Uh…I don’t think so, ACTUALLY.
A few nights ago, a TV station in Australia (where I live) showed a documentary that explored the idea that young Asian Australian women feel pressure to undergo facial surgery, in order to “change their race” – to take on “white” characteristics to appear beautiful.
Since I am interested in beauty and fashion and am both ethnically and culturally Asian, I was obviously interested. I was especially interested since the show was hosted by a very attractive Australian Asian woman about my own age – Anna Choy (below), who is a well known TV personality, and who, in my opinion looks simply beautiful.
But to be honest, I couldn’t accept what the show was saying about Asian Australian women in Australia.
I felt that the documentary was misleading viewers to think that ALL Australian Asian women feel the pressure to look “white”. It implied that ALL of us feel out of place, that we all feel that we don’t belong, and deep down we actually want to change how we look to fit in. The show made Australia seem like a scary, unwelcoming place for Asians.
An Asian Australian girlfriend of mine also watched the documentary, was concerned about it, and said so on social media. Realising that others have also been concerned is what moved me to write about this show.
Let me state this clearly – I’ve have lived in Australia for 30 years, and I have never, ever been racial abused, verbally or physically. I’ve also never thought that I needed to look “white” in order to fit in, or be accepted. I went to school, university, got a job, volunteered, am part of several different communities, and have friends of all shapes, sizes and colours. I was ONCE teased about my flat Asian nose by my white boyfriend, and he married me!
Sure, I live in Australia, where the commercial media very strongly projects images of the supposedly ideal Australian girl – rich, white, tall, thin, blonde and tanned – just like in America. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about 12% of Australian are of some kind of Asian ethnic background. These figures are not very definite though, because in Australia, the government does not record any information about an individual’s race, which I think is really nice – race is OFFICIALLY not important.
With over 80% of people in Australia being white(ish), of course advertising is going to try and reach them with images of beautiful white people. These images are everywhere, on billboard posters, magazines, TV commercials, fashion catwalks, websites and they DO create a feeling of “that’s what you should look like”.
But this is not a RACIAL issue. This stereotype, which is pushed on us by the media, affects ALL women, Asian or not. The fantasy women portrayed in these images are a zillion miles from any human being I have ever met. Almost EVERY woman is going to have some big or small insecurity about their looks, their body shape, parts of their body. Everyone is going to wish for something they don’t have. It’s a HUMAN issue.
Having an Asian face in a mostly white society does create some amusing and interesting experiences, I admit. Because my kids look more white than Asian, I have twice been thought to be the nanny of my kids, not their mother. Both times, this mistake was made by older white people who had come to Australia from countries where inter-racial marriages are very rare. Man, they were so embarrassed when they realised their mistake. Very awkward. And twice, I have been mistaken for a prostitute when in the company of my older, white husband… both times, while on holiday in Asia, once by an Asian man, and once by a white tourist. Very funny when we showed them our matching wedding rings (though it has caused me to wonder if I should dress differently when in Asia).
As part of the TV show, Anna Choy also took the viewers of the show to the streets of South Korea, which now has the world’s highest per capita rate of cosmetic plastic surgery. She introduced us to the world of nose jobs, double eyelid surgery, and dangerous jaw reconstruction in order to get the “V line” babydoll face shape. She showed us a subway station full of billboards with shocking before and after surgery photos, with the promise of success, love and a happier life.
Like a lot of people, I feel bad that any woman would risk their health, and their unique appearance, to look like some media generated “ideal”. But I just don’t think it is very fair, or useful, to compare a multicultural society like Australia with various Asian countries. Asia is a very big, diverse place, with very different countries, each with their own different beauty ideals and trends, unique to their society, with different levels of influence from Western culture. So I don’t judge these Korean women, since I can’t possibly understand the forces that motivate them.
My conclusion is that TV shows like this are carefully designed to shock, stir people up and to create a conversation. And I guess it worked! Here I am, stirred up and being part of that conversation. But I regret that the TV show was so alarmist in tone.
I consider myself very lucky to be a HUMAN BEING living in Australia, and having an Asian face just makes it even more interesting for me, and everyone one I meet. Just think… only 12% of Australians have an Asian face. I’m THAT special!
Women, please love yourself, love your uniqueness, love being who you are! And remember, the most important part of your beauty regime is to keep a smile on your face, what ever your race.