On Body Thoughts & Being a Banana / by Anita Cheung

About a month ago, I was invited to be a part of my friend Alexa's latest Body Thoughts project- a video and photoshoot in collaboration with Death To Stock. Initially, I was hesitant to share this video as I believed I sound like a world class ditz (ending sentences in a question drives me NUTS and I can’t believe I do it so much), however, I’ve reconsidered as there is one statement I feel needs to be heard.

 

“Sometimes I wonder if the world takes me seriously.”

 

Being the trifecta combination of female, short, and a person of colour (also young-er although youth is relative so I’m leaving that one out), I often feel that I not only get passed over on a professional level, but I also stick out like a sore thumb in certain settings.

 

Growing up, I always wanted to be something I wasn’t. Not unusual for the typical angsty teenager; however, it was mildly concerning that not only did I wish I was skinnier, prettier, and taller (typical), but I also wanted to change things about me that simply couldn’t be changed. I wished my eyes were rounder and bluer, my hair blonder, and the bridge of my nose higher. I was explaining to Rob the other night how all the YA fiction books I read in my formative years would have a vast array of descriptions for girls with “flaxen hair”, “golden hair”, “eyes the colour of the ocean”. Heck, I’d take “mousey brown” over what I got- which was no representation at all. I think 12 year old Anita was over the moon when she read that Harry Potter had a crush on an ASIAN CHICK.

image via pinterest. 

image via pinterest. 

They say you can’t be what you can’t see. And what the adolescent version of myself was seeing was a message, loud and clear, that “Asian” was not beautiful. At most, it was fetishized. And being a teen girl, all you want is to be beautiful.

And so I rejected my culture in any way that I could. I dated white guys, did “white girl” things like join sororities, and started to forget my first language. I worked multiple jobs in university so that I could afford to do the things that my peers were doing because my parents surely couldn’t pay for it. I was ashamed of the percentage of ethnic friends I had over non-ethnic, and was always self conscious whenever we went out for fear of being labeled “that group of Asian girls”. I proudly wore the title of being a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) and I made it very clear and apparent that I “wasn’t that kind of Asian”- whatever that meant. I didn’t want to be lumped in with “hongers” (people from Hong Kong) or “fobs” (people from Mainland China). I’m a CBC- which makes me above all that. (Side note: navigating the generational and cultural divide as a CBC is a whole other story for another day.)

Fresh off the Boat- aka my life growing up. (image via pinterest) 

Fresh off the Boat- aka my life growing up. (image via pinterest) 

I distinctly recall a particular conversation with one of my good friends in university- also Chinese. I was explaining to her that a parent always wants to be able to provide the best for their children and in our case and in this world that we live in, with the messaging that we receive, what is “best” is “white”. I suspected that in some weird subconscious part of our CBC brain, dating and marrying Caucasian, is to “breed the Asian out” because it simply doesn’t fit into Darwinian’s evolutionary theory to do otherwise. (Also, there are no portrayals of sexy Asian men in the media so that’s a thing too.) I still can’t believe those words came out of my mouth and it chills me to think that at one time I passionately stood behind that belief.

The #starringjohncho movement= so great. (image via http://sbs.com.au) 

The #starringjohncho movement= so great. (image via http://sbs.com.au) 

 

I wish I could say that those feelings all ended when I grew into adulthood. Despite the fact that Vancouver is a relatively multicultural city (and some will argue it’s WAY TOO FULL OF CHINESE PEOPLE), there are still times where I feel like I don’t belong. I didn’t grow up with family cabins or friends with family cabins- my parents were immigrants who barely spoke English, my dad worked two jobs to give my sister and I a relatively normal childhood. I didn’t grow up listening to Journey or watching movies like Dazed and Confused- I watched Asian soap operas instead (along with The Simpsons and Friends because, you know, #CBClife.) I’ve met people who were shocked to know that I had never heard such and such song or seen such and such movie because it’s a “cult classic” and something they grew up with. How does one explain that it simply wasn’t even on my radar?  I personally don’t think it should be my responsibility to “get caught up”- as if my upbringing wasn’t good enough so I have to make up for lost time. 

 

Back to this video. When I talked to Alexa prior to the shoot, she mentioned how she wanted stock photography to appropriately reflect the rising shift in demographics and culture. I shared with her that I know some photographers who refuse to take photos of Asian people (or ethnic people in general) because they aren’t conventionally beautiful enough for their portfolio (or their instagram likes). Pair this with the recent conversations about whitewashing in Hollywood and it looks like, and sounds like, 11 year old Anita’s fears are still true- that there is one, and only one, “look” for beauty.

 

My hope with sharing this video and Alexa’s movement is that this will begin to change. I know the wheels are already turning (exciting!) and I would love for generations to come to grow up in a world where this discussion is no longer needed.