REPRESENT … Or Not

I walked into a room of women. All ages. All shapes. All sizes. All smart. All talented. All gifted. All beautiful. But I can promise you, there were a handful there looking around questioning whether or not they belonged; whether they were young enough, skinny enough, fit enough, smart enough, cool enough, or pretty enough. I can’t pretend I wasn’t one of those women but there’s comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone.

I have struggled with self-worth and self-confidence as long as I can remember. The roots of these issues deeply embedded in the images of the media growing up and the societal standards of beauty and success that surrounded. At five years old, I desperately remembering wanting to be Barbie; at nine, I wanted to be Cher Horowitz of Clueless; at thirteen, it was Britney Spears. Beautiful, thin, blonde, and white; that’s what I thought the standard of a beautiful woman was growing up! From my toys to what was on TV, white American culture was depicted as the standard of success and beauty. And while there were some exceptions to the rule, they were few, far between, and often unrealistically portrayed by media.

As a grown woman, I am acutely aware of the implications of the statement I just made but it is what it is. I am not racist; the majority of my friends are indeed white and I marvel at all of the things that make each of them beautiful, intelligent, and talented. But that is the not the point; this isn’t a post on racism or how I was disenfranchised because I am a minority. This is about the REPRESENTATION or the lack there of that creates a skewed perception of what is reality for those of us who don’t fall into the White majority.

Truth was growing up, I never saw women who looked like me on the covers of magazines or TV: Asian, Filipino, brown skin, short, and athletic but definitely not skinny. What I looked like was not the standard of beauty portrayed to me. Asians were reduced to stereotypes in media: maids, delivery people, nail techs, and nurses; and yes there may be some truth engrained in those stereotypes, it isn’t the full picture. After working along side the women of Melanin Magic, I know that this truth wasn’t limited to just Asians; Hispanics and African-Americans have also been deeply misrepresented and stereotyped by society and media. Thugs, hood rats, gang bangers, chollos/ chollas, domestic servants, angry; the list goes on for how the world depicts black and brown women in the world we live in. To deny it is sheer ignorance.

To become more than the stereotypes minorities are pigeon holed into, we must adapt and play the majority’s rules. We have to work twice as hard; we have to be pleasant and place nice even when we are low key or even blatantly insulted. A white woman I worked under referred to me as “non-threatening” because I am Asian. At a conference I went to, another white woman naturally assumed two beautiful Muslim girls in hijabs to not be American born and immigrants. A former supervisor I had took the verbal abuse of a client though she wanted to retaliate, she sat silent as not to be “the angry black woman.” This is our reality; and yes, while we have made some stride in equality, it isn’t where it should be considering it is 2019.

But we can take comfort in the slow but steady progress in the world around us. I am grateful to be living in a time where people are beginning to question the societal norms and where representation is becoming more and more diverse. I am grateful to have television creatives like Shonda Rhimes create casts that are truly diverse where the lead protagonists are strong people of color; or to have shows like This Is Us on the air where when a white family adopts a black child are confronted with real racial issues of identity. I am grateful to live in a time where the conversation is changing and there are more people willing to listen. The world will never be perfect but we can only roll with the tools we are given to make really change. Question is: are we going to remain complacent of the status quo or are we going to stir some sh*t up in hopes of progress?

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