The Ugly Truth Behind the Eurasian Beauty Myth
by Carmen Van Kerckhove
Beauty is one of the most pervasive stereotypes about Eurasian females. But at what point does a healthy admiration for Eurasian features turn into a loathing of one’s own monoracial looks? Or into the sexual objectification of Eurasian women?
Growing up in Hong Kong, Fiona Hartley (not her real name) had to walk up a steep hill every morning. By the time this Eurasian teenager got to school, she would be sweaty and flushed, and her wiry brown hair would be a complete mess. She used to look in envy at the Chinese girls walking by in their freshly pressed uniforms and their glossy black hair. "They never seemed to sweat!" Hartley, now 24, laughs as she recalls those days. "No matter how hot or humid it was, they always looked serene and perfect-not even a hair out of place. I always wished I could look more like them."
But ironically, ever since she can remember, Hartley had heard her Chinese counterparts saying the same thing about her. As a child, she was surrounded by cooing relatives and friends who would admire her more Caucasian features. "They would comment on how fair my skin was," she remembers, "or say they wished the bridges of their noses were as high as mine."
The legacy of colonial shame carried by previous generations of Eurasians has long since disappeared from the public imagination. Today, the adjectives associated with Eurasians are more likely to be "exotic," "stunning," and above all, "beautiful."
Beauty has emerged as one of the most pervasive stereotypes about Eurasians. As early as 1921, British writer W. Somerset Maugham described Ethel, the half-caste protagonist of The Pool, as being "adorably pretty" and resembling "something not of this earth" but more like "the spirit of the pool." This fascination with Eurasian beauty and exoticism continues today. Even in the forums of EurasianNation you can read numerous breathless accounts from males worshiping "hapa booty."
"I grew up in Japan being told by virtually everyone (adult and children alike) that I was either beautiful or cute because I was ‘ha-fu,’" says Abbie Yamamoto, 23, now a graduate student at Berkeley University.
Eurasian beauty is often attributed to the European influence, particularly among Asians. "It’s because of the Caucasian features that they admire me so," explains Yamamoto. "They look at me and tell me the clichés over and over again about how big my eyes are and how ‘high’ my nose is."
Many Asians have even taken drastic measures to try to recreate these Caucasian features on their own faces. Blepharoplasty, the eyelid incision that creates the canthal fold, has become a veritable rite of passage for young females. Plastic surgeons say it is the most common procedure elected by Asian women in North America and Asia, followed by rhinoplasties (nose jobs) and breast augmentation. In the Philippines, a new plastic surgery technique has been invented to mimic the "high" Caucasian nose. According to Salon.com, surgeons insert a flexible plastic tube, called "the Cleopatra," up women’s noses. The procedure can jack noses upwards anywhere from 3 to 13 millimeters.
Ironically, the Eurasian face, despite its obvious Caucasian ancestry, has become the face that sells Asia. TV commercials use Eurasian models to peddle everything from designer jewelry to sanitary pads. TIMEasia.com reports that in Indonesia, a magazine with a Eurasian on the cover will sell two or three times more copies than one featuring a purely local model. And on Channel V, the Asia-wide music television channel, almost every single VJ is Eurasian.
But at what point does a healthy admiration for Eurasian features turn into a loathing of one’s own monoracial looks? Or into a full-blown fetish?
The emphasis on the differences, rather than the similarities, between Eurasian women and their Caucasian and Asian sisters, lends them an air of otherworldliness and exoticism. Taken to an extreme, this obsession with the exotic quality of Eurasian beauty can become dehumanizing.
"I think that Eurasian and mixed-race Asian women in general definitely receive negative attention for their looks, and that results in their objectification," says Michelle Myers. Half-Korean Myers, 30, of the spoken-word duo Yellow Rage, has found that many men who date Eurasian women like to keep their male friends guessing as to the exact ethnic make-up of their girlfriends. This guessing game not only makes the woman seem more exotic and desirable, it also serves to reinforce the trophyist mentality some men have towards women.
You’d think that with all this talk of beauty, Eurasian women would be supremely confident in their appearance. But that is not always the case.
Some women wish they looked more Asian. "How come my hair can’t be as straight or as black as my Chinese mother’s sisters?" asks Erica Schlaikjer, 16. "How did I inherit my dad’s ugly, big feet? Why does my sister have smoother skin than I do?"
Other Eurasians have been told that they don’t look European enough. Susan, 18, grew up in Malaysia thinking that she had an obviously mixed appearance. But when she moved to New Zealand, people looked at her as "just Asian." Even her Chinese relatives seemed to agree, lavishing her brother, who doesn’t look Asian at all, with praise for his European looks.
But most Eurasian women—including Susan—have learned to accept and even celebrate their mixed heritage. Half-Japanese Mandy Willingham, 25, has been mistaken for a multitude of ethnicities, including Tahitian, Inuit, American Indian, East Indian, Spanish, Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian and Filipina. She’s had waiters address her in Spanish in Mexican restaurants and on one occasion, a pharmacist even tried to argue with her in Arabic. Her boyfriend attributes all of this to what he calls her "ethnic currency." Willingham explains: "He says my appearance allows me to be accepted almost anywhere in the world. While I’m not sure if this is completely true, I’ve grown to appreciate the value of having a multi-ethnic look."
Even being labeled as "exotic" isn’t always a bad thing, as Schlaikjer explains: "I embrace my ‘exoticism.’ I’m only 16-just like any other girl my age, I’ll take any excuse to feel beautiful! I don’t think I ever find myself wanting to feel ‘more white,’ or ‘more Asian.’ I’d like to think I get the best of both worlds."
Ashamed of Looking Asian
by Wena Poon – Jade Magazine
Ethnic Poll Startles Singaporeans
The Associated Press
Beauty and the Beak
by Hank Hyena – Salon.com
by Christina Valhouli – Salon.com
by Hannah Beech – TIMEasia.com
Concepts of Beauty
by Annie Wang – South China Morning Post
Carmen Van Kerckhove is Co-Founder of EurasianNation.
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