Breaking the Asian Beauty Standard

Emily L. Cristobal reminds us all of the ridiculous, racist beauty standards that remain engrained in our culture. From the idea that fairer skin is more beautiful, through to the idea that straight, blonde hair is an ideal form of beauty- we have a long way to go in re-defining what beauty means. 

As summer commenced, I decided to do some cleaning. I started with my bathroom, rifling through packages of toilet paper, spare tubes of toothpaste, and a million bottles of nail polish I no longer use. I was looking for anything old or empty that I was willing to throw out. This is when I came across two Asian beauty products my mum used to tell to use when I was younger. One was a facial cleanser, and the other was some sort of pearl face cream. Upon further inspection, reading the sparse English instructions and ingredients, I discovered they were skin whitening products.  

Having these items hidden in depths of my sink cabinet brought back memories of the impossible Asian beauty standards that had been ingrained in me as a child. I am full Filipino, and from as young as I can remember, the color of my skin, the size of my eyes, my hair, and my figure were always talked about.

My mum would always tell me to stay out of the sun, walk with an umbrella, wear long sleeves, or stay in the shade. Of course, as a child growing up in Hawai‘i, all I wanted to do was go to the beach and play outside with my friends, so I always disregarded these instructions. I wasn’t going to let these beauty standards prevent me from having fun.

However, as I grew older, I began to worry about how others perceived me because of my appearance. I was darker than most of my friends, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was lighter, would people like more? I couldn’t change the fact that I tanned so easily, and I wasn’t ready to give up playing sports in the sun and start using whitening products to fit in, so my only option was just to accept it. I fully embraced who I was, and I refused to focus on the surface definitions of beauty.

After having this revelation, I now genuinely take pride in the colour of my skin. I am brown and proud. For me, it defines where I come from (Hawai‘i), my culture and ethnicity (Filipino), and activities I enjoy doing (hiking and catching waves at the beach). Our skin is so much more than just a colour, it is who we are, what we do, and where we’re from.

We should not let historical associations and western influences define our standards of beauty. Throughout history, it was believed that only the rich and powerful, monarchs and colonists, had light skin from living lavishly, while people who were poorer manual laborers had darker skin from toiling away in the sun. This is where these beauty standards were established, but the world is changing. Just because you may have a darker skin tone does not mean you cannot rise and accomplish your dreams. Although it may be difficult as we live in a society where white privilege still exists, the worst thing we can do is give up. So, we must keep fighting and embrace who we are.

Today, beauty lines such as Fenty by Rihanna is creating make-up: foundation, concealers, blush, and eye shadow for all skin tones. People with darker skin tones no longer have to be whitewashed by the pale/light foundation of yesteryears. From light to deep, there is now a foundation for almost every color in between. We can finally find joy in using makeup that actually matches our skin.

Although we can’t help that we are often defined and judged by our appearance, we must all learn to push aside the negative stereotypes that are associated with skin color and focus rather on the positive representations. We are so much more than just surface level beauty. It’s a cliché, but at the end of the day, beauty lies within.