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As Told By Me

Updated: May 22, 2023

Society often projects assumptions and stories on women without knowing them, so we’re taking the narrative back. For this shoot, we started conversations about how the society’s perception impacts how we view ourselves and whether or not society’s assumed story line ups with our own. Spoilerthey don’t.

Kelly Liang
Woman with harmful words written on her body

Growing up, I felt a bit isolated since I was always the only Asian person in my classes. Because I knew how terrible it felt to be lonely and isolated, I always did my best to treat others kindly to those that were excluded in group settings. I felt good knowing my interaction with someone had made them feel comfortable when they felt too shy to reach out to other people. However, there were always people perceiving my good intentions negatively. I started hearing people call me “fake” or a “people pleaser”.

This really impacted my self-esteem and forced me second guess my actions of being forward towards others. Although I knew what people were saying behind my back, I knew I had pure intentions and was doing it out of the goodness of my heart. This helped me regain my confidence in myself and continue my efforts to be a person that others could count on. Despite all of the things people may say about me, I know the way that I viewed myself was more important than anybody else’s could ever be.

I am a first generation Chinese-American. I was born and raised in the mid-west after my parents had immigrated from China. I had a difficult time growing up in a dominantly white neighborhood since there was very little diversity in my schools and the media. It made me resent my culture because I was so different from everyone else and made me almost resent being born Chinese. I remember praying that I would one day wake up as an “American”: blond-haired, blue-eyed, girl-next-door.

Woman with kind words written on her body

However, I started gaining more appreciation and love for my culture once I had traveled back to China and saw the beauty of being Chinese. My family’s constant support has also made me into a strong, caring person after seeing all they had left behind and sacrificed to come give me a better life in America. This fueled my drive to work hard and be compassionate and caring towards others as a Registered Nurse. Because of their sacrifice, I am able to live my dream and take care of others.

Luisa Macer
Latina woman with demeaning words written on her body

I realized the disconnect early on in high school and throughout college. People would assume I was “American” simply because I did not fit their perceived stereotype of a Mexican woman. I wasn’t dark skinned, I had no accent, and I carried myself in a mature way. Well what is a Mexican woman supposed to look like or behave? You combine these elements and it created a trigger for me to become an advocate for my community. 

The media can help the community understand diversity is more than just different races, its different perspectives.  “Thought” diversity is often overlooked, but it serves a purpose when you are the only woman in an all male-roundtable. Minorities, immigrants, and under-served communities have stories to tell and the media has the platforms to allow those stories to flourish. 

At a very young age, I had an interest in trying on mom’s clothes and would eagerly anticipate a weekend mall trip. Growing up with three older sisters, it was hard not to be a girly-girl. But don’t get me wrong, you can easily also find me in sweatpants and in a bun about 90% of the time. My Instagram highlights my everyday life: the good, the bad, and the funny. I like to live in the moment and hardly say no to an adventure. I am also a total foodie. Most of my adventures have revolved around trying a new restaurant or supporting a local business wherever I go.

Latina woman with kind words written on her body

Traveling allows me to experience new places and cultures, and teaches me each time about how much there is to learn about the world. My life revolves around my husband and family. They are my support system and without them, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I believe in karma: what goes around, comes around, so I strive to put out good energy and be a fearless leader in the community.

I have a story to tell and being the only child out of my siblings to pursue a college degree, I know that I have a responsibility to my family in not being another “statistic”. College taught me how to use my voice to stand up for those who can’t. It pushed my boundaries for what I was capable of and I learned to never let a “NO” stand in my way. Persistence has been key in my professional journey and to always keep breaking the glass ceiling. 

Arria Woolcock

I am unapologetically an independent, Black woman with a heart of gold. I have so much fire, some people can not handle it. Sometimes, I can be misunderstood until you get to know me. I have a hell of [a lot of] flaws, but I turn those flaws into flawless lessons. Through social media, I have realized people really believe I’m a stuck up bitch on social media.

I am a Leo woman that takes no bullshit from people. My energy is not for everyone. I love to create and inspire others; it helps with my anxiety. I guess I give [a type of] energy, but I am a very down to earth person. Once they actually meet me they think I’m hilarious and cool.

Sunnih Flores
Asian woman with harmful words written on her back

Representation is getting better, but why does being Asian have to be so hyper-sexualized? I’m glad to see Asian recognition through K-Pop, but it seems to be the same hyper-sexualization for men that women are portayed as in Anime. People can have preferences, but are you reaching out to someone because you like them or because you think they will fit your idea of a K-Drama character?  I’m excited for when we progress past the “token Asian” trope.

Colorism is also still a huge thing; even within our own ethnicities. By Ali Wong’s definition I’m “Half Jungle Asian & Half Fancy Asian” with my dad being Filipino and my mom being South Korean. I don’t see a lot of solidarity between different ethnicities.

I used to put a lot of value into what people thought of me. I was in a strange paradox of wanting to blend into the beige tapestry that was Kokomo, Indiana while also being recognized for any possible accolade. I realized that what sets me apart is my personality and how I can put someone at ease in an unfamiliar situation.

Asian woman with kind words written on her body

My best friends either went to Stanford, or pursued engineering or pre-med. I didn’t even take AP Chem, and it wasn’t until these people, I was healthily competing with my entire life, sat down and told me what my strengths were and how we were excelling in different ways. Their love for me really has no bounds and it comes from enjoying who I am, and not what equation I can solve for them. When I became an orientation leader the things that I had resented before were put to use in a productive way. I was no longer emotional, I was empathetic. I was no longer bossy, I offered intuition to those starting a new chapter in their lives and adapted it to their needs. I have always seen people for who they are and what they could be, if they want to be. I am guided by my motivations to ensure justice and equal opportunity for everyone. To eat, you have to have a seat at the table, and my goal is to make sure everyone’s invited.

Camrynn Phillips

It’s hard for me to pinpoint when I realized the disconnect between how I am perceived and how it made me feel. I think the only thing that really sticks out is this idea of me “acting white.” I’ve heard it since at least middle school and it’s never necessarily bother me in-regards-to who I am, but rather the stigma and stereotypes that are associated with what it and what it means to be black...Black women hold VERY few roles [in the media] when they are in a place of power. We’re perceived as masculine rather than strong and feminine. Give black women better back stories than the same played out single/abused mom archetype. It’s rare that I see someone that looks like me, or the people I grew up around, being portrayed as successful and happy in the media.

Woman with harmful words on her back

I think it’s hard, especially at this point in life to separate what you believe people think of you and what you think and hope to portray. Very few of the things that I believe people think of me, have I actually been told. I self-reflect a lot and think about the message my actions might give off as well as my explanations for them. Each individual needs to look within themselves and pay more attention to how you perceive someone that fits a certain narrative in your head. We need to accept that we all have biases and stop ignoring it and acting like we don’t. We need to observe those and figure out what has led us to that mental path. Think about how our experiences and who we surround ourselves shape our perception of others.

I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by such diversity, specifically within my family, that every aspect of me has been influenced by the different people who I’ve surrounded myself with, but I’ve always fit in somewhere. I’ve always understood that everyone is “different” so I’ve never truly felt “different,” or like an outcast because I’ve always known that’s how it supposed to be. And my “differences” have always been celebrated or just seen as a-part of me.

Woman with kinds words written on her body

I’ve actually grappled with this concept [who I am] for years and will ask people to describe me because I have no clue who I am or how I’m perceived. I just do whatever feels right to me and am constantly trying to be the best me each day. I’m not sure what that makes me. I can say I’m a creative and I’m outspoken. I’m willing to risk major things in life for what I believe is right to me. I’ve given up the path into forensic anthropology a year before I was supposed to finish, to focus on and study the fight for civil rights. I’m a giver and a lover. I hope to be a light and inspiration in other’s lives whenever they need it.

Emalee Culpepper

In my late teen years and early twenties I realized I was very passionate about topics pertaining to the presence of injustices in minority communities became very important to me. When I wanted to share that knowledge and passion with my family, I was completely shut down. That’s when I started to realize: when they said I was “wrong,” “inconsiderate,” or “too much”, it wasn’t because they were right about me, I was just making them uncomfortable.

Woman with demeaning words written on her back

To this day I make them uncomfortable. They know I will not stand by and listen to their micro-aggressions because I have always called them out. Those few years were rough, but it just solidified all of the knowledge I have gained about minority groups and their injustices are completely valid and true.The media has mostly made women out to be soft without a strong voice, submissive to a male figure—and I hate that. Although I don’t mind being loving and caring, I will never be suppressed by someone else. So, when people come across women like me who are loud and I am willing to be the only woman in a room full of men and address them directly, or I say when someone has hurt mine or someone else’s feelings, they don’t know what to do with us, so they call us names. We are aggressive and loud or defensive and rude.

I’m a second time student. Ex sex-trafficking social worker. Ex teacher, and soon to be Cosmetologist. But I have an even bigger slew of backgrounds. Raised in an average all white household but surrounded by people of color my entire upbringing, with a chosen family being all people of color. I recently married the love of my life, and we have battled our way to visibility and validity together. Because myself, and the people in my life are in a minority group, and I am majority-passing, I use all of my voice to defend them and stand up for them. I have always been branded as bossy, rude, or argumentative when it comes to topics that involve minorities. It was hard. It was hard to feel like I couldn’t ever say the right thing or have the “right” level of passion.

Woman with kind words on the front of her body

I realize now that I am not bossy, argumentative and rude. I’m intelligent, reasonable and unapologetic. Going forward in my life, I will have to work to let go of the idea that I am too much or that I am impeding on others when I stand up for others.

Instead I have adopted the idea that I am working toward a world where people see each other for human beings, and see that we deserve equity and quality of life. Universe willing, if I have a daughter, she will know that she can be a badass, she can have a strong opinion about someone controversial, she can share her feelings openly, but she can also be kind and caring and those two things are not mutually exclusive.


Photographed by Amanda Debusk

Makeup: Moriah Justin (@moriahjustin)

Studio donated by: James Napier

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