All my life, I’ve been told I’m black. 這一生，我一直被說是黑。
Days after I was born, my cousin took one look at me and said, “she looks like a piece of charcoal.” Growing up, I’ve been asked often, “Do you drink too much soy sauce? Is that why you’re so black?”
All my life, I’ve been told I’m black. What critics mean is that I’m tanned, but in Mandarin it literally translates to the word 黑 hei, or black. I wouldn’t have an issue with it if it didn’t come with a gasp. Or an inexplicably loud voice.
Let me just preface by declaring, you may think this is racism. And in many ways, it is. But I’ve had more than three decades to analyze this, so here’s the real deal: Back in the day in Asia, a person’s darker skin tone was indicative of where he/she sat on the social hierarchy. Darker skin belonged to those who worked in the fields all day. Manual labor jobs. Agricultural families. In contrast, someone with tanned complexion in Western cultures meant he/she was frequently on vacation, laying out in the sun.
Ever since we immigrated to America in 1991, we returned to Taiwan every summer. For two months, my mother patiently drilled in my head that cultural differences regarding beauty standards do not define how I should perceive myself. I’m 36 years old now, she was (literally) still consoling me last week. At our neighborhood Christmas party, a man came up to my mother and said to her while pointing at me, “I never know if she’s the older or the younger daughter. I know she’s the black one.”
Asians prefer pale porcelain skin. So I’ve been taught to shrug it off. Remain demure and elegant. I nodded my head and smiled (as I imagined whipping his head with a baseball bat.)
In the Western world, my skin tone has a different name. “Tanned” in English, and even more color-codedly precise in French: bronze. Try saying that with a Parisian accent, brohnnn-zeh. Sexy as hell. When people wonder why I choose to live in Paris. Need I say more?
My physical traits haven’t gotten an easy ride in the States or in France either. As a late bloomer, I was always secretly envious of girls with perfectly perky breasts. I would’ve KILLED to look amazing in a sports bra. In fact, just last month in Paris, I was sitting around drinking wine with a few buddies. One of them turned to me and said, “I know what kind of plastic surgery you would want to get. NEW BOOBS!!” I sat there, carried on the conversation as if nothing had occurred. I went home that night and wondered how long I could continue to take the high road.
Should I go into those days when I don’t wear an ounce of makeup and some of my buddies come up to me and ask, “Where are your eyes?” Wait, is this about beauty or racism? Please, enlighten me.
As I fly on the plane, traversing mostly between Europe and Asia nowadays, I’ve gained a secret superpower which I still haven’t fully acquired. During those 13-hour long plane rides, I mentally condition myself. Like an athlete training for the Olympics. If I’m heading to Asia, I calm myself before the storm of criticisms shooting at me from all directions, from random angles: strangers at markets, the airport chauffeur, my favorite aunt! If I’m flying to Europe, I condition my mind with the same mental warm-up, just for a different game. Most importantly, I protect my soul as my body parts get picked apart in open conversations: “This is testing how strong you are.” “Remember to take the high road.” “Stay classy.” “They don’t mean any harm.”
Except, I don’t want to take the high road anymore. Because I know I’m not the only one stung by decades of judgements. In fact, I know ALL women feel the same. If you can’t relate, well then, good for you.
A Different Kind Of Beauty series was conceived under the notion that beauty standards may vary (or remain the same) around the world, but somehow we – powerful, accomplished, smart, BADASS women – have been criticized for the same: you’re too fat, you’re too short, you’re too dark, your eyes are too small…if one more sentence starts with “you’re too.” How about, you’re just right!
Here’s the thing: we are all just right. We are all beautiful. It took me a very long time to truly, wholeheartedly comprehend such a narcissistic concept. But it’s true and I won’t apologize for it. So let’s repeat. WE – BADASS WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD- ARE FRIGGIN BEAUTIFUL. This particular #JetsetBeauty video series, which kickstarted in Bangkok involves women from a selected culture, discussing criticisms they’ve faced under the pressures of beauty standards. But the most important part of the video series, is what each woman does to make herself feel beautiful everyday. Just smile, as Satika (or DJ Mendy Indigo) says. It’s the cheapest makeup ever!
Because that’s the real lesson here. Stop judging yourself. Stop bullying yourself. Who cares about what others think. It’s about what you think and how you strut. As a woman, as a kind human being.
CEO/Founder, Jetset Times