Blonde hair and blue eyes. I wanted to be the carefree Aussie surfer chick with the wind in her salty hair and freckles splashed out on her cheeks. That’s what I was taught beauty, popularity and likeability looked like. I’d watch the main characters in my favourite Saturday morning TV shows with their dazzling, glittery lives and pretty, White features and wish, maddeningly, that I was one of them.
And when the screen turned blank, I was left staring into the reflection of myself. All dead black hair and slanted dark eyes, I was the antithesis of everything I was told was desirable. As a Chinese girl born in Australia, being othered and grappling with my cultural identity added another level of confusion and frustration growing up.
So, whenever anyone mistook me for being half White, or told me my eyes were wider and lighter in colour than the average Asian, or pointed out the flecks of light brown in my hair, I would bolster with pride. These insidious compliments only cemented what I already knew: that to be worthy and to be beautiful meant I had to be White.
Internalised (and external) racism chips away at you. It’s covert when kids pull at the corners of their eyes (see why we don’t like the fox eye trend?) or laugh at your sideburns. But it’s also overt when you realise that you are constantly unconsciously looking for faces like yours in the media.
I’ve only lived a couple of decades but I’m glad to say that my relationship with myself and my culture has changed completely. I’m not afraid to say that I wholeheartedly, unashamedly, unconditionally love myself. And I know that’s rare in a system that thrives off undervaluing and profiting off women.