Asian Beauty is Not Monolithic

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What is Asian beauty, and what does it mean to you?

That's one of several questions we posed to leading industry influencers and entrepreneurs within the Asian diaspora. With the increased popularity and consumption of East Asian beauty products, rituals, music, and films, it's easy to regard the Asian community as one monolithic group. But Asia is composed of 48 countries with distinct swaths of people of various complexions, religions, languages, customs, and cultures. Like most people of color in this country, they're stereotyped, misunderstood, and deal with discrimination, bias, microaggressions, and even divisiveness.

With the recent onslaught of anti-Asian sentiment and violence against AAPI people worldwide, we wanted to shine a light on the wide-ranging complexity and diversity of our AAPI peers, especially when it comes to beauty standards and expectations put upon Asian people. Below, fashion and beauty insiders speak freely on topics ranging from the hypersexualization of AAPI women to bucking body shaming. We're hoping these sentiments will be spread year-round, and not just during this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Prabal Gurung, fashion designer, of Nepali-American descent

I have often encountered and noticed that the kind of Asian beauty which is celebrated is still close to the colonial lenslight skin and Eurocentric features. Professionally, most Asian and non-white models either need to fit within that Eurocentric lens or have to be so far off that they fall in the fetishized lens of exotic. For the white lens, either it needs to be familiar or one that provides some entertainmentnothing in between.

The powers at the decision-making table are more often than not white people, and they're dictating what ideal beauty looks like. What those powers want to see within their communities are people who look close to themselves. I see this all too often across fashion, film, and social media; it's incredibly disheartening. To truly be sustainable, we have to keep having conversations about our own implicit biases and hold ourselves accountable. I would like to see more models from the AAPI community of all sizes and genders with different forms of beauty within the fashion industry. I would love to see the decision- making table look like the world we live incolorful and diverse.

We need to dismantle these archaic, damaging narratives and our implicit biases by having more conversations about prescribed beauty roles perpetually and not just during heritage months.

Leyna Bloom, actress, model and LGBTQ+ activist of Filipino, Nigerian, and French descent

We can all learn from each other because we are all appropriating from each other. We're in a time when fashion is looking towards people from all different walks of life, and we're trying to celebrate the ins and outs of different culturesbut we need to understand the value of these people. There are certain things that are coming from these communitiesout of pain, out of suffering that you're erasing when you're not acknowledging that. We need to be open to conversations about how we can change and respect that process.

The people in the position of power are the ones that are pausing us. If their ideas are not about equality, why are they in their position. We need more people that are progressive, with new ideas and new perspectives.

It's imperative that my Asian, my Black, and my Brown brothers and sisters, from all different walks of life, join forces. We are the people that are being hurt. We are the people who are keeping these big businesses alive. We have the power. Why are we segregating ourselves from each other? We need to unite as one community in order to to change all that is going on.

The narrative of individual beauty is so much stronger now than it was for my generation. When I was growing up, everyone just wanted to fit into one idealized standard of beauty. But now, because of the global nature of how connected we areBTS are style icons in Texas!we have some examples of cross- cultural beauty, which I hope gives the next generation inspiration that they don't have to fit into a box, whether they're Asian or not.

I try to instill pride in my children about their Chinese heritage as well as educate them about other cultures. I expose them to books that feature people that look like them and are different from them, so it becomes normal. And when they draw a family, they range in different skin tones and body types and that makes me so happy. This next generation is going to break things apart, blow things up, and bring things to light.

Patrick Ta, celebrity makeup artist and founder of Patrick Ta Beauty, of Vietnamese-American descent

For those of us who are Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Lao, or Cambodian, who are more on the darker side, we don't really see representation of ourselves in the mediaand it sucks. In campaigns, they usually have a light-skinned girl, a medium-skinned girl, and a brown-skinned girl (who is usually Black). If there's an Asian in the campaign (and we're lucky just to have one), she's usually either half-Asian or very light (almost white). We come in a range of shades, but that rarely comes across in the media.

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