7 Asian Women Who Define Beauty for Me

I remember being called fat from a very early age and ‘fat’ became so much a part of my identity. Looking back at childhood pictures, though, I’m surprised to find that I was far from fat. I was mostly a lollipop mop of permed frizzy hair on stilt-like, bony legs. An informal Mochi survey conducted of Asian American female peers found that I’m not alone in feeling hyper-conscious about my body. 62% reported receiving pressure from family to lose weight or otherwise change their body. 

My parents always told me, “A girl must be beautiful. It’s unfair but it’s a fact of life.” I had no choice but to interpret this as, “No matter how well I perform in school or how hard I work at our family restaurant, I was worthless because I am fat. And fat is not beautiful.” As an adult, I have strived to be comfortable in my skin. After years switching between cabbage soup diet, Weight Watchers, low-carb, high-protein, SlimFast shakes, all of them failing the moment I stopped obsessing miserably over every piece of food I put in my mouth, I have finally come to accept and love my body as it is. I’m naturally bigger and taller, like many members of my family. It does not make me less beautiful, less worthy of love or respect. 

While I am lucky to know many beautiful women in my life who model beauty in all shapes, shades and sizes, media representation can be a different story. Nearly 80% of Mochi survey respondents said they are not happy with how Asian American female bodies are portrayed. Most stated a wish for a wider range of body types, skin tones, and more realistic representations in general.

By celebrating these seven inspirational women in media whose beauty, intelligence and spirit empowers me to feel beautiful, I would like to further change the societal discourse. What these seven brave women stand for defines beauty for future generations.  

1. “It's OK, I identify as someone who is cute and chubby – that doesn't mean I'm not worthy of love and attention and intimacy." Mindy Kaling
In Kaling’s second book “Why Not Me,” she struggles with being labeled an “unconventional beauty” by society. But as “unconventional” as she might seem to some, she is beautiful, brilliantly witty and incredibly strong to others — including me. She is most effective at chasing away my blues whenever life has me feeling down. A few old episodes of “The Mindy Project” will have me in stitches with her unapologetic love of breakfast pastries, daring (though it shouldn’t be) commitment to put herself first, and mastery at her job. 

After decades of conforming to rules demanding that I shrink into smaller spaces, accept unsolicited advice, and blend in when sometimes I want to wear bright fuchsia and mix crazy patterns with statement jewelry, she reminds me that I am not alone. Mindy is the glorious eruption of so much that has been repressed within me. She reminds me to be myself, to compromise less, to be brave.

Kaling’s highly anticipated film “Late Night” is receiving rave reviews. She can also boast of major upcoming projects at Netflix and Hulu. I can’t wait to binge-watch it all but I also hope she’s practicing self-care because I need her to keep working for a long time to come. 

2. “I don't want to have to act sexy. I just want to be me, and if I don't happen to be sexy, oh well. That's OK. I don't want to force something I'm not.” Charlyne Yi
Never underestimate Charlyne Yi. With her soft-spoken, quirky humor, she’s been punching with the comedy big leagues for well over a decade. Her impressive credits include “Knocked Up,” “30 Rock,” “This is 40,” “House,” “Paper Hearts” and the latest Netflix Original hit “Always Be My Maybe” co-starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. 

Her unassuming tenacity is a miracle to behold. I’m in awe of her ability to be herself always. She is the only person I know who shows up to red carpet premieres as if she was going to a Sunday dinner at her parents’ house. Over a decade of success later, she has not allowed herself to be tainted by the pressures of Hollywood. Charlyne Yi is as fascinating as she is hilarious. To me, she is the epitome of strength. Yi is a one-of-a-kind, beautiful turtle (see turtle impression on Conan) we should all celebrate.


3. “At the beginning there was a lot of fear, but I came to the point of knowing I can't be that fearful or let that fear traumatize me or prevent me from doing the work I want to do.” — Geena Rocero
Geena Rocero is a model and activist whose TED Talk, “Why I must come out” has garnered over 3.3 million views. Rocero has inspired me personally because she did not have to come out about being transgendered but she did in order to become an advocate. Rocero risked her dream career to go public to advocate for living a life true to oneself, lifting up millions in the process. As someone who is thriving despite my bipolar disorder, I also did not have to disclose my diagnosis but I chose to because it was the only way I could serve as a vocal advocate to remove stigma and discrimination. Rocero inspires me as someone who willingly gave up the privilege of ‘passing’: for me, as a person living with a mental health condition and for her, as someone who is transgendered.

Rocero now focuses her time at Gender Proud, a organization she launched to uplift transgender communities around the globe, with specific focus on empowering marginalized to advocate for their own legal rights. By sharing her story, Rocero has become a beacon that has improved thousands of lives, and countless more to come. 

4. “..[This is] my chance to increase visibility for disabled people...my chance to prove that disabled people are just as beautiful, attractive, and desirable as anyone else.” — Rajee Aerie 
Growing up in the US as an Indian woman with a disability, Rajee Aerie never saw herself represented in the media.  Years later, she seized the opportunity to change that by modeling for the inclusive lingerie brand, Aerie (There’s no relation between Rajee’s shared last name and company name, it is merely a coincidence). Rajee Aerie’s warm smile and the campaign went viral soon after it launched in the Summer of 2018, inspiring millions in the process.   

Rajee Aerie went on to write a powerful op-ed for Teen Vogue, stating:

 “Brands have the power to shatter stereotypes that have been detrimental to people with disabilities: stereotypes that say we are weak, broken, or in need of fixing. Those damaging myths must be unlearned, but all too often they're perpetuated by brands who won't cast us in runway shows or in ad campaigns...By including people with disabilities in ad campaigns and offering adaptive clothing, they're rejecting elitist beauty standards and dismantling stigmas that have plagued us for so long. Exclusionary branding no longer pays off: people want to feel valued, empowered, and represented by the brands they support.”

Bravo, Rajee. Bravo. Thank you for blazing the trail.

KMtran.jpg

5. "YOU ARE ENOUGH. Love yourself and embrace your messiness. That's where your power lies!” — Kelly Marie Tran 
Kelly Marie Tran was thrilled to land the breakout role as Rose Tico on “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” What should have been a triumphant period of celebration after the film’s release was instead a painful one because Tran was harassed online for months with unrelenting racist and sexist remarks, causing Tran to ultimately delete her Instagram account (hence no photo available for this story). But Tran had the last word in the form of an inspiring New York Times Op-Ed, “I Won’t Be Marginalized by Online Harassment,” where she strikes back at the haters:

“You might know me as Kelly.
I am the first woman of color to have a leading role in a ‘Star Wars’ movie.
I am the first Asian woman to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair.
My real name is Loan. And I am just getting started.”

Yaas, Kelly/Loan! Yaas! The Fierce is strong with you. 

6. “People say, 'You should let your hair out; you shouldn't be oppressed — you're not in Malaysia anymore. You should show your curves and be proud of it.' But I am proud — it's my choice to cover up my body. I'm not oppressed — I'm free.” — Yuna
If you don’t know Yuna, you should drop everything and go listen to her now. She is a Malaysian hipster powerhouse, now based in LA, who once described her own music as “a cross between Mary Poppins and Coldplay.” A self-taught singer, songwriter and guitar player, Yuna has released four international records and has collaborated with Usher, Pharrell and Owl City. There is so much to admire about Yuna. She is always impeccably stylish, effortlessly cool and unstoppable. Beyond her accomplishments in the recording arts, Yuna finished her college degree in law back in Malaysia even though her music career was taking off. She also designed clothes and scarves for her own boutique label and has recently ventured into directing. 

Yuna once said to Daily Magazine, “I want girls to know that equality exists in this world. You can do anything you want.”  Thank you for showing us by example every day. 


7. “I grew up never seeing myself on-screen, and it's really important to me to give people who look like me a chance to see themselves. I want to see myself as the hero of any story. I want to see myself save the world from the bomb.” — Sandra Oh
Sandra Oh needs no introduction. She recently made history not only as the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Drama but also as the first Asian person to host the show. And of course, she was a flawless, charming and funny host. Oh is on top of her game in the hit series “Killing Eve,” my obsession as well as that of millions of other viewers worldwide, which has been renewed for a third season. 

View this post on Instagram

Happy Canada Day All!!

A post shared by Sandra Oh (@iamsandraohinsta) on

As an immigrant from Korea myself, I have long understood the unspoken challenges and the dogged determination it took for Oh to pursue acting. To Marie Claire, Oh described her parents as “classic immigrants — they wanted their children to be doctors or lawyers.” I can imagine the countless fights Oh faced with her parents because I faced the same battles myself. But while I compromised, Oh did not. Against her parents’ objections, she paid her own tuition to attend the prestigious National Theatre School of Canada, launching her career. Oh forged a path despite all the pressure and, as a result, made history. At the 2019 Golden Globe Awards, she did not forgo the opportunity to thank her now-proud parents. Her courage, passion and strength are inspiring to me. 

----------------

I couldn’t possibly include all the inspiring Asian women fighting the good fight for better representation in the media, but these are seven that truly inspire me as everyday reminders of what beauty truly is. Who inspires you? Let us know in the comments below.