Updated: May 22
I was sitting on the cold, wooden floor of my dance studio in the summer of 2006, chattering with my dance team friends before the meeting was about to start. My dance teacher gave us a signal, and we all hushed and darted our attention to the guest who had just walked in: Celine*, a “stage makeup expert” who had come in to give us tips and tutorials on how to apply stage makeup. My teammates and I opened our almost-identical makeup kits that were mandatory to purchase for the tutorial, and Celine began.
As the other girls were swiping shadows and blending layers across their creased lids, I realized that the swift, crescent shape that I was instructed to make had an adverse effect on my lids; my monolids were not becoming more defined — they were being diminished. When it was time to put on the copper gold lip color in the center of our lips to give it a pop, the shade we were required to wear didn’t compliment skin tone as it did for the others (making it, um... “pop” with another vowel in there). As Celine continued to instruct a uniform “one shade fits all” method, I realized I was not what the standard beauty market catered towards, and it was the first time that I questioned whether my beauty was standard at all.
As a Korean-American with first generation immigrant parents, I feel that it’s somewhat ingrained in our DNA to long for large eyes, porcelain complexions, and slender frames. I truly can not pinpoint a moment I never had those standards playing on repeat in the back of my head whenever I darted away from the sun into the shade, or bought a pair of lashes to give myself an extra confidence boost.
High school Christina absolutely hated being tan. I can not explain why or how this happened, but there was something about being in the sun, about tanning so easily that made me uneasy. On top of this internal and inexplicable self-hate for being tan, I grew up in a super sunny area among mostly Caucasian friends, whose paleness I envied and who were always envious of the shade I would turn while they doused themselves every summer with oil.
Aside from my shady sun-timents, I had monolids growing up, and let me tell you — explaining what monolids are to your non-Asian friends when you, your sister, and two other random girls are the only Asians in the community is something that never gets old (cue the monolidded eyeroll). Wearing false lashes for dance competitions and recitals was a moment — this little strip of fake hair somehow doubled my eye size and gave me a crease, something I couldn’t naturally achieve. It was like a super power wearing false lashes; I could finally be on the same playing field as the other girls — at least with my eye size.
These two physical insecurities can seem to be just that: adolescent insecurities. However, the fact that it is completely normal in Korean culture to get double eyelid surgery as a high school graduation gift, because double eyelids were a sign of beauty, is telling of the ingrained beauty standards we’ve somehow abided by as a society. The arm coverings, the face visors, the globs of SPF (don’t get me wrong, please wear your SPF!) has become so normalized in our upbringing that anything darker than a shade of “Bisque” or “Ivory” or “Olive” is frowned upon.
Good news though — the standards are changing.
In the bigger scope of the community, beauty is changing drastically and monumentally, as we learn to celebrate every face and body. However, this is a change that takes time, as it has definitely hit Western culture quicker than it has in Asian countries. Plastic surgery is so normalized that you can get something nipped or tucked during your lunch break and recover in a week, TOPS. The unhealthy obsession with looking a certain way goes further, with idols and pop stars who strive for “perfection”, whatever that definition may be. Though the Asian community has made progress in comparison to that of years ago, there’s still a long way to go.
For me personally, I can unfortunately admit that I still struggle with my skin tone, my makeup application, and my appearance as a whole. As I’m getting older, it’s a little less about the tan shade that I get from the sun; instead, it is the idea of being protected by the sun with SPF. My eye shape is something I’ve grown to love, and still accentuate with false lashes or lash extensions from time to time, but I try to look at it as an enhancement than a missing piece of my appearance to meet the “standard”, whatever that may be. I will be the first, and surely not the last, to admit that I have not mastered a properly beat face, even though I’ve had years to learn and practice.
Sure, I can attribute it to lack of interest or skill, but for the most part, it’s mostly due to the fact that I can not find many beauty artists who look like me. Off the top of my head, I can not even think of three influencer/creators who look like me that I can learn from, and that is an issue in itself. This is why representation is extremely important across all platforms, so if you’ve ever been nervous to share your art to the world, just remember that there might be a younger version of you out there waiting to be shown that they can do it because YOU did it.
*Names have been changed.