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This Is Our Asian American Experience

23 Asian American editors and influencers on representation, pride, and self-love.

There was a distinct period in my life when I was fixated with my eyelids. I hated my monolids and wanted to have a clear, defined crease more than anything. I spent hours on the Internet watching obscure tutorials on how to fake a crease and would stock up on eyelid tape every time I returned to China to see my grandparents. When I started working in beauty—where I discovered Chinese models like Liu Wen and Fei Fei Sun, who were lauded and considered beautiful with their monolids—my double-eyelid obsession waned until there was barely a sliver left. I started appreciating my natural eye shape, which slants slightly in the corners and falls somewhere between a full monolid and double eyelid. I wrote and edited stories about empowerment and embracing the features you were born with, and slowly but surely, I started to embody that mindset and accept—even love—my own appearance. But I had years of conditioning to undo—years of believing that success, love and happiness would only be mine if I looked more white. It’s still an ongoing process. 

On the surface, the beauty industry might appear to celebrate Asian culture more than others, from the rise of K-beauty to the growing interest in Ayurvedic skincare. But working in the industry as an Asian person is a complicated experience. You’re tasked with championing a more diverse version of beauty, while simultaneously dealing with dismissiveness from your peers and your own long-held beliefs about your own identity. There’s tokenism, appropriation, and daily microaggressions in the form of veiled “compliments.” It’s a nuanced, complex experience, and one that needs to be shared, especially with the rising anti-Asian sentiment in our pandemic-stricken world.

Ahead, I asked 23 Asian editors and influencers at the top of their game to share the personal journeys that got them there. There are common themes—lack of representation, a yearning to assimilate in childhood—and there are stories that are uniquely heartbreaking in their own ways. As anti-Asian hate crimes grow exponentially, it’s time for our stories to be told. No more “model minority” myth. No more putting everyone else’s causes before our own. We are not a monolith, but rather as vast and diverse as the stars in the night sky (and to that point, you'll find stories from our South Asian sisters here too, who are often overlooked in conversations about Asian Americans in beauty).

To all Asians reading this, I hope these stories help you feel seen—and to non-Asians and our allies, I hope they help you see us.

tina craig

Courtesy of Tina Craig

Tina Craig

Instagram: @bagsnob

Background: I am 100% Chinese, born in Taiwan. My grandparents immigrated to Taiwan from China during the cultural revolution

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I was a teen in the ‘80s, the era of glamazon supermodels, like Cindy Crawford and Paulina Porizkova. My favorite model was Reneé Simonsen, a blue-eyed blonde Danish cover star. I watched mainstream sitcoms like Growing Pains, Facts of Life and Family Ties. The only times Asians appeared on the shows were when they were the Chinese “Susie Wong” waitress in restaurant scenes or Chinese-food delivery guys in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances. I hated how Asians were represented in film and television. Asian women were mostly portrayed as slutty dragon ladies with heavy black eyeliner and tight Cheongsams and Asian men subservient punching bags (Long Duk Dong, anyone?). It bred self-loathing in not only myself but I think many of my peers.

Clear lack of representation was compounded with simultaneous misrepresentation. It was as if you had two choices: Resort to invisibility or subscribe to the hurtful stereotypes. I chose neither. 

When I immigrated to the United States at eight years old, I did my best to become as American as possible. I wore Levis and rainbow tees, instead of the custom-made dresses my grandmother had her tailor sew for me. And I learned to speak English without a trace of accent. But I knew I was never fully accepted. I was everyone’s pet: “Teeny-Tiny Tina.” By high school, I started tanning at the beach and pool during the day and hitting the tanning salon at night: purely a rebellion against my grandmother’s “no sun” rule. I wore heavy black eyeliner to make my eyes appear rounder and accentuated my lids with pastel-blue eyeshadow. 

All throughout high school, I only befriended non-Asian friends, mainly because I grew up in very white communities. The few Asians at my schools were the typical quiet and studious kids of immigrants. Not me. Instead, I was loud and demanded attention. I spent a lot of time in detention. I recall a few teachers (usually white males) commenting that I wasn’t very “oriental” because of my boisterous behavior. They wanted me to know my place. I’m thankful I had a few strong female teachers who encouraged me to find my voice, my art teacher especially. She understood me, encouraging me to try out for cheerleading (the Pom Pom Girl dance team, to be specific) and run for student body, so I could channel my loud energy in a more positive way. If not for people like her, I would have been completely on my own to forge a path—which I was determined to do no matter what.

I didn’t like how people treated my family, and while they stayed silent in the face of blatant racism, I wanted to be heard and seen. In the ‘80s, someone threw a soda can at my dad’s white Cadillac as we were pulling out of a Gemco parking lot and called us “Ching Chong Chinks.” My dad stopped the car and got out to pick up the soda can to politely throw it away, but I jumped out, grabbed it, chased after the teen and tossed the can back at him, screaming. My family worried about me. They thought I was a troublemaker, and I was: Little Tina wanted to be heard. 

When Lucy Liu came on the scene in the ‘90s, I was in college at USC. Everyone said I looked like her. Random white people felt very comfortable telling me, “You look just like Lucy Liu.” WE LOOK NOTHING ALIKE. But it was at the same time, embarking on this new phase of life at USC, when I began embracing my heritage and made Asian friends. At 18, I stopped tanning and have never tanned again. Suddenly, I was more interested in taking care of my skin than altering the shade of it. So I spent my grocery money on eye and face serums and facials, instead of burgers and wine coolers. And I began doing my makeup in a way that suited me, rather than disguise me.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

It’s been mostly positive, because I demanded to be treated well. I've simply never accepted anything less. If people were racist towards me, I’d call them out. I felt seen because I demanded to be seen. I never felt represented anywhere, so I decided to represent myself.

How do seeing "trends" like fox eye makeup make you feel? 

I detest fox-eye makeup and the accompanying gestures of pulling one’s eyes back. It reminds me of kids yanking up their eyes at me and shouting, “Chinese! Japanese! Look at me!” when I was young. Even now, people, specifically editors and brand PR reps confuse me with other Asian women, like Aimee Song and Tina Leung. They tag us interchangeably on Instagram. Mixing me up with Tina Leung: I get that because of our names. But Aimee? We look nothing alike. She’s gorgeous, but the fact is, we look nothing alike. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

We are not the “quiet minority” that will be passively silenced and continuously stereotyped. There are a few ways people can make a difference, which is increasingly imperative as hate crimes against Asian-Americans have increased by 1,900% in the past 12 months. End the model minority myth, and start by educating yourself on the wide Asian-American experience. It’s vast, layered and a vital part of the tapestry that makes up this country. Volunteer with organizations doing their part, like the NAPAWF. Support your local Chinatown and Asian-owned businesses. Every little bit counts. Speak up on the subject. Racial injustice and hate crimes against Asian-Americans are seriously underreported by mainstream media and underplayed by government officials. The more people spread awareness, the more chance we have for real change. 

aya kanai

Renee Bevan

Aya Kanai

Instagram: @ayakanai

Background: I was born in the US, have a dual citizenship, and my parents have lived in the US since the late 1960s.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I did not see myself represented in magazines growing up. I looked up to the '90s supermodels (Linda, Kate, Christy, Naomi) who were larger than life, but not Asian. I am 5'10" so I knew that being tall was an asset, but my perception of beauty was that I should always be striving to be something different than what I was. And if I had a penny for everytime someone asked me how a Japanese person could be as tall as me, I would be rich! When people ask me where I'm from, I like to stare blankly back at them and say, "I'm an American" or "I'm from New York." I know they are trying to ask what kind of Asian I am but I can't give it up. If you want to know what kind of Asian I am, just ask that question. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

The fashion/beauty industry has had a long term fascination with Asian cultures. This, for better or worse, means people think I wont get wrinkles (I have them) or will be quiet and passive (I'm neither).  Aging and the signs of age are honored in many Asian cultures, which makes the shocking rise in crimes targeting elderly Asian people even worse. Nothing is acceptable about the violence against Asian people, especially as so many have been living in fear while trying to celebrate their New Year. Elderly people (of any race) are the keepers of knowledge and inspiration in a pre-digital world. Searching the Internet doesn't compare to talking to elderly people about their experiences. Support the Asian community by amplifying the stories of this violence to your network. Talk about it because the news wont. Say it's unacceptable. Wear your mask and when you are out on the street, if you see someone in danger, help them. 

Deepica Mutyala

Zareen Siddiqui

Deepica Mutyala

Instagram: @deepica

Background: South Asian

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

Absolutely not. I changed everything about myself; dyed my hair blonde and wore blue contacts. It's the whole reason I set down the career path that I am. I want to change this narrative for the next generation. 

What has your experience been in the fashion/beauty industry?

I've always felt tokenized in the beauty industry. That said, I always viewed it as a positive because the existence of a token Brown girl wasn't even a thing when I was growing up, so we are moving in the right direction. My goal is to normalize all shades and skin tones to be seen as equals. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

We deserve more opportunities in creative careers. We were told our whole life to go down a very traditional career path to "live the American dream," but the reality is that there is a whole collective of us out there that are super talented and meant to build our own versions of the American dream. I hope more of us are given the opportunity to do so, and I plan to do what I can to help make that happen.

kathleen hou

Kathleen Hou

Kathleen Hou

Instagram: @kathleenhou

Background:  Taiwanese-American.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

The first Asian I saw on TV was Connie Chung. The first Asian I read about was Claudia Kishi of the Babysitter's Club. The first Asian I saw in a magazine was a random person who was a runner-up (not even a winner) in a Seventeen modeling contest. Growing up, it made me think that Asians had to exist on the fringes of society and culture, and the rare one who "broke through" was an exception. Then, in my teen years, on a summer trip to Taiwan, I realized Asians were everywhere. There were Taiwanese pop stars like Jolin Tsai, singing to sold-out stadiums, with pyrotechnics and fireworks. There were Taiwanese hotties doing CW-like shows. There were Taiwanese basketball players. There were Asian makeup artists who didn't try to Westernize my features. It made me realize that the realm of possibility of what I thought Asians could do and look like, was limited because of whiteness. 

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

Previous to this week, I would have said that I felt lucky in a lot of ways as an Asian in the beauty industry. And I still do, in many ways. Thanks to the explosion of J-Beauty and K-Beauty, we are recognized for our manufacturing know-how to the industry. Compared to Black people, we are more seen and recognized, and have a much easier time finding our foundation shades in-stores or products which work for our hair. 

But it makes me think of what Steve Yuen said: "Sometimes I wonder if the Asian-American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but nobody else is thinking about you." To that end, I'm going to ask for more and say that we aren't still aren't seen in a lot of ways. In brand discussions and imagery, it seems that the only races discussed are either white or Black. I receive so many DMs asking, "What is the best ______ for Asian _____?" so I know that people aren't feeling seen in the industry. There are lot of microaggressions that show that people think of us as a monolith, such as receiving an email about J-Beauty, and the "stock image" pictured being Korean actress Song Hye-Ko. There are many white TikTokers with their gua shas who exoticize alleged "ancient Chinese beauty practices" or worse, quickly gloss over, or barely acknowledge, where this "hot new trend" came from. When speaking about eye makeup, how many people know how politicized Asian eyes are, or that there is a wide range of eye shapes that affect technique and the products that suit us? I can't even imagine how underrepresented the Southeast Asian and Indian community must feel in beauty. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

You can support more than one community at a time. Asians have to be included in anti-racism discussions. You can't talk about K-Beauty or be influenced by it, or be a brand that sells jade rollers, without supporting the Asian community or donating to anti-Asian-hate causes. 

kristina rodulfo

Kristina Rodulfo

Kristina Rodulfo

Instagram: @kristinarodulfo

Background: Filipino—both of my parents are Filipino immigrants who moved to NYC in the late '80s/early '90s. I’m the first American born in my whole family, so I’m very connected to and proud of my culture. I grew up learning the dances, eating the food, participating in traditions, and doing Filipino American community work. My background is a huge part of who I am.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I never saw myself represented–and I was a magazine lover from a really young age because I knew I wanted to be an editor one day. My earliest memory of feeling somewhat represented was watching Michelle Kwan figure skating at the 1998 Olympics. It was the first time I saw someone who looks like me on TV being celebrated as strong, powerful, graceful, and beautiful–I became so obsessed with her I bought my own pair of white skates, read every book about her, and wore the same gold dragon necklace on a red string she wore (even though I’m not from the same cultural background). 

Other than that, I remember searching for other Asian women in magazines, beauty brand commercials and campaign imagery in drugstore aisles, television, movies–and never seeing them. Even when Filipino people like myself started getting notoriety in Hollywood—Vanessa Hudgens, Shay Mitchell, Darren Criss—the fact they were usually half-white always reinforced the idea that proximity to whiteness is most desirable: You’re only beautiful when you’re mixed with white features, like a straighter nose or a sharper jawline. This is something deeply embedded in the Philippines too, especially with its history of Spanish colonization and U.S. occupation. When I visit Manila, there are entire drugstore sections dedicated to whitening your skin. I even had an aunt gift me papaya soap to lighten my tan complexion when I was 14 or so—and I used it for six months because I thought that’s what I had to do to be pretty. I would pinch my own rounded nose, dream about getting a nose job, wish I had blue or green eyes, lighter hair…it’s heartbreaking, really, thinking back on how young I was and how deeply insecure I felt about features passed down to me from my ancestors because my kind of beauty was never celebrated in mainstream media. I’ve come a long way in loving myself and unlearning these racist, singular ideals of “beauty,” but validating my own beauty is something I still work on everyday.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

I have to say it feels really lonely at times. First of all, even though I reject the model minority myth, it is true that a lot of Asian immigrant parents of my friends had this expectation for us to pick “stable” careers because of the sacrifice it took for them to uproot their lives and settle stateside. I’m lucky enough my parents were supportive (and I had an older brother paving the path for me in the media industry as a television producer), but I was very much still met with the “Are you sure you don’t want to be a nurse/doctor/lawyer/engineer?” question many times.

Coming up, I didn’t really have mentors or connections because there were not really that many Asian editors for me to look up to. I remember discovering Eva Chen when she was the Beauty Director at Teen Vogue so I went to Teen Vogue University to meet her, and then to Teen Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out event in Soho just to see her again. It was so novel for me to see a senior level-editor (and eventually an editor in chief at Lucky!) who was Asian, so to this day I look up to her and follow her as an example of what I could do with my own career.

Even when I found success, it still felt lonely at times. I remember going on a huge press trip for a major beauty company—there must have been 40 editors on that trip—and I was the only Asian woman there, and one of two Asians, total. It was jarring. When I go to industry conferences, sales/business meetings, I am always the only Asian person in the room. When people are talking about diversity and inclusion, they almost never include Asian people, experiences, or perspectives into the equation—so I feel like I always have to be the one to push for it. And, throughout my career, I’ve always made the effort to cover Asian story subjects, hire Asian talent, interns, writers, models, makeup artists…anywhere I could lift us up, I would. But I always wondered to myself…if I wasn’t there, would that still happen?

People don’t even realize the number of microaggressions we face daily. I was once told by a high-level person after they saw a video I hosted that I was “actually SO articulate!!”….like it was a surprise I was comfortable and commanding in front of a camera. That’s almost as bad as the time a man at a bar once told me “You speak English really well!” Both meant it as compliments. It made me wonder if stereotypes involving Asian women being “quiet” or “docile” (ugh) had something to do with that. It stung me.

I feel like there’s a general sense of apathy toward the fact that I’m Filipino/Asian American and I resent that. Like I wrote on Instagram recently, “it feels like you have to distance yourself from your own heritage and history to be some culture-less avatar to fit conveniently in molds and systems that still uphold racism and never celebrate you.” I used to feel like I had to minimize my cultural background to try and “blend in” to the very white-dominant world of media, but I’ve come to learn that being silent about it doesn’t help anyone.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

I want allies and non-Asian people to expand their understanding of “Asian”—there’s a lot of nuance. The East Asian experience is very different from the Southeast Asian experience is very different from the South Asian experience and Pacific Islander experience. And within those groups, the individual cultures (Filipino, Indonesian, Vietnamese, etc) are vastly different as well. Our traditional clothes are not costumes you can put on for Halloween. Our food isn’t just your Friday night takeout. Our countries aren’t just Instagram background playgrounds.

Our traditional clothes are not costumes you can put on for Halloween. Our food isn’t just your Friday night takeout. Our countries aren’t just Instagram background playgrounds.

Watch movies that center (not fetishize!) us, read books by Asian authors, like Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings. But don’t just stop at memoirs or critical race theory—read our fiction, too (like If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha)! Diversify your feed with Asian creators, follow Asian news networks (like Vice Asia, NBC Asian America)—especially because news about us is extremely under-reported—support Asian-founded brands and companies, and by all means diversify who you hire and, most importantly, promote in decision-making roles. I think we desperately need to shift perceptions of “Asian” from stereotypes and tropes, and the way to do that is expanding how you, yourself, view Asian people.

Arshia Moorjani

Arshia Moorjani

Arshia Moorjani

Instagram: @arshiamoorjani

Background: I was born in India and moved to the United States when I was eight years old.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I definitely did not see anyone who looked like me in the media/magazines growing up. Not only that, I didn't grow up around a large South Asian community, which definitely made me feel very different from my peers. I remember being as young as 11 years old and feeling like I didn't belong, that I wasn't beautiful and disliking certain facial features, like my big eyes and my skin tone. 

What has your experience been in the fashion/beauty industry?

When I first started blogging over five years ago and started to work/meet with beauty brands, I had very serious conversations about the lack of diversity in the beauty space. Beauty brands would claim to have products for all skin tones but their ad campaigns did not reflect that at all. A lot of brands took well to the criticism, but some did not. 

Fast forward to over five years later, we have come a long way in the beauty industry in terms of diversity—but we still have ways to go. No matter what your gender/age/race etc. is, beauty brands should be catering and representing everyone. It's also important for brands to hire a diverse group of people because I genuinely believe diverse people create diverse products. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the South Asian community?

I remember a small group of my friends who were so kind and accepting of me when I moved to the US from India. Those people really gave me the confidence to thrive in a new country. Similarly, I also vividly remember those who bullied and made fun of me simply because I was different from them. Those people really crushed my confidence and made me feel isolated in a new place where I already felt so alone. I think the simplest way to support the South Asian/Asian community or any group of people who look different to you is to be kind and accepting.

Michelle Li

Michelle Li

Michelle Li

Instagram: @himichelleli

Background: Chinese

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I think growing up in Indiana, especially in elementary and middle school, I was both so aware that I was different but unaware really of how I was different. I remember just feeling like the "Other" and constantly being left out. But then in high school, I loved being different and being Asian. I didn't grow up feeling myself represented at all in media or magazines, but I did have Lucy Liu in Charlie's Angels and I had my mom who I thought (and still think!) was so beautiful and that was sufficient for me.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion industry?

I've experienced so many microaggressions while working in the fashion/beauty industry. I think it's automatically assumed that because I'm an Asian American, I won't speak up for myself or that I'll be a workhorse and stay quiet about things. The industry is so competitive already and I think that a lot of people try to exclude Asian Americans and make them feel like they don't belong. I think the most recent experience where I really felt this is when I was on a press trip and another editor kept confusing me with an Asian woman on the PR team. I tried to just give her the benefit of the doubt and just brush it off, but this happened multiple times and at one point it felt like she was doing it intentionally as some strange way to assert herself. Trends like the "fox eye makeup" just show me that there is so much more work to be done, and seeing luxury designers try to profit off of Chinese New Year lately when a few years ago they really didn't care feels a little wrong to me. 

The moments where I have felt the most represented throughout my career are when I've seen other Asian Americans creating beautiful work or in positions that I admire (and strive to be in one day). It makes me feel empowered to see other Asian Americans stand up for themselves against coworkers, be respected and accomplished in their industry, and support other Asians and share the success. The Asian American community can be really insular sometimes and so there are only a few of us that truly succeed, but we can remedy that by supporting each other at every opportunity.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

I think that people should think about the things they say in passing, like, "Oh, he's cute for an Asian" or "You look exactly like [insert other only Asian friend]" because to me, those comments show the real deep-rooted racism and perception that people have towards Asian Americans. As BIPOC, we are constantly thinking and aware of our race and we've been thinking about it and have been confronted by it since childhood. Because I didn't grow up in a predominantly Asian community, I understand that a lot of times the things people say aren't malicious and instead come from a place of curiosity, so I try not to get offended and instead help them understand. But allies should be willing to listen and admit when their perception was incorrect and harmful, even if they didn't mean it to be. It is okay to be honest about things you don't know and to ask questions. Now is the time to start helping small Asian businesses and Send Chinatown Love is a great resource for that. Instead of using [NYC's] Chinatown as a backdrop for a photoshoot and then going to Dimes or Kiki's in the area, do a little bit more research and support an Asian restaurant in the area instead. 

sarah wu

Sarah Y. Wu

Instagram: @say.wu

Background: Taiwanese-American

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I know many AAPIs have felt a lack of representation in media and magazines growing up, and that's a very isolating thing to go through. I grew up consuming both Taiwanese and American media and magazines, so I personally never felt that Taiwanese faces couldn't be considered beautiful or that there were spaces we couldn't occupy. I sit very comfortably in that aspect of my Taiwanese-American identity. Of course, the older I got, the more I realized the distinction between what I was seeing in Taiwanese vs. U.S. media.

One thing I do strongly feel we need to work on in terms of AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] representation overall is highlighting the full scope of our appearances and experiences. The AAPI community encompasses so many different cultures, yet only a few are regularly shown. One of the projects I'm proudest of leading was Teen Vogue's inaugural Asian Pacific American Heritage Month package. I worked with my good friend Megan Dacus, a talented Korean-American photographer based in L.A., on creating a photo series that explored what being Asian-American looks like, through our own eyes. Many of the individuals we featured were still figuring out exactly what that meant for them, but they were taking agency over that narrative, which I found so beautiful and powerful.

The AAPI identity is interesting because everyone else is constantly trying to define it for us. I know I'm not the only one who has been continually told that I'm "not American enough," and also "not Taiwanese enough." But by what metric? Being Taiwanese-American does not make me any less of either; it means that I possess an even broader perspective on both cultures I claim. We are the only ones who have the right to define our own identities and determine how we choose to see ourselves. 

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

I have not at all felt represented and seen in a meaningful way throughout my career, and this is something we are going to have to push for ourselves because there remains such a lack of understanding of the diversity of our experiences and cultures. My colleagues of color can attest to the numerous times I've been on the receiving end of blatant racism in the workplace, including one memorable experience where I was asked to wear a ninja outfit to represent "my culture" in a video meant to denounce culturally appropriative Halloween costumes. If you're somehow unaware, ninjas are historically Japanese, and I'm Taiwanese-American. Some additional context to note: Japan colonized Taiwan and ruled our country under an oppressive regime for 50 years. A 2-second Google search could tell you this, but the assumption was clearly that all Asians are interchangeable and the same.

I was vocal about why I refused that video ask, but I also am aware that the majority of upper management in media and HR doesn't have our backs in these situations. It becomes more challenging to push back or speak up when you know you're on unequal footing from the start. (Not to say that we shouldn't, but to acknowledge that there is that deliberately placed barrier, and that this is part of a larger systemic issue.) 

As far as trends go, I've sat in countless meetings where non Asian-owned brands pushed "exotic Asian skincare ingredients" to me or talked about racially appropriative trends. This ties back to colonialist history, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the War Brides Act of 1945. Go back in our history, and you'll see how this country deliberately pushed legislation that causes us to be continually exoticized and fetishized, and then told to be grateful for our mistreatment. This mindset has become so ingrained that non-Asian folx really don't see the issue with mocking us by pulling on their eyes to make slits, and then turning around and using it as an aesthetic for the "fox eye trend" without being subject to the same discrimination. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community during this time? 

Learn our history, know our present realities. Don't treat us as a monolith. This is such a basic ask, but I've also seen that people just know nothing about the differences between our cultures, the long history of oppression and erasure we've faced in many Western countries, or the fact that many Asian-Americans are still kept in poverty and receive no funding or aid

I tagged a few starter resources in this post that are great for staying informed. Google also exists. The Asian-American experience is so varied and nuanced, but we keep seeing it get shoved into this one inaccurate model minority myth. I've had someone say the words "positive racism" to me in reference to the discrimination we go through. I see so many people perpetuating stereotypes that Asians are quiet or submissive and not realizing or caring about the harmful, brutal histories that these mindsets come from. 

I also feel for my AAPI community that is going through this firsthand and processing trauma while also having to speak so loud and face continuous minimizing of our pain. It's a lot to go through and a lot of heavy emotions and rage to sit with, and I see a lot of us differing on what the solution should be. And it's important to have that dialogue. I personally feel that we can't look to an oppressive law enforcement system to somehow "save" us when they don't care about us in the first place. I've written before that I think it's crucial we have this conversation without co-opting the BLM movement or perpetuating anti-Blackness because liberation is linked. At the same time, I refuse to minimize the extent of our pain or stay silent about it. I want awareness and solidarity, but by awareness I don't mean playing the violent attacks against us on a loop. It's not a spectacle for you to consume and dissect in front of us.

What I'm also asking is that you don't put additional burdens on us. Don't have the expectation for us to teach you or tell you what to do when there are already resources being voluntarily given out there. I previously spoke to Byrdie about the double trauma we go through in experiencing and witnessing these attacks, and then having to go up against law enforcement and the people around us to "prove" to them that these attacks are hate crimes in a long history of anti-Asian racism. Stop gaslighting us and start acknowledging our realities. Stand up for us within your own communities as well, where we can't always be present to speak up for ourselves. I want meaningful change to follow your awareness. This goes especially for those in positions of power who can work to change systems within their industries. I'm sure that you can do more than reposting once or sending me a heart emoji. That's below the bare minimum.

Mi-Anne Chan

Mi-Anne Chan

Mi-Anne Chan

Instagram: @mianne.chan

Background: Chinese

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I grew up in Northern California's Alameda County, in which Asians make up the largest share of the population. It became very clear to me at a young age that my non-Asian peers saw us as monolithic. Comments like "all Asians are good at math" and "that guy has an Asian fetish, that's why he likes you" were thrown around with abandon and that, naturally, lead to a period of self-hatred. I spent a lot of my time thinking about how to differentiate myself from other Asians growing up in the way I looked and the way I acted.

This desire to be "different from the rest" was reflected in media, where Asian actors or models were cast one-at-a-time in magazine spreads or as supporting characters on TV shows (London Tipton from "The Suite Life Of Zack & Cody" comes to mind). I think I felt like I had to be the only Asian in the room to be special and unique. Looking back, I hate myself for this period of my life. The idea that there can "only be one," seeped into my subconscious and I have to actively work every day to unlearn that thought. 

Here in New York, I have fewer Asian friends, but a special connection to my friend Michelle, who is also Chinese. I didn't realize how valuable it was to grow up surrounded by people who looked like me. Now, we'll often seek out opportunities to celebrate Asian holidays with friends over hot pot and when I'm surrounded by a group of Asians now, I don't think about how I can differentiate myself from them. I just think about how much I miss that invisible connection you feel when you gather around a table with people who share aspects of your culture.

I felt like I had to be the only Asian in the room to be special and unique. The idea that there can "only be one" seeped into my subconscious and I have to actively work every day to unlearn that thought. 

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the beauty industry?

I've certainly been on the receiving end of tone-deaf comments like "Asians don't count, you're basically white," when discussing diversity initiatives with editors I respected. The model minority myth is pervasive, and even worse, it was used as a tool historically to pit minority groups against each other. I've had the enormous pleasure of writing about the Asian experience through the lens of beauty many times throughout my career and I have loved those stories. But in the time of hot taking and sensationalism, I'd love to see a version of media where minority groups aren't tokenized and asked to exploit their own experiences for traffic. 

How do seeing "trends" like fox eye makeup make you feel? 

"Trends" like fox eye makeup give me pause, not for the makeup but because of the poses associated with it. One of my friends, Ivan, always says there are a lot of ways to frame your face that don't involve pulling your eyes back in offensive ways. That's it, that's the tea!

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

Support Asian-owned businesses and assess your own prejudices. You can also donate to projects like the Chinese Planning Council's Covid-19 Relief Fund and Welcome to Chinatown's Longevity Fund which provide essential services (like meals and PPE) to frontline workers and seniors and distribute grants to at-risk small businesses, respectively. Do not use these horrific crimes against Asians as a way to drive a further wedge between the Black and Asian communities. Urge your representatives to approve a progressive stimulus and to keep income thresholds where they are, rather than bringing them lower!

Ayesha Perry-Iqbal

Ayesha Perry-Iqbal

Ayesha Perry-Iqbal

Instagram: @ayeshapi

Background: I am Welsh and Pakistani, raised in the UK.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I didn’t see myself represented at all in the media. It was so alienating and confusing just seeing images of white thin women plastered on every tv screen and in every magazine. 

It is already hard enough finding my identity as a mixed-raced person, especially a mix that isn’t super common, so I struggled a lot especially as a teen to feel beautiful and represented. I had to fine that love in myself and I realized in my early twenties that if I don’t step forward and make the change, all the young girls growing up after me will feel just as isolated as I did.

What has your experience been in the fashion/beauty industry?

I didn’t see one person in fashion or beauty that looked like me when I started in the industry. It made me feel like I wasn’t pretty and I had to do things to change myself to look like what the industry deemed as beautiful. Now in 2021, I am still the only Pakistani Plus model signed in the United States. It’s been such an uphill battle trying to get brands to work with me. I have had brands say my "ethnicity is a risk" and haven’t cast me. It’s such a shame that Asian women, particularly South Asian women, aren’t seen all over the fashion and beauty industry all the time. Every time I book a campaign I see it as a win for the whole community of curvy Asian women. It is so important for me to pave the way for us because we deserve representation in every facet of the media and I know there are little girls out there who need to know they are beautiful just the way they are. So being in the industry for me means representation, it means growth, it means breaking down barriers. I am proud to be South Asian.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the South Asian community?

Support the community by using us in every facet of entertainment/ fashion/beauty and media campaigns not just as tokens, but with real diverse representation. Educate yourself on Asian and South Asian culture.

There are so many young women and men who want to feel seen and heard. We all have the opportunity to be better for all races.

Erica Choi

Erica Choi

Erica Choi

Instagram: @eggcanvas

Background: Korean

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

Growing up in the '90s, I definitely did not see myself represented. I gravitated towards Korean fashion and beauty magazines because they felt so much more relatable. They were not so commonly available in the US back then, so I would ask my dad to bring back the most popular ones from his business trips to the homeland. In media, there were a few key Asian-American celebrities that seemed to represent all of us. When an Asian person had a role in a movie, they were always the supporting character, and was nerdy, did martial arts, and/or had an accent. When I was younger, K-pop and K-dramas were definitely not something that you proudly said you listened to or watched. Korea was also not very widely known yet, and I was frequently greeted with "Ni hao" and "Konichiwa" by random strangers on the street. Even though I came to the US when I was two, I felt very much like an outsider. I had a hard time with the English language and had to take ESL lessons, which further removed me from my classmates. In school, the popular kids who were Asian were very assimilated to white culture, and really did not want to do anything with the Asian culture. This really affected my self-confidence and perception of beauty.

Over the years, I've realized my true viewpoint of beauty. I'll never forget, however, in school how I was always the quiet, hard-working Asian girl, who needed to stay in her place.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

Most of my career has been in graphic design and luxury fashion, where Asians make up a large number of roles. Due to many beauty, fashion, and music trends coming out of Korea over the years, it has helped me to navigate the space with more strength and guidance. I'm also blessed to have had a few Asian women in leadership roles in my past companies, and I was able to look up to them as mentors and role models. It taught me resilience and helped me to set goals for where I wanted to go and who I wanted to become.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

That we are all in this together to help one another in order to build a better future. To please listen to us as we listen to you. To have respect and understanding of our cultural differences. Don't jump to conclusions and stereotypes.

Joyce Chang

Joyce Chang

Joyce Chang

Instagram: @joycechang

Background: Chinese-American

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I was a total magazine junkie since I was a kid. I read them obsessively and never saw an Asian model or celebrity. When I first got to NYC and started working in fashion and beauty, I felt I'd arrived. I was finally a part of the club. I used to march down the street feeling important going to my job, so special. Like I was living a dream. You know those moments when you have a soundtrack playing in your head and you feel like the star in your own movie? Except instead of seeing myself, I saw Renee Zellweger or some other white celebrity. The erasure of Asian identity had been so programmed and so complete that I erased myself from my own vision of my own life. How f****d up is that?? Instead of struggling with ugly emotions of shame or self-hatred, I simply pressed delete and lived in a weird state of denial for years. When I became an editor and later an editor-in-chief, I made it my mission to show beauty in all colors, shapes, sizes, forms and abilities. I was practicing my own therapy, giving myself and women who had never seen themselves in the pages of a magazine, the right to take up space and own their beauty, the beauty their mothers and grandmothers passed down to them. When we hate ourselves, we hate where we come from. That is the greatest shame, to hate the source of your love because it's the source of our strength.

When we hate ourselves, we hate where we come from. That is the greatest shame, to hate the source of your love because it's the source of our strength.

ava lee

Ava Lee

Ava Lee

Instagram: @glowwithava

Background: I am Korean but grew up in China for the majority of my life. I came to the US for college and have stayed since.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry? Have you felt represented and seen throughout your career?

I have been doing the beauty industry “influencer” career for about two years now, so I'm still fairly new to it but even during my short experience, I have felt like a lot of Asian creators like myself have been put off campaigns or gifting versus our white counterparts. I have worked mostly with Asian brands because of my race. I have seen firsthand opportunities not come to me but go to my white counterparts and have been disheartened many times. 

Also, Ive been told too many times and still do that I can do skincare because I am Asian and Asians never age; that it’s all “genetics.” This may be true to a certain extent, but I don't like that this comment makes it seem like I’ve never had skin troubles; It disqualifies all the past troubles I have had with my skin and the insecurities I have had because of it. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

I think the most important thing to point out right now is that we cannot be quiet. There is a misconception that our experience is not as important as others like the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s time that the Asian community as a whole speaks up in unity. We feel invisible and marginalized, and it hurts. Asians in general, especially our parents' generation, have been trained to stay quiet; that they are just “visitors” in the US and speaking up will get them deported and in trouble. It’s time we all speak up for the sake of our parents and grandparents. The entire world operates on the backs of Asians and we need the support of all races in this fight.

Kirin Bhatty

Kirin Bhatty

Kirin Bhatty

Instagram: @kirinstagram

Background: Pakistani-American

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I am lucky to have a mother and father who always made it a point to remind me of how unique and beautiful they thought I was. Even with that support at home it still took a while, as I always felt a sense of otherness, and growing up I longed for Western features like blonde hair, hairless legs and arms, a small nose, blue eyes...the list goes on and on. I think people from a multitude of backgrounds are held hostage to these standards, and it is unfortunately a very common experience. I just wanted to assimilate, and blend in. I always felt conscious about my nose, or being too hairy, and it wasn’t until I went away to college at Berkeley that I started to see a diverse set of people embrace their power and their beauty by not conforming to Western beauty ideals.  I began to really own my identity as a South Asian woman, and feel proud that my features were a direct link to my ancestors. 

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry? Have you felt represented and seen?

Like many of us, my experience has been complicated. I’ve seen aspects of my culture become popularized, be it through the wellness industry, down a runway, or via beauty products and makeup trends—that has been exciting. That said, many of these trends that are being monetized are not uplifting or beneficial to the communities they are taken from. There hasn’t been equity in the space and that is disheartening and it needs to be addressed. We need to provide real inclusion and representation, not just in a performative sense and that means rewarding and hiring BIPOC talent at all levels and providing spaces for growth and success. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community? 

I think it's important to understand that being Asian in America is not monolithic. There are so many beautiful cultures encompassed inside the Asian-American identity. 

Ying Chu

Ying Chu

Ying Chu

Instagram: @yingchunyc

Background: My family is Chinese, and I was born in Shanghai.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

Rarely. When I was really young it was just Connie Chung on the news. And then, eventually, Lucy Liu started showing up in mainstream media. I was somewhat obsessed with her freckles. I was a teen of the ’90s and until then, the beauty archetype of my youth was girl-next-door blonde (which I really couldn’t relate to at all) or indie-goth brunette (which I aspired to. Winona Forever!). My beauty ideals at the time were so deeply informed by Western culture and, as I’ve grown up in the beauty and media worlds, I’ve admittedly had to retrain myself to look at Asian faces through a different lens, to not compare them to Western standards. 

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

This is going to sound ridiculous but any appropriation of Asian culture—in fashion shows, films, editorials—felt like a compliment at first. It was exciting to see representation of Asian people and cultures, even if the references were a little...off color. But this is 2021 and I like to think that we’ve made progress as a society. Fox eye makeup is not okay. Nor is the stereotyping of Asian people—I really have no words for the Kung Fu Vaginas video.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

It’s really about sorting out your biases—both conscious and unconscious. Allyship means listening to our stories, reading our books, investing in our designs, watching our films and shows, and casting our actors. I absolutely love seeing an all-Asian cast in a Hollywood production (Crazy Rich Asians, Bling Empire, Fresh off the Boat) but there’s a lot to be said for seeing a dazzling Asian lead—like Lana Candor—in a diverse cast. And as a mother, I am so thrilled that my kids will grow up with representation as a norm.

Allyship means listening to our stories, reading our books, investing in our designs, watching our films and shows, and casting our actors.

Maureen Choi

Maureen Choi

Maureen Choi

Instagram: @maureenpchoi

Background: I am a proud Korean American.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

Growing up in the '80s, my entire childhood revolved around cultural assimilation. In a small suburb of L.A., I was the token Asian in most settings—the private school my parent's scraped together money to send me to, the ballet classes I begged to be enrolled in, the mall. I actively tried to fit in to minimize microaggressions and discrimination, which I experienced regularly. I didn't see myself represented in media or magazines because frankly, I wasn't looking. My surroundings, the era... everything signaled to me that I would be wasting my time. Luckily, I was able to turn to those in my life I could relate to—my mom and my grandmother. They were polar opposites: My mom is all about natural beauty, relying on DIY beauty concoctions like so le al toner (her acronym for a surprisingly effective brightening blend of soju, lemon, and aloe) and feeding the skin from the inside out (hello, homemade kimchi!). I can't say that I always jumped on board with everything she did or said, but she is the strongest person I know and has been my forever role model and beauty icon. My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, was fabulously over the top. She had a penchant for fancy things that made her look and feel better. I would watch her as she would get dressed and do her hair and apply her makeup. One of my earliest memories is of her painting my nails when I was 6. She taught me the art of dressing up and looking the part—and using that confidence as a superpower. Together, they were the ones who instilled a strong perception of beauty in me. They taught me how to appreciate my stick-straight hair and put eyeliner on that complemented my almond eyes rather than altered them—even when others would mock me. It's nice to see mainstream media finally feature and celebrate the things that make us unique but I never relied on it to set my own standard of beauty.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

I have always been hyper-aware of being Asian American, and specifically Korean-American, in every industry that I have worked in—the arts, publishing, and on the brand side; that's the thing about being a minority—you're always aware that you look different. Up to this point, I've mainly felt seen and applauded for my ability and my work ethic rather than the unique and diverse perspectives I bring to the table. But that's beginning to change as the conversation around diversity and inclusivity evolves.

How do seeing "trends" like fox eye makeup make you feel? 

Trends like K-Beauty and "fox-eye makeup" are problematic to me—they can insight stereotypes (no, I don't follow a 21-step skincare routine thank-you-very-much) and are rooted in appropriation (must be nice to have the option of "creating" a fox-eye look). I'm all for cultural appreciation, but I don't think these trends help depict the nuances and complexities of Asians or Asian-Americans accurately.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

Just because the Asian American community hasn't historically shouted from the rooftops about our experiences and against our injustices, doesn't mean that we haven't acutely felt the pain.

Just because the Asian American community hasn't historically shouted from the rooftops about our experiences and against our injustices, doesn't mean that we haven't acutely felt the pain. We are often dubbed as the "model minority" but the struggles, the discrimination, and the hate against Asians is real and palpable. Many of us are starting to realize that our power isn't in staying silent and rising above; it's about speaking out—within our relationships, friendships, and on a larger scale—to condemn racist acts against us. 

ami desai

 

Ami Desai

Instagram: @amidesai

Background: I am first generation Indian American originating from Gujarat, India.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

Growing up, there was virtually no representation of South Asians in media. The struggle to find a familiar face I could identify with in a magazine or on TV forced me to conform to standards of beauty I so desperately thought I needed to adhere to in order to fit in. It was about hiding everything that made me truly me. We measure our potential by the examples we see, so when I think about the world my daughter is growing up in compared to my own upbringing, I do see the progress. However, I also see the opportunity to continue to create more space for South Asians in media, beauty and beyond. I now want to push this progress further to include motherhood as part of the dialogue too.    

 What has your experience been in the fashion/beauty industry? Have you felt represented and seen throughout your career?

I feel more seen and represented in my career today, but that wasn’t always the case. When I first started pursuing jobs on-camera, it was about appearing “ethnically ambiguous” so I could check the box for diversity. It was never about showcasing my culture or celebrating my ethnicity. I worked harder to show that I could fit the mold because I felt that was the only way I could get ahead. The biggest difference now is that I get to create content myself that speaks to a demographic that is yearning to be heard and recognized. If the last year has proven anything, it’s that many other South Asians are making their voices heard, therefore making it impossible for fashion and beauty brands not to take notice and start including us in more mainstream campaigns.  

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the South Asian community?

We are amongst many communities of color here in the US and we are more alike than we are different. I would love to create an open dialogue with non-Asian allies so they can learn more about our culture and community. More opportunities for South Asian creatives in the beauty and fashion space would also allow for more collaboration over competition. Seeing our faces and hearing our voices in mainstream media and culture will bring us closer together and allow our community to feel included, recognized and celebrated. 

Bee Shapiro

Bee Shapiro

Bee Shapiro

Instagram: @beeshapiro

Background: I was born in Taiwan and moved to Seattle when I was three. I'm 3/4 Hakka Chinese and 1/4 Shanghainese.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I was a teenager in the '90s and during that time, when I was forming my first thoughts on beauty and self-worth, the magazines were dominated by white models. I was obsessed with foreign fashion magazines at the time and I remember so clearly that even Vogue Japan used almost exclusively Caucasian models. Outside of fashion, the beauty standards, and especially on the West Coast where I grew up, were dominated by the Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra-types. How I internalized that then was a complex thing. It wasn't that I thought I was unattractive because I didn't see representations of myself, but more that I knew my looks would never be the definition of beauty, wealth, class, aspiration. No one went to sleep hoping and dreaming they had black hair, and brown almond eyes.

No one went to sleep hoping and dreaming they had black hair, and brown almond eyes.


What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

In work, I started first in fashion and then transitioned to beauty, When I first started in fashion, this was 2006-2010. You could even say this was the era of anti-diversity when it came to fashion. The model look at the time was extremely thin and very white. At the same time, the grande magazine dames had this completely Westernized take on aesthetics. There were very few minorities in power positions, much less Asians. As a writer, most of the byline names sounded like out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. This viewpoint reigned for a good long while. I remember at the 2015 Met Gala, which celebrated China's influence on Western fashion, some of the red carpet eye makeup looks were atrocious. One case, there was a famous model who wore a nice enough evening gown (though it didn't seem to reference Chinese fashion at all) but topped it all off with this eye makeup to make her Caucasian eyes look almond and slanted.

How do seeing "trends" like fox eye makeup make you feel? 

I'm less sensitive about trends like the "fox eye" look because it's a complementary eye shape thing. The idea here is that the almond shape is visually pleasing and to emulate that with makeup. You can also do makeup to make your eyes look rounder for example. Of course even something like this can go awry depending on how people describe it or contextualize things.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

What hurts when I see the hate crimes is how it's targeting elderly Asian Americans. It's so obvious here that they are targeting a group that is physically vulnerable. It makes me think of my parents who are in their late 60s. They were definitely more of the duck your head down, work hard, and don't attract too much attention kind of person. I think the community has become more and more outspoken over the years, which I love. But it also means there were all those years where slights, slurs, and flat out racism were tolerated by the Asian American community. For example, I still see on Instagram, all the time, the phrase "me love you long time" which actually has racist connotations alluding to the sex trade during the Vietnam war. It's derogatory and yet used all the over the place. We need to call this kind of stuff out. The issue that I see though, even with my acquaintances IRL, is that even when I call something like this out, they still want to use it because they think it's so funny. Someone might ask, "Oh but is it even that bad?" So I would ask that those who want to support the community, don't only listen, be willing to change.

Nusrat Ali

Nusrat Ali

Nusrat Ali

Instagram: @iiroshnii

Background: I was born in Bangladesh; my ethnicity is Bengali and I moved to the states at the age of 10.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I did not see anyone that looked like me in the media or magazines. When South Asian characters were casted, they always played the same bland supporting character with the same stereotypes. Even in Bollywood and Dhallywood, light-skinned women with Eurocentric features were casted. Commercials advertised skin lightening creams and told me that I would be beautiful and successful if I was lighter. In family gatherings, relatives told my mom that I should study harder because I was not beautiful and it would be hard for me to find a husband. 

At the age of eight, when I told my class that I wanted to be a model, they all laughed at me. One of my family members said, “This industry isn’t for girls like you and you should focus on your studies instead." This had me wondering where I belonged. I was surrounded by colorism most of my life. Girls were protected from the sun, but not from the harsh words said about their skin. 

This mindset really affected me growing up. I did not feel beautiful and was so uncomfortable in my skin. When I first received allowances I would run to the drugstore and buy foundations that were three shades lighter than me. I loved wearing makeup but at that time I wore it because I depended on it. It wasn’t a form of self-expression for me; I wanted to find behind it and fit in. 

Fast forward to now, my relationship with makeup and my skin has improved a lot since I made my instagram account. I met girls who look like me and shared the same stories as me that aren’t shown in the media. I no longer hide behind makeup and experiment with all colors because my skin tells a story and it should be celebrated. 

Ivan Lam

Ivan Lam

Ivan Lam

Instagram: @ivanbaaaaah

Background: First generation Malaysian Chinese.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines?

I grew up in Malaysia, so I did see Asian (East, Southeast, South) faces in the media. When I moved to the United States 10 years ago, that all changed. I remember only knowing Lucy Liu and Margaret Cho as Asian representation in TV. I thought it was normal, because it was America, and I didn't know any better. Now I know that we were severely underrepresented. When I went to community college, people would constantly tell me that I looked like "that Asian guy on walking dead" (Steven Yeun). I started noticing that I didn't look like all the love interests in the teenage romcoms and sitcoms. I didn't want to admit it at the time, because I was always so proud of my Asian heritage, but slowly it definitely chipped away at my self-esteem. It definitely seeped into my dating life as a queer Asian person as well. One thing that I really wanted to change in my early years was my slightly hooded monolids. I thought they were unattractive and made me look dull. As more Asian pop culture gained traction in America, I felt more comfortable with my appearance every year. 

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

My experience as an Asian American in the beauty industry has been interesting. I remember when K-beauty and J-beauty took America by storm. That was the first time i've felt like I was included in any conversation of beauty. As someone that believed in massage, layering skincare, and soft makeup, I felt seen. Beauty has always been a safe space for me in terms of self expression. Often times I do feel like I do have to work twice or three times as hard to get the recognition in the space. Its only recently that more brands have taken note of Asian American talent. I cherish the online space that i've created because I feel like i've fostered a community of like-minded individuals. Hopefully in the coming years there will be more visibility for my Asian American creative peers. I think I offer a perspective that hasn't been seen yet, so it's exciting. 

How do seeing "trends" like fox eye makeup make you feel? 

When the fox eye trend was big on socials, I didn't think much of it. It mostly reminded me of when drag queens used tape to pull back their eyes, so I wasn't offended. However, as the trend progressed and more people pulled their eyes back with their hands for modeling poses and more invasive procedures were in demand, I started to question it more. As someone who grew up in Asia, I was never really taunted by the pulling back gesture; however after speaking with my Asian American friends, I understood why it was offensive to them. Instead of hiring Asian models with our natural eye shape, white models were hired and our features were mimicked. 

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about the Asian American experience and how to support the Asian community during this time? 

I want allies and non-Asian people to know that we are here. And we have been here. If you enjoy our culture, (K-pop, anime, food, meditation, yoga) please support us as well. Speak up for us, support our elderly, local business. If you are young and don't have the spending power, amplify our message on social media, share posts and uplift Asian American creators. Include us in your anti-racist work.

Sandy Lin

Sandy Lin

Sandy Lin

 Instagram: @heysandylin

Background: I’m Chinese. My dad is from Shanghai, China, and my mom is from the Cao Bang Province in Vietnam. They’re both Chinese but their upbringings and experiences are so different, and helped me see how colorful and complex the Asian American experience can be. It made for a very interesting childhood!

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I loved consuming all types of media and even collected magazines growing up, but saw little to no representation. It warped my perception of beauty. It gave me false expectations of what I “should” look like, because I was seeing myself through the wrong lens. I’d liken it to having the wrong prescription for your glasses or even something as drastic as walking through a room of funhouse mirrors at a carnival. Nothing will look “right.” Everyone’s features are so different. It didn’t make sense to be judging myself against Western standards of beauty.

This has definitely changed through the years. It took a lot of growth and internal work. I had to redefine what beauty means to me, and it was important to learn that I shouldn’t be comparing myself to others at all. I learned how to do makeup to accentuate my features, rather than try to imitate something unattainable. Seeing more diversity and representation in the media over the years has played a huge role in this. We have to take a more active role on what and how we consume. It’s important to recognize what’s good for us and what isn’t. When I look in the mirror now, I’m seeing the features my parents gave me, not the features I’m “lacking.”

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

My experience as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry has kind of been as expected. The reality is POC often have to work harder for less exposure. Social media has created such a beautiful, interesting space where I can connect with others who are like me. We’re able to build and fill our communities with our own role models and peers. And in this way, I feel represented and seen. I think huge strides have been made because of this and things are changing. As a content creator, I’ve been able to work with brands I really admired growing up and never would’ve thought possible. Seeing this change feels great, but there’s still so much we can do. To push the conversation further, a lot of brands are asking us to speak to our echo chambers and leveraging our communities. Are they truly inclusive behind the scenes? Do they actually want to share our faces and stories on their front pages?

How do seeing "trends" like fox eye makeup make you feel? 

I’ve gone through a range of thoughts and emotions when it comes to the fox eye makeup trend, from indifference to frustration. Sometimes, I still don’t know how to feel. I’ve been made fun of for having the eyes I do. When I see the makeup trend done now, I feel uncomfortable. Some people say doing the makeup look is fine, just don’t pull your eyes back in a pose. Others say the makeup trend altogether should be done with. I had a lot of people telling me how I should feel, mostly that I should be angry. Ultimately what I learned most is that no one can tell me how to process my trauma or experiences. It can be an ugly, difficult process and it takes time. Sometimes it’s pushing it aside until new information comes along or until I’m ready to deal with it. I do feel for my community. I did the fox eye trend once and out of respect, I haven’t done it again. They’re working through their own emotions and experiences. And when someone tells you they’re hurting, listen and be willing to have the conversation. So many people do the trend out of ignorance, just not-knowing, and don’t even take the time to learn or understand. I think that’s where I feel most hurt.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

There are so many ethnicities, stories, and experiences under “Asian American” and we’re not a monolith. I have yet to hear of all the stories and even I have so much to learn. So while I love that we can come together as Asians, we can’t always be grouped together. With the rise in hate crimes against the Asian community, I think we need to be seen, heard, and supported. I wish we’d stop being seen as “the other” and that more people knew just how harmful the model minority myth is, not just to Asian Americans, but to our country as a whole.

Collectively, we’re all aiming for a better society and we can do so much if we take the time to learn from, encourage, and support each other.  

Emily Cheng

Emily Cheng

Emily Cheng

Instagram: @emilychengmakeup

Background: Both of my parents are Taiwanese

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

Thinking back to the magazines I read, musicians I idolized and shows I watched, I can't think of a single time where I saw myself represented. I definitely think it had and has affected my perception of beauty, I remember being younger and seriously considered getting double eyelid surgery! Which to this day still shocks me that it was/is so common and practically a norm for young Asian girls to get.

My perception has definitely evolved over the years. I embrace and love my Asian features, including my monolids. 

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

One of the reasons I became so interested in makeup was the mere fact that I couldn't get proper makeup done for special events throughout high school. I remember countless experiences being so horrified at how I looked after leaving the department store and wondering why the artists (including Asian artists) were not able to accentuate my features as they did for my non-Asian friends. Rather than sculpting my features to look less Asian I wanted to learn techniques that would accentuate them! I truly believe artists need to be responsible for learning how to work with all different features, skin types and skin tones. I wish I had a photo of what was done to me for prom because it was horrific. I immediately went home and washed it off. I had monolids sculpted as if I had an imaginary double lid. I'm sure many Asian girls can relate!

Nita Mann

Nita Mann

Nita Mann

Instagram: @nitamann

Background: North Indian

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I never really saw people of my color represented in the media when I was younger. I figured you had to be a certain skin color or complexion to really be featured in media or magazines at all. It's as if the world only thought one skin tone was considered "beautiful". As a kid, I figured it was normal but growing up, especially now working in social media, I know that things have been done wrong for such a long time. I do think the beauty industry is changing by the day for the better but there's still a long way to go!

What has your experience been in the fashion/beauty industry?

I've been blogging for 6 years and over the years, I've seen more and more brands embrace and include diversity in their marketing campaigns. I still feel like there is so much work to be done as personally.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about the South Asian American experience and how to support the community?

Honestly, I think no matter what we should just be lifting each other up. It's so important especially as women to support each other and really join forces to help each other out!


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