Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Thank Goodness for Vloggers. For Fashion Bloggers. For Beauty Bloggers.
Let me set the scene: I've just turned 12, TLC's Waterfalls is playing pretty much non-stop on the radio, and Disney's Pocahontas is in theaters.
It was the year my mom finally let me loose on the much-coveted aisle of our local library: the teen magazine aisle.
'Teen, Sassy, YM, Seventeen (though I was still deemed "too young" for this one) - it was the year I hoarded the glossy stacks in my arms and took them to the front desk (this was before self check-out, obvs) while the librarian, amused, looked me up and down. Clearly, she'd seen this before.
'This' being the mix of pre-teen angst and curiosity unleashed; 'this' being clear-nail-polish-allowed-only; 'this' being the year I started my period.
This post is veering into "Are you there God, it's me Margaret" territory, I know (and most of you are probably too young or British to even get that reference), but hear me out, my Judy Blumites:
It was also the year I hated being Asian.
Because, you see, I never saw a single Asian model in any of these teen magazines. Not once, not ever. Articles on hair were limited to three shades: blonde, brunette, and red. Tips on color-matching eyeshadows gave advice for brown, blue, hazel, or green eyes.
So, when the French twist tutorial instructed me to "gather all your hair into a low ponytail, simply twist up, and clip" I didn't understand why my thick, black, glossy hair slipped out in an instant, unlike the thin, blonde hair profiled in the picture.
It was beyond frustrating. But I never questioned the instructions, or the magazine or the editor of the magazine or the publishing company who owned the magazine for failing to cater for diverse beauty.
In my 12-year-old mind, the problem was with me. My hair was the problem. My thick, Asian hair was the issue. Not the instructions. My Asianness was the problem.
One afternoon, while laying on my stomach in my room listening to TLC and making collages out of J. Crew catalogues (it was a thing I did, okay?), I saw a hair tutorial in 'Teen I loved so much, I decided to get up early the next day and wear my hair like that to school.
Basically, it involved a sort of deep side part, half a bottle of gel, and a 50's flick at the ends, which I achieved by using my mom's curling iron and burning approximately a quarter of my hair off in the back.
"You look stupid," was the first reaction I received from one of my closest (boy) friends in my sixth grade class.
"I think your hair looks lovely," my music teacher countered kindly. And I beamed.
But you know what? My friend did me a favor.
I did look stupid. Of course I looked stupid. That style was reserved for Betty Drapers in the making - not a Chinese-American 12-year-old with a severe overbite, braces, and cystic acne.
I stopped with the tutorials and enjoyed flipping through the pages for what they were instead. But I did ask my mom, "Do you ever wish you weren't Chinese?"
To which she instantly responded, "No. Never. What would make you ask a thing like that?"
So, what's the connection between my 12-year-old self-loathing and vloggers/bloggers?
Do you know who Chriselle Lim is? Or Aimee Song? Have you ever heard of Michelle Phan? They're very, very successful vloggers and fashion/beauty bloggers who have a crazy huge following.
And they're all Asian.
And you know what? Thank goodness for them. Thank goodness they exist, writing posts, snapping pics, filming vlogs. Thank goodness 12-year-old girls (and boys) can, if they're interested in beauty and fashion, see themselves represented in the beauty and fashion industries and not feel an iota of the self-loathing I felt at that age. Or that I sometimes feel now.
Thank goodness they can see a lip color on these social media "influencers" and think, "Ooh, I can wear that too!" Thank goodness they can watch hundreds of thousands of hair tutorials for their hair texture and length. Thank goodness they can talk openly about their favorite Korean or Vietnamese foods or the other languages they speak at home without feeling ashamed or like they'd ought to hide it.
Thank goodness for them. Now, if someone just would have told that 12-year-old girl with the Betty Draper 'do ...