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Where Attractiveness Lies | South Seattle Emerald

by Shin Yu Pai


I assumed the present should be identified as Hey, Good Seeking, but the advertising and marketing team for the the Wing Luke Museum voted in favor of the a lot more lyric Where Attractiveness Lies. I’d been employed to produce the narrative panels and introductory text for an exhibition structured all over decolonizing attractiveness. Counting up the range of beauty and elective processes I have undergone in excess of the several years, I felt at minimum some mild feeling of disingenuousness. But aspect of why I signed up to support with the display was to make myself appear a lot more closely at some of my half-examined beliefs about elegance.

There ended up no wholesome mirrors for me as a girl. My mom almost never still left the dwelling without the need of facial area powder or pink lipstick, high heels and a determine-flattering costume, preserving the extra formal gown standards of her indigenous Taiwan, as a substitute of adapting to the shorts and t-shirt style of Southern Californians. She did not training over and above gardening in our yard but maintained her trim determine. And for the reason that my father experienced solid thoughts about preserving up the overall look of youth, she coloured her hair to preserve its auburn hue — that is, till she was in her 60s, and she announced to my father one particular day she would prevent. 

I rebelled in opposition to my mother’s natural beauty practices — when my mother arrived close to me with a hairbrush, I’d complain about getting tortured. As she ripped through the snarls of my long, messy hair, she’d say issues like “You’d glimpse so much prettier if you’d acquire care of by yourself.” She would interrogate me about any bodyweight attain and scrutinize my skin for blemishes and freckles that produced through tennis apply or when I’d lay out in the sunshine in an try to realize that beachy glow of wellness, which only at any time resulted in uneven tan strains.

The notion of natural beauty was elusive. In order to in shape in, it was required to normalize one’s appears and come to be as significantly like anyone else as achievable. But I experienced competing specifications. All of them not possible. I’d under no circumstances be blond. Or large-chested. Chinese modesty would not make it possible for me to set on a two-piece bathing go well with. At the exact same time, my mother’s manufacturer of substantial-servicing femininity did not sense ideal both.

When visitors enter the gallery, they are greeted by idealized images of Asian Individuals introduced in full glamor. Jenny, a seemingly nondescript city personnel who produces arts programming and moonlights as a burlesque dancer, cycles through 100 style tendencies in a quick-hearth 100 A long time of Beauty video clip designed by the Slash studio. A disembodied blur of make-up artists and hair stylists converge on Jenny to renovate her into 11 distinctive looks across the decades in just the span of two-minutes. From California normal to bubble-gum pop to glamorous, I’d under no circumstances see Jenny once more as just yet another civil servant working in a authorities office.

I was strolling by the exhibit on opening night when YouTube star Flawless Kevin strolled into the gallery and observed his graphic on the wall for the initially time. Kevin, who is a non-gender conforming boy and has an world wide web fanbase of much more than 300,000 followers and a channel devoted to vogue, had been invited to get component in a image shoot for the exhibit. 

The photographer had picked to fashion Kevin from the shoulders up, from a basic black track record, wearing winged crimson eyeshadow, scarlet purple lipstick, and hair slicked again beneath a gold-flecked, crimson ao dai. The round hat, which typically capabilities prominently in Vietnamese bridal shoots, perched atop the crown of Kevin’s head made him look saint-like. As genuine-lifetime Kevin gazed upon himself as a much larger-than-lifetime operate of art, I heard him gasp audibly and watched him cover his mouth in a combine of disbelief and recognition. Flawless Kevin’s story guided how I wrote the introduction for the exhibition. 

We are hardly ever taught to query the “all-American beauty” ideals, or the Western beauty criteria that celebrate whiteness alone. As a consequence, we finish up imitating the dominant tradition. We unconsciously accept the strategy that except if you fall inside the spectrum of “normal” bodies, your daily life is significantly less worthy. How can we variety a additional personalized romantic relationship to beauty that can embrace non-Western attributes, histories, and inspirations? How can we see beyond the distorted body visuals that we are fed on a everyday basis, and permit go of the lies that we may well believe that about attractiveness?

As a 20-a little something social media star who’d cultivated his possess community, Kevin formed his very own fame. His viewers tune in for his musings on adolescent insecurity and LGBTQ difficulties and change to Instagram for his make-up tutorials. Defying any circumscribed notions of natural beauty, his concept to his lovers is straightforward: “To be flawless is to be yourself.”

But these photographs of every day Asians designed up to supply depictions of attractiveness outside the house of the typical norms promptly fade into well known media photos of Asian American celebs inserted during the show. Images of actors ranging from Anna May well Wong, Constance Wu, and Keanu Reeves fill out the gallery. Flawless Kevin’s radical self-love butts up in opposition to stories of mainstream television personalities like previous information reporter Julie Chen, who underwent Asian eyelid surgical procedure in her 20s. 

Blepheroplasty wasn’t new to me. My higher education roommate’s substantial college graduation present from her Korean auntie was an eyelid surgery that resulted in earning her eyes look rounder and even bigger, like an anime character. “I really do not regret it,” she confessed to me. I could not assist but sense that she was quietly urging me to abide by fit.

Chen’s information director advised her she’d by no means have a seat on the anchor desk due to the fact she looked Chinese and had Asian eyes. “When you’re on digital camera, you glance disinterested and bored.” Chen’s agent confirmed this opinion. The young professional consulted her loved ones, underwent the knife, and arrived out on the other conclusion with extra career possibilities.

It was in the course of my yrs invested dwelling in Dallas, a city identified for its standing consciousness and plastic surgeons, that I explored the thought of altering myself with additional permanent interventions. In my 20s, I had my vision laser corrected so that I’d never ever have to use glasses yet again. At the age of 8, I acquired my first pair of eyeglasses at my father’s insistence. We bought the most economical eyeglasses that we could pay for — wire-framed nerd eyeglasses that sagged down below the bridge of my nose. I wore them all through most of my childhood and early adolescence until I was fitted for my 1st pair of get hold of lenses at fourteen. When colored comfortable lenses arrived on the industry, I experimented with green and hazel tones that built my eyes fewer brown.

In my thirties, I place up with tooth-straightening equipment for two a long time to exert pressure on my front teeth and force them to conform. To accomplish the gradual movement of teeth, I wore fitted retainers about the clock, getting rid of them only to drink or to take in meals. Soon after every single occasion of having or consuming, I disciplined myself enough to brush and floss each and every crevasse to reduce tooth decay or staining of the retainers. My dental cleanliness was hardly ever superior than in those people a long time. When the course of action was completed, I permitted myself to smile overtly devoid of hiding driving a hand, held up to conceal my imperfections. I was flawed, since I could not be myself.

That was approximately 15 decades ago. My enamel have migrated back to their authentic positions since I’m much too lazy to use a nightly retainer and loathe waking up with dry mouth. I’m pressured to place on spectacles when I drive, as my eyes development toward presbyopia. 

Reading about Julie Chen’s conclusion to improve her visual appeal introduced back again these recollections of not becoming adequate. The mother in me, who now parents a youthful, blended-race child and inhabits a physical physique that has evidently offered birth, feels in a different way. Following childbirth, I couldn’t rid myself of the “mask” of being pregnant — the hyperpigmentation of brown places that bloomed across my cheeks and confront. Nor could I preserve a beautifully flat stomach. I had to find out to live with the aging of my overall body and its farness from strategies of perfection. These lessons were difficult won. And so, I wanted the younger information reporter’s tale to have a distinctive consequence. I preferred her to hear the information that she did not have to adjust herself to come to be beautiful to some others.

Just one of the more revolutionary conclusions of the exhibition designers of In which Natural beauty Lies was to adapt an regular hair-drying station taken from a elegance salon into an audio set up. The piece is ideal knowledgeable when sitting beneath the dome of the hair dryer. In the 1990s, I dried out a lot of periods beneath identical apparatuses just after struggling through also lots of chemical perms that would quickly shock my stick-straight hair into mimicking the soft waves of my white and Latino classmates. Beneath the dome, recordings collected and blended collectively by Kamna Shastri looped voices and tales from the general public. Women confessed messages about beauty that they read from their mom and dad, peers, other women of all ages, and gentlemen, though expanding up. Values that harm and shaped the grown ups that they would come to be. I emailed the artist audio clips drawn from my very own memories but couldn’t bring myself to sit in the chair, even nevertheless she experienced also asked for positive messages of what I wanted to hear instead, what I may say to myself now. What would I say to a younger Julie Chen? You are valuable. You don’t have to change on your own for any individual.

Further more alongside into the galleries, I wrote this textual content to grace the partitions:
Feminine attractiveness ideology puts forth the significance of bodily attractiveness and venerates criteria of unattainable splendor. It mandates pursuit of a perfection that is only unreachable, due to the fact natural beauty beliefs change and evolve with each generation. These messages distort the mirror of who we are and develop extensive-lasting harm. 

We may believe that ourselves to be flawed, like general performance artist Susan Lieu’s mom. Lieu wrote the a person-woman present 140 Pounds: How Beauty Killed My Mother to inform the story of her mother’s death from a botched plastic medical procedures. 

The exhibition as a entire is an unnerving physical exercise in addressing the self. And that is the context in which I consider of Susan’s monologue about her mom, Phuong Ha. With out the mirror of the mom, our 1st product of femininity and attractiveness, we attain into our consciousness to analyze exactly where our early beliefs about elegance arrive from. Ha died when her daughter Susan was 11 a long time aged. Susan expended decades investigating her mother’s killer, who did not have clinical insurance policy and experienced 24 lawsuits towards him for botched plastic surgical treatment. Ha went into respiratory arrest all through elective operation for a tummy tuck, nostril reduction, and chin implant.

It is in the ultimate area of the exhibition, which collects together illustrations or photos of blended-race natural beauty, that an graphic of my copper-haired son Tomo hangs on the wall. The photograph was taken throughout a lighting take a look at for a shoot with a local section retailer. 

Blended-race persons have a far more assorted genetic make-up and also confront a intricate lived practical experience inside a culture that generally involves picking a one identity. By aligning with only one id of origin, racial complexity gets to be minimized via “passing.”

Not like me, my seven-calendar year-previous son passes for extra than one ethnicity. But when we are with each other, his Chinese options, which echo my individual, are unmistakable. During the relaxation of his daily life, I stress that my son will be fetishized for his abnormal visual appeal, whilst also enduring microaggressions for staying a redhead and for getting ethnically Chinese. On the receiving finish of combined messages about elegance, I concern that he will experience equally objectified and turned down by well-liked notions of attractiveness. Like Flawless Kevin observing himself absolutely, I want my son to embrace what I have observed so difficult — to glimpse outside of the superbly lit image of himself to understand his own perfection.


Shin Yu Pai’s essays have appeared in Atlas Obscura, Yes! Magazine, City Arts, Tricycle, KUOW’s Seattle Tale Venture, Seattle’s Little one, and ParentMap, and new function is forthcoming in Seattle Met. She is the author of many poetry guides, such as her new assortment, Virga.

📸 Showcased Image: Illustration by Taylor Yingshi.

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