed Asian faces”
(Lah), further perpetuating the Eurocentric ideal of beauty. Li et al
claim that the increased prevalence of Caucasian models in Asian
advertisements “raises the possibility that beauty ideals are or are
becoming global” (444). Indeed, a study conducted by Katherine
Frith and colleagues demonstrated that Western models appeared
more frequently than Asian models in both Western magazines and
in Asian magazines throughout Asian countries, further leading to
the rise of the “universal” view of the Western woman as the ideal
symbol of beauty (56).
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the universal
standard of beauty being Eurocentric is how Asians themselves believe
that Western features are beautiful— even more beautiful than Asian
features. A study by William Jankowiak and colleagues found that ordinary
Chinese females ranked Caucasian models of both genders as more attractive
than their Chinese counterparts (249). These Chinese women based female
attractiveness on “angular noses, wide and deep set eyes, and whiteness of skin”
(Jankowiak et al. 256), all traits associated with Caucasians and rarely with Asians.
This study further links attractiveness and the global ideal of beauty with European
features and underlies the reason why so many young Asian women eventually
choose plastic surgery. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic
Surgery, more than two million aesthetic plastic surgeries were performed in China
in 2009, ranking it third in the world, with the “number of operations doubling
every year” (LaFraniere). This trend is not specific to China, as a survey conducted
in Korea revealed that a stunning 58% of women have had plastic surgery by age
thirty (Chosun). If Asian women are viewing Caucasian models as the epitome of
beauty, then to become “beautiful” themselves, they must then have these Caucasian
features, leading to the rise of the cosmetic products and plastic surgery markets.
The use of Caucasian models to promote Asian products, including the
distinctively Asian skin-whitening cosmetic products, forms the “universal beauty
standard” we see today. While some may see a problem with using naturally lightskinned models to advertise for a skin-whitening product, these advertisements
are omnipresent across Asia. Most Asians view the Western models as “brand
representatives” (Tsai). According to Wan-Hsiu Tsai, the prevalence and ready
acceptance of these advertisements featuring Caucasian models in local Asian
media “is an implicit understanding that Caucasian models are symbols of the
Western, and by extension global, culture, thus constituting a universal beauty
standard.” The responses of the Asian women from Tsai’s interview “revealed that
the beauty standard depicted by Caucasian models was accepted [by them] as a
global beauty ideal.” Speaking about a perspective from the other side of the world,
Hall claims that in the United States, while Americans often fetishize and “admire
7
the exotic image” of Asians by virtue of Asians being a minority in the U.S., white
American men ultimately “tend to prefer white American women physically,” and
thus “white female beauty still remains the standard” (Hall 11). White beauty places
unrealistic expectations on women of color, as most of them cannot naturally reach
this standard.
Eurocentric Beauty Ideals as a Form of Structural Violence
“Ultimately it’s...
a form of cultural
imperialism.
It’s aesthetics...
It’s the beauty myth.”
In Asian countries, receiving a double-eyelid surgery as a present from
your parents is not uncommon. Jang Hyu-Hee, mother of Lee Min Kyong, a
twelve-year old girl, pushed for her daughter to undergo double-eyelid surgery for
“Westernized eyes” (Lah). When asked about her reasoning for the procedure, Jang
Hyu-Hee stated, “I think it’ll help her. This is a society where you have to be pretty
to get ahead” (Lah). This sentiment is one that is shared throughout East Asia. In
China, Ms. Tong gave her daughter Xiao Juan, 18, a gift of double-eyelid surgery
as a reward for an outstanding performance on the Chinese National College
Entrance Examination (Hua 92). Her reasoning echoed Jang Hyu-Hee’s: “Society is
so competitive... I know that appearance is absolutely an important element in the
keen job market today... A pretty face is a worth-while long-term investment for my
daughter’s future” (Hua 93). “A pretty face is a worth-while long-term investment”
is the motto among many Asian parents throughout East Asia who believe that
their daughters’ attractiveness and conformation to the Eurocentric ideal of beauty
will lead to better job or marriage opportunities and success in life.
This view of plastic surgery as an investment for the future has also been
directly internalized into young Asian women themselves. As victims of structural
violence, many Asian women see no choice but to turn to plastic surgery. In
China, women are undergoing plastic surgery at a “much younger [age] than their
counterparts in Western countries” (Hua 94). Wen Hua notes, “High school and
college girls are among the most enthusiastic groups seeking cosmetic surgery in
China” (94). Hua then relates the story of Jing Wang, who, after having difficulties
for months in securing a job, spent all of her savings and borrowed money from
classmates for double-eyelid surgery and rhinoplasty (94). Wang’s reasoning was, “I
need an edge to stand out! It’s an age of beauty! Being good-looking is capital!” (Hua
95). This turn to plastic surgery for Westernized features demonstrates the effect
that structural violence has on the agency, or the capability to act or make change,
of East Asian women. As a result of the structural violence of the Eurocentric ideal
of beauty, many Asian women use their agency by turning to methods such as
plastic surgery, leading to the loss of classic racial characteristics and identity.
The stories of Lee Min Kyong, Xiao Juan, and Jing Wang illustrate how
the Eurocentric ideal of beauty acts as a form of structural violence on East Asian
women. The prevalent idea in Asian societies that being beautiful aids in obtaining
success is supported by research, conducted by Madeline Heilman, that consistently
demonstrated attractiveness, based on the Eurocentric ideal of beauty, to be an
advantage for job-searching women (360). Because the vast majority of Asians do
not naturally have Western features such as double eyelids, the institutionalized
and historical Eurocentric standard of beauty “constrict[s] the agency of its
victims... tightening a physical noose around their necks... and [determining] the
way in which resources are allocated” (Farmer, “An Anthropology,” 315). This ideal,
which has long-standing historical roots, systematically oppresses Asian women
by affecting the way they choose to express their agency, as many alter their ethnic
appearance to try to appear more Western. Studies have also shown that, based on
the Eurocentric ideal of beauty, society selects for light skin, as light skin has been
associated with higher wages in women of color (Hunter 175). Margaret Hunter
states that skin color has become a form of social capital, working as a “stratifying
agent for women on the dimensions of education, income, and spousal status”
(175). As psychology has shown, “beautiful is good” (Eagly et al. 109), and when
8
you cannot naturally meet society’s definition of beautiful,
you may be predisposed to poor self-esteem and find fewer
opportunities in society unless you take action.
Habitus, defined by Pierre Bourdieu to be an
unconscious and culturally “learned behavior” (qtd. in
Day 21), predisposes Asian women to be aware of their
body from childhood. As Amy Chua demonstrated in her
famous and controversial essay on Asian parenting, it is
socially acceptable in Asian society for parents to say to their
daughters, “Hey fatty— lose some
weight” (Chua). Habitus is thus
observed in Asian women, as they
become sensitive to their body
image from childhood due to their
upbringing. Asian women express
significantly more dissatisfaction
with their bodies than their
Western counterparts (Hall 11).
In the pursuit for thinness, an
originally Western ideal that has
now become universal, they also
tend to misperceive their weight
as being higher than it actually is
(Hall 12). Thus, habitus combined
with the Eurocentric standard
of beauty can lead to negative
psychological effects in Asian
women.
The omnipresent influence
of Western media only serves
to exacerbate the issue. The
“standards of beauty primarily
based on Caucasian-EuropeanAmerican ideals” (Hall 8) that
flood the media can cause
“psychological effects of low self-esteem, poor body image,
and eating disorders,” particularly in women of color (Hall
8). Asian women, as women of color, are oppressed by the
structural violence of racism, as “the concept of beauty is
based on racially discriminatory criteria” (Hall 10). The
larger exposure to Western models over Asian models
already associates Caucasian features as beautiful, and the
higher depictions of Western models as “sexy” (versus Asian
women being depicted as “cute”) can cause Asians to feel
that they are not adequately sexy by virtue of not being white
(Frith et al. 57). By having a standard of beauty that most
women of color cannot naturally attain, this Eurocentric
ideal of beauty lingers over Asian women, constricting them
and acting as a form of structural violence by altering their
agency and inflicting psychological trauma.
to give the illusion of Western features or permanently alter
their features through plastic surgery. As a result of Asia’s
economic boom, the Asian cosmetics and plastic surgery
market have grown considerably as more women have
assets to spend on aesthetic purposes (Li et al. 444). Skinlightening products are intensely popular in Asia; Mikiko
Ashikari claims that the “whitening cosmetics boom started
in the late 1980’s” in Japan (89). Other cosmetic products
claiming to “Westernize Asian features” include “NoseShadow,” a stick that is supposed
to define your nose and make it
appear longer, “eyelid glue/tape,”
which temporarily creates double
eyelids, “circle lens,” a special
type of contact lens designed
to create the illusion of bigger
eyes, and various “nose-roller”
devices, which claim to trim and
squish- down wide noses (Hall
8). However, many Asian women
transition from cosmetic products
to plastic surgery, as plastic
surgery’s effects are immediate,
dramatic, and permanent.
The majority of Asian cosmetic plastic surgery operations
alter typical racial characteristics.
In the United States, 80% of white
female plastic surgery patients
desired liposuction, breast augmentation, or the removal of
wrinkles, while 40%-46% of Asian
American women undergoing
plastic surgery wanted doubleeyelid surgery (Hall 13). Another
15-23% of Asian American women undergoing plastic
surgery wanted a more defined nose (Hall 13). The surgeries
for white patients “do not change the conventional markers
of racial identity” (Hall 13), but for Asians, “the surgeries
change ‘stereotyped genetic physical features’” (Hall 13).
Eugenia Kaw believes that this plastic surgery in Asian women
reflects “self-and-group hate” caused by “patriarchal (sexism)
and hegemonic (racism) oppression,” (78) Asian women who
undergo plastic surgery believe that they are simply making
themselves more beautiful and thus raising their places in
society. Asian women’s loss of the “markers of racial identity”
from plastic surgery and their denial to conforming to the
Eurocentric ideal of beauty speaks to the unconsciousness
of Eurocentric beauty ideals as a form of structural violence.
Perhaps these women are not intentionally disowning their
racial identities, but through methods like plastic surgery,
they are unconsciously conforming to this beauty ideal and
striving to look Western.
A pressing concern is the view that “Westernization
surgeries” are a form of “cultural imperialism,” in which one
Plastic Surgery, Cosmetics,
and the Issue of Identity
To achieve unattainable Western features, many
Asian women ultimately choose to use cosmetic products
9
standard of beauty (the Western one) is imposed on people of all cultures. The
resulting fear is that over time, unique ethnic characteristics will be lost as society
selects for one appearance type, leading to a “push towards uniformity.” AsianAmerican activist and writer Martin Wong criticizes the use of plastic surgery to
achieve a Westernized appearance:
Ultimately it’s... a form of cultural imperialism. It’s aesthetics... It’s the beauty
myth. Everything from children getting pushed into these eyelid surgeries to
Asian adults westernizing their faces for globalization smacks of racial selfhatred. They’re making a statement about their own race, about where they
come from, about who [sic] they are. They‘re not doing it on purpose. They’re
not saying that they think that they’re inferior-looking. They’re not saying that
they’re ugly, but that’s the message that they’re giving nonetheless. (qtd. in Lah)
To activists like Wong, even if Asian women are not consciously striving
to look Caucasian, modifying the features that are characteristically associated
with their ethnicity is almost a form of “selling out” their unique racial features to
conform to the Eurocentric standard of beauty. Wong’s criticism exemplifies the
argument that this Eurocentric beauty ideal, through the vehicle of plastic surgery,
becomes an incredibly unconscious form of structural violence, as many Asian
women do not recognize that their agency is only perpetuating this unrealistic ideal
of beauty.
Movement to Promote “Natural” Beauty
The rise of the perspective that white people are the epitome of beauty is
a shared experience that many Asians can actively see in things such as Western
advertisements. As a response, some Asians have displayed agency by beginning
to speak out against conforming to
the Western standard of beauty as a
form of “worldbuilding,” a process
that involves employing creativity
to positively cope with structural
violence (Nordstrom 15). They
have started blogs or found other
outlets to praise natural beauty,
criticize cosmetic plastic surgery,
and discuss the dangers of skinbleaching products. Companies have
also been involved in this process of
promoting “natural” beauty, or beauty
untouched by “cultural imperialism,”
that emphasizes diversity and the
unique ethnic features of Asians, such
as almond-shaped eyes, rounder faces,
and youthful appearances. Dove’s
Real Beauty Asia Campaign features
average Asian women (non-models)
with captions that address the beauty
and uniqueness of certain Asian
features, such as single eyelids (Tsai). An example caption asks, “When surgery
adds an eyelid, does it remove your identity?” Dove is stating that ethnic features
are beautiful in their own unique respects and is questioning the need for Asian
women to conform to the light-skinned and double eyelid Eurocentric ideal of
beauty.
10
My Struggle
do not conform to the universal ideal of beauty – an ideal
that is Eurocentric.
Globalization is a double-edged sword. While
many people believe that globalization increases diversity
by exposing us to ethnicities and races all around the
world, globalization, combined with the power of Western
media, can also perpetuate structural violence, such as the
unrealistic Eurocentric ideal of beauty onto women of color.
This form of structural violence is dangerous, as it may lead
to uniformity as women of color artificially trade their ethnic
features for European ones. However, globalization and social
media have also increased awareness for the need to promote
ethnic diversity. Slowly, the victims of this form of structural
violence have begun to speak out, setting up websites calling
society to redefine beauty and organizing marches to celebrate
diversity and “natural” beauty. Rather than focusing energy
on buying gizmos like nose rollers or developing makeup
tricks to give the illusion of European features, Asian women
can perhaps use this positive channeling of creativity to
remind us that diversity is beautiful and to be comfortable in
one’s own skin – no matter how dark or how light.
Born into a culture in which there is no hesitation
to call out physical flaws, I, like many other Asian women,
became hyperaware of my body from a young age due
to habitus. I was born as a chubby baby and retained my
chubbiness for a large portion of my childhood. My mother
and her Asian friends often remarked on my weight,
making me sensitive to weight ideals as a child. Growing
up in the United States, I was overwhelmingly exposed to
advertisements depicting only slender Caucasian models
with very European features, which further shaped my
perception of beauty. Even on my trips back to China, I have
noticed the increased prevalence of advertisements depicting
Caucasian models in Asia. I associate beauty with a heartshaped face, large, round eyes, slenderness, and fair skin –
all features matching the Eurocentric ideal of beauty. While
I, like many other Asian women, do not consciously strive
to look Western, my distaste for Asian racial features echoes
the Eurocentric standard of beauty as a form of structural
violence. Even now, I struggle with my small eyes, tiny nose,
weight, and wide jawline because unconsciously, I know they
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