Dear Asian Youth,
When I was growing up, I fantasized being a Disney princess. I loved how each princess had their own set of core values, a cute animal sidekick, and a handsome prince to accompany them wherever they went. The princesses were classy and kind but also feisty and outspoken. They overcame their challenges. They found a way to get what they wanted. I wanted to acquire their lives of grandeur and exuberance into mine.
I’d beg my mom and dad to go to the Disney store and on the rare occasion, they would say yes! My mom would haul my younger brother and I to the local mall in the morning and wait outside until it was open to get my Disney princess and crown. I would run to the princess aisle and spend 10 minutes figuring out which dress to get. Mom said to only get one because it was quite expensive so I had to make it count. I’d make my way towards each one, enthralled by the bright colors, glittery fabric and poofy skirts. After 10 minutes of intensive decisions, I finally settled on Cinderella.
I loved all the Disney Princesses but Cinderella was always my favorite. I fell in love with her fair skin, blue eyes, and slim figure. I tried replicating it as a kid. I would walk down my local Walgreens to the makeup aisle, pick up the lightest foundation and smear it all over my arms and face, erasing the melanin off my skin. “Look how pretty I am.” I would say, taking a glance at the mirror. “I look exactly like Cinderella.”
Looking in that mirror, I was already internalizing inherent racism with the need to grow into a society that didn’t accept my beautiful tan skin. I declined my own ethnicity to feel validated in anothers. One that wasn’t even my own but I was forced to grow up in. And I caved in. I grew up hating my skin color. I wouldn’t let the sun touch me in fear of being too dark. I refused to take photos in the summer because I was too tan already. Neon colors that brought out how tan I was I avoided. The need to be society’s Disney princess was in the forefront of my mind.
This is what privilege society views today as beautiful. White beauty is seen in the magazines, the billboards, the makeup aisles, in movies, and overall culture. We see it everyday in the whitening products in the makeup aisle: skin lightening masks, brightening BB cream, skin lightening pills. The “Cinderella effect” or so they call it is an intersectional, antagonizing weapon used against minorities to shield their own skin for the benefit of the whites. The “beauty” of the white color turned into a dominant power that imbalances the system to degrade and dehumanize people of color. People of color cannot be beautiful because it takes away the “beauty” of the white color; they do not hold the power. However this is the reality that many BIPOC girls face as they step in the world. While there is some representation—Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas, Moana and Tiana in Disney—none of them get the popular recognition, merch and branding as their fellow princesses. It is also, like 8 year old me, so internalized that white is the only acceptable form of beauty that it’s hard to look up to any other because we see it everywhere. BIPOC girls can’t help but feel caught up in the dichotomy of what is beautiful if they are forced to live in a body that society tells them is “exotic” or “obscure”.
Cinderella is not only the model of Disney but also society. She is the representation of white privilege that has been embedded into the system. So while it's important that we’ve now acknowledged this privilege or what caused us to think this way, we need to change the narrative on what society deems as “beautiful”. With this, comes action. Buy from companies that have a diverse array of BIPOC. Start following BIPOC creators, listen to their stories, educate yourself on different cultures and find beauty in it. Realize that while it is different from yours, it doesn't make it less beautiful. In the end, every girl just wants to be called beautiful, strong, and independent. Have the future generation of kids see an array of all different shapes, sizes, and colors of what beauty really is. Having an Asian girl look into the mirror and see that her skin is beautiful and that she too can be a Disney princess, just the way she is.