Asian ActivismThe Beauty Treatment Issue

White-Adjacent Creams

By December 18, 2018 January 16th, 2019 102 Comments

By: Ashlee Cruz



“The Model Minority”

Isn’t it an oxymoron of a stereotype? Asian Americans have moved to the United States and have taken over as the highest earning salary … Asian men even earn more than white men.

As a first generation immigrant, I faced a lot of pressure to succeed from my family and even other immigrant families. But they all uphold you to one standard of success: being a doctor, working in finance, or marrying a rich Jewish dude.

My parents pursued the “American Dream” relentlessly since moving to American in 2000. But they’re still not making as much money as statistics claim… certainly they are not Crazy Rich™… just shedding their cultural identities trying to fit into the white suburbs of Houston, TX. Just trying to be the white adjacent, the model minority.

Asian women’s beauty standards reflect our white adjacent roles in the countries we immigrated to. Beauty standards often reflect a cultural zeitgeist, especially the ways in which women strive to be portrayed and how people in power control it.

Types of common Asian beauty treatments:

  • A detox tea is made of a laxative, most likely the herb senna. Although it can commonly be found in Asian supermarkets, these teas can contribute to bulimic eating disorders.
  • Others may use strict diets rather than exercise to lose weight. It is considered unfeminine to lift weights and gain muscle mass (even though women become toned instead of gaining muscle). Asian women are culturally discouraged from exercising, so they resort to eating less to reduce calorie intake.
  • Surgeries to create double eyelids or thinner, less flat noses.
  • Hair bleaching / coloring
  • Skin whitening creams are the most common and talked about in Asian beauty. It usually contains topical whitening agents (i.e. arbutin, hydroquinone, kojic acid, etc), which can be harmful if used during the daytime due to increased photosensitivity.
  • Skin bleaching pills contain glutathione, a naturally occurring antioxidant from your liver that reduces melanin production in your body. This is more dangerous than the last when used in high doses, because these pills can cause hormonal disruption, allergic reactions, liver damage, and cancer.

    Appealing to colorism via skin whitening treatments means being complacent in racism (by definition, discrimination because of skin color and race). Since pre-colonial times, colorism has existed as a form of segregation within Asian countries. Light skin was considered high class because it means you did not work manual labor. Because Asian skin tends to tan easily, this is an easy way to tell who is upper or lower class.

    Skin bleaching products a metaphor for Asian women striving to be white or white adjacent. Why are we detaching from our culture to appeal to whiteness? I think of Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Why was she trying so hard to fit into upper-class Yale life and culture—to a point of abusing her children for it?

    We are stripping ourselves sustenance through dieting, and we value our appearances more when we’re small, shrinking, and tiny. By following these beauty practices, are we setting ourselves up to be sidekicks to white women? By striving for whiteness, Asian women will always be considered secondary. We will never look like them… so why are we constantly trying to?

What are we chasing with these beauty treatments? We continue to follow these harmful beauty standards today, despite how much tan skin and curves are seen as a new beauty standard. Asian women don’t want to be adjacent to other races besides white, so we continue to strive for the “sidekick lewk”.

Women of color are never seen as the main character, often only portrayed as sidekicks or sexual interests without backgrounds or intent. This portrayal pigeonholes our existence to be Dragon Ladies or Lolita Schoolgirls whose intentions revolve around the white main character  (see: Every Asian girl in Kill Bill).

If Asian women (or WOC) break outside of that mold, it can be terrifying to the men that objectify us. We don’t belong to either category and are suddenly unknown and terrifying. Being outcasted by a society can be terrifying to some, especially if their goal is to become leaders within it. So Asian women fit themselves in that respective mold in order to get The White Boyfriend™, to thrive within their white boyfriend’s society.

At the end of the day… They will never completely understand us. We will never be them. If Asian women want to stop being a sidekick in their own movie, maybe they should start embracing their natural beauty.


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