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Asian Representation in Media Matters

Updated: Apr 8

Dear Asian Youth,

I’ve always wanted double eyelids. Since elementary school, my parents were set on giving me double eyelid surgery at the end of senior year. It wasn’t just my parents that wanted it for me, it was also my relatives and grandparents who always reminded me to open my eyes wider to look prettier, of course. I looked into eyelid tapes and other ways of giving myself temporary double eyelids, but my mom forbade me from purchasing any items out of fear that my skin would get loose by surgery time. Of all my monolid friends, every one of them wished they had double eyelids.

Ever heard of the fox-eye trend? This makeup trend has been popularized recently with social media influencers like Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Emma Chamberlain. They pull back at their temples to achieve a more elongated eye shape slanting upwards. To them, it’s trendy, different, exotic. “But when these exact features are on an Asian, it’s funny and something to mock them about,” said 15-year-old Esther Park. The pose that had been long used to poke fun at East-Asian features has suddenly become a trend, our eyes appropriated for an aesthetic.

Cultural appropriation, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” Asian cultural appropriation manifests in several different ways: in pop culture, fashion, and sports, to list a few. When makeup artist Nikita Dragun wore box braids, she received an immense amount of backlash for appropriating African culture. But when American rapper Saweetie sexualized the ao dai---traditional Vietnamese clothing---and wore it to the 2019 Billboard Music Awards, she was praised for “paying homage” to other cultures. Kacey Musgraves also wore a sexualized rendition of the ao dai paired with a maang tikka, a traditional Indian headpiece. She had cherry-picked these pieces purely for aesthetic purposes, disregarding the cultural and historical significance behind them. While white appropriators receive admiration for their sense of “fashion,” BIPOC get discriminated against for wearing the same thing.

Fashion brands like Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, and Princess Polly have been selling sexualized versions of traditional Asian clothing. Zara and Topshop, popular retail brands, don’t even try to be discreet about it by marketing tight bodysuits and mini dresses under the label Oriental. “[When] white teenager Keziah Daum caused a stir on Twitter when she posted a photo of herself posing stereotypically with friends in a traditional Chinese garment: ‘My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,’ one Twitter user wrote, explaining that Daum’s dress is called a qipao and has a rich history,” writes the HuffPost.

If Kim Kardashian’s cornrows or the innumerable Native American headdresses at Coachella can stir an uproar, then why isn’t it the same for Asian cultural appropriation? “No one has ever taken Asian cultural appropriation seriously and I’m tired [of it]. Stop with the chopsticks in ur hair. Stop buying Chinese traditional dresses sexualized off Shein, Fashion Nova, etc. Stop wearing [the] ao dai as a sexy mini dress. Please stop it,” reads a comment on Instagram.

But Asian racism doesn’t end there. What do Megan Thee Stallion, Migos, and Jay-Z have in common? Yes, they have all landed songs on Billboard’s Hot 100. But they have also all referred to Asians in a negative way or used Asian slurs in their songs. They’re among the countless artists our generation looks up to as the influencers of rap. In “Rerock” by Lil Shun The Goat---a popular song that appeared on TikTok---he raps, “Eyes look Asian, Ling Ling.” This is accompanied by a dance that pulls the eyes back. The song sparked controversy among Asians, as the artist who wrote this song wasn’t Asian himself. However, many users claimed that this wasn’t a big deal, that we’re snowflakes for getting hurt over a simple lyric. “No one was offended by it until someone told you to be offended by it,” commented TikTok star @zsmitty.

Racism towards Asians often goes unnoticed, or is considered okay because we are viewed as the “model minority”---Asian Americans are well-educated and well-off---a shining example of overcoming ethnic discrimination. Let’s say a non-Black celebrity says, or even mouths the n-word. Their audience would be quick to call them out and cancel them, tarnishing their reputation for the rest of their career. Then how is it fair that when an artist releases a song playing into offensive Asian stereotypes, people try to defend him?

“People don't take us seriously when we talk about these things because there's never been a huge stigma, wrote @fortnite allnight on YouTube, reacting to the increased backlash Asians received after the coronavirus outbreak. “We don't learn about Asian American struggles as extensively as other ethnicities. I've never felt ‘accepted’ because of the way I look and how people choose to see me. I'm scared of going outside because of the violence. I'm scared of going back to school because people make fun of my eyes, my food, and they call me things that should not be said. I wasn't born smart and so many of as Asian Americans feel so pressured to meet that standard.”