By: Jingmei Zeng
As a woman born in China and raised in the United States, I was exposed to the seemingly impossible beauty standards of both Western and Eastern countries. The stereotypical image of a blue-eyed, blonde Gigi Hadid look-alike suddenly appears when term ‘beautiful’ comes up in America. In China, pale milky white skin and large doe eyes that decorate a small, slim body is praised by beauty magazines and social media. Beauty is what everyone wants to achieve. The superficiality of beauty increases popularity and dictates our social circles. People conform to groups that contain beautiful people and idolize them. The twisted image of beauty advertised in social media has caused many painful efforts made by young women and men that were made in vain. Similar to a rose, beauty standards hid its vicious thorns of detox teas, whitening cream, eating disorders, and surgery.
Growing up as an Asian American, my appearance did not go unnoticed by my classmates during the elementary, middle, and even high school. My eyes were different, my nose wasn’t as finely shaped, and I definitely did not have blonde hair nor blue eyes. When we were young, my classmates made fun of my appearance and culture, as little kids do. They thought they were funny by pointing out how small my eyes were, and they didn’t know how out of place and embarrassed I felt when it was brought to attention. In your typical term of ‘beautiful’ in America, I struck out in every category. As I grew up, I became a competitive swimmer and an equestrian. My shoulders and arms thickened with muscle as a result of being a butterflier. My skin tanned nicely from the hours spent outside at the barn and my body shape became stocky. I felt good about myself for the first time. I was strong, healthy, and tan. I felt like I was slowly starting to touch the first bars of the beauty standards in America. However, that’s when I discovered the Eastern beauty standards through Chinese and Korean dramas. The ‘beautiful’ girls in those dramas were the complete opposite of how I looked. They were pale, delicate, and petite. I felt that just as I was starting to reach the beauty standards of one culture, I had to start all over again. I felt that I had to be all of them all at once. The opposing beauty standards of both cultures tore at my self-confidence and ripped it to nothing. I didn’t feel so good about myself anymore, and I certainly didn’t think I was beautiful.
In the midst of my unhappiness, I tried unhealthy ways to conform to the beauty standards of both American and China. I didn’t want to look stocky anymore and I didn’t want my muscles. I wanted to be slim and wear oversized sweaters without looking like a sack of potatoes. I restricted myself to a small portion of meals a day, and at times I would starve myself for a day or two. I wanted to shrink my waist size and wished for my torso to be longer. I thought about detox teas, but I didn’t want to deal with the consequences after doing some research. I started to learn how to put on makeup and grow out my eyelashes. The process through this temporary transformation was where I felt the most unhappy and uncomfortable in my body. This body wasn’t who I am and I hated the fasting. I didn’t know how much harm I caused to my body as well as my mentality. I just wanted to be beautiful, just like those models, actresses, and singers that were being shoved in my face. They taunted me everywhere I looked, and I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere close to how they looked.
Halfway through my junior year, I went through my first breakup and heartache. I went through the typical stages of a breakup, but something positive came out of that. During that year, I have discovered a K-pop group called BTS. Their message lifted my mind out of the fog and allowed myself to appreciate my appearance more. Their message was to love yourself. Love who you are because there is only one copy of you in this entire universe, and no one else can replicate it. I stopped starving myself and started to regain my muscles again. Instead of makeup, I created a skincare routine that would boost the health and appearance of my skin. I may not be supermodel worthy, but I realized that I am pretty. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most beautiful person on the planet; if you’re not happy with yourself then what’s the point of conforming to those beauty standards? The artificial happiness that comes with conforming to beauty standards does not compare to being truly happy with yourself. I slowly became comfortable in my own skin again, and I shaped myself to my own beauty standards. To this
day, I still struggle with self-confidence and how I look compared to other young women around me. I’m still working on being happy with my own beauty and I have to remind myself not to compare to the constant changes in beauty standards portrayed by the media. Don’t change yourself for someone else, and start loving who you truly are.
(Header Image credit: Pexels)