Updated: May 28
Dear Asian Youth,
On Tinder, there is this "big" swipe right feature called the Super Swipe. Regular swiping right secretly matches you with the other person, but when one Super Swipes, it's like enthusiastically matching with them. When the person who you super swiped sees your profile, there is a big blue star that supposedly signals the person that you are interested and triples your chances of being matched with in return. As reality-based as this feature is, who gets these “stars” in real life? Interestingly so, there is an unspoken hierarchy in online dating. According to a study conducted on heterosexual dating markets in multiple online dating services, white men and Asian women are considered the most desirable.
This presents many questions, notably: why are Asian women perceived as the most attractive while Asian men sit “at the bottom of the dating totem pole”? To answer such a broad and complicated question, it can be seen that stereotypes have transgressed into the dating world. It was observed that Asian men and women expressed a similar desire to look for potential partners that are both of different or similar races, but, Asian men were twice as likely to remain single than their female counterparts. Oftentimes, Asian women are categorized as exotic, carrying special sexualities; invisible, lacking power or attention; submissive, agreeable and controllable; and delicate. On the other hand, Asian men were likely to be seen as unmasculine; geeky, unsociable, and nerdy; or naive, oblivious of how to act attractively. This notion comes from the idea that Asian men are workaholic and “overly smart”, derived from cultural tradition to be the best academically. In combination, they split Asians at opposite ends- neither for good reasons.
For Asian women, racial bias can be coined in a term known as Yellow Fever. Yellow Fever summarizes the idea that women of Asian descent are geisha-like (quiet and sexually silent) or china dolls (dainty and beautiful). The concept objectifies them as docile and rather two-dimensional. Therefore, those with an Asian fetish often want acquiescent females. In all, the dating scape is much more open, because many are more likely to reach out to them, but at the price of racial prejudice and submissive stereotyping.
Historically, many speculate the origins of Asian female fetishization occurred during World War II when the United States entered Asia. From there, sex industries boomed with thousands of women across the continent being coerced into prostitution to serve American soldiers. Unsurprisingly, this practice continued throughout the Korean and Vietnamese War, where 85 percent of soldiers sought after a sex worker at one point or another. From there, it can be conclusively drawn that many 20th century Americans’ first encounters with Asians was in a sexual manner, and many roots of this idea still hold today.
Moreover, for Asian males, this unique issue means superficial bias before actual consideration of personality traits, or even physical ones. A 54-year-old Filipino-Canadian man, with almost 20 years of online dating experience, explained his observations overall as negative ones. He was primarily interested in Caucasian women, and would more often get no response to his messages. When he asked why it was because they simply weren't attracted to Asian men. Before an evaluation of anything else, his ethnicity was the deciding factor. However, after more time and the realization that he was more “American” than “Asian”, they felt a greater attraction and would reconsider him as a partner. To be even considered, one had to look more- as the hierarchy implies- Caucasian. The notion that "attractive" means "Americanized", like the colonizers that had once assimilated people, has created an immense impact on today's beauty standards.
Besides that, though much of our “fair skin equals beautiful” concept comes from a white background, as an Asian community, there is a need for us to learn to be more inclusive of our characteristics. From my personal experience and the countless comments on my tanner skin tone when I visit China to see family, it is evident that there are stigmas that tear our community. Along that line is colorism, prejudice within a race based on skin color. This prejudice plays a huge role and encourages habits of skin bleaching and lightening creams. These products are known to cause dermatitis, mercury poisoning, and other detrimental side effects. Historically, lighter skin was representative of the upper-class of people who did not have to work in the Sun. Contrastingly, those with darker skin meant they worked long hours in the fields. As a society, while roles like this are decreasing, there is a need for progression to learn acceptance, both externally and internally.
Despite the polarizing practices many carry, there are improvements underway. More or less, people are generally seeing one another as equals and many are proposing solutions to lessen racial bias in these apps. In an experiment run by OKCupid, it was found that when users were told the people in their algorithms were highly compatible, even when in fact they were not, they were more attracted to those they saw. The power of suggestion plays a big role in who we think we are suitable with. Therefore, by increasing diversity, there is a possibility of breaking down racial biases in a quiet manner. In addition, many have proposed the idea of ridding the option to choose racial preferences as a whole, as dating app Hornet has implemented. Furthermore, Japan-based app, 9Monsters, has its users grouped into nine categories of fictional monsters so that people look past race, ability, and economic status. Others use filters like political bias, education, and relationship history, that encourage users to seek attributes beyond the physical. As anyone can tell, there are many alternatives to choose from- race not needing to be one.
It may be awhile before we, as a whole population, look past the superficial- but there is hope. For Asians and those of Asian descent, they can help break down ideas of bigotry and see past prejudice.