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No matter what their background is, everyone has struggled with beauty standards. But when it comes to Asian-Americans there are two standards at play: Asian standards and American standards. Take a look at stars like Priyanka Chopra, Constance Wu and Olivia Munn who have spoken out against both Asian and American beauty standards, and got candid about the pressure to meet both.
Asian-Americans are often stuck between two worlds: their Asian side and their American side, and beauty standards are one example of how these identities often struggle to coincide. Ahead, hear from a handful of Asian and Asian-American celebrities on how meeting two cultures’ beauty standards is a never-ending battle.
In a 2014 interview with Mochi Mag, the Teen Wolf star talked about how she was offered a talent deal in Korea—if she got plastic surgery to meet the country’s beauty standards. The surgeries included work on her lips, neck, jawbone and about 20 other procedures. Cho ultimately decided to turn down the offer, choosing to pursue an acting career in America instead.
“I didn’t fit the standard of beauty in Asia. They wanted me to get a lot of work done,” Cho said. “Not just one or two things, I’m talking, like, 20… Nose, eyes, hairline, lips, cheeks, jawbone, neck, legs, everything.”
In a 2018 interview with Us Weekly, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D star talked about her experience with non-Asian makeup artists and how, more often than not, they want to erase her Asian features instead of highlight them. Bennet, who is half Chinese, slammed stylists who wanted to “open” her Asian eyes.
“I really like accentuating my Asian features and the the almond eye shape that I have. For a long time, a lot of makeup artists would try to open my eyes really wide, and I felt like I didn’t look like myself and like it changed the shape of my face,” Bennet said.
In 2017, Wu wrote an essay for Allure about her experience with not meeting Asian beauty standards in Singapore and Malaysia, where she filmed 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. She specifically recalled one moment when she walked into a skin-care store and where they were hawking skin-lightening creams to lighten her freckles and darker skin. She explained that in Asia, darker skin was a sign of the working class—something Asians often don’t want to associate with. Wu disagrees.
“When I was in Singapore and Malaysia filming Crazy Rich Asians this past summer, I’d go into skin-care stores, and there would be all these skin-whitening products,” Wu wrote. “The salesgirls would push whitening products on me and try to fade my freckles. This comes from an old Asian cultural idea that dark skin signifies being in the fields and working class.”
She continued, “But I’m an American, and Americans are proud of our working-class roots. It signifies our heritage, and that’s not something to hide. I’m not a white translucent tulip. I’m the granddaughter of Chinese bamboo farmers, the daughter of immigrants, the sister of an ultramarathoner (who runs for hours… in the sun!), and an American. I like my freckles and my natural skin color. It’s who I am.”
At the start of her broadcasting career, Chen was pressured to get eyelid surgeries to make her “Asian eyes” look less “disinterested” and “bored.” “My secret dates back to—my heart is racing—it dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio,” she said on a 2013 episode of The Talk. “I asked my news director over the holidays, ‘If anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in?’ And he said, ‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.”
She continued, “He said, ‘Let’s face it, Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that, because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, sometimes I’ve noticed when you’re on camera and you’re interviewing someone, you look disinterested, you look bored.'”
Chen, who is Chinese-American, heard the same comments when she was looking for an agent. In her search, she recalled one agent who suggested eyelid surgery. “This one big-time agent basically told me the same thing. He said, ‘I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger,'” Chen said.
Eventually, Chen gave in and got the surgery. But she doesn’t consider it a denial of her Chinese heritage. No one’s more proud of being Chinese than I am,” she said. “And I have to live with the decisions I’ve made. Every decision I’ve made… it got [me] to where we are today, and I’m not going to look back.”
Like Bennet, Munn has also struggled with non-Asian makeup artists who try to hide her Asian features instead of highlight them. In a 2017 interview with Byrdie, the actor, who is half Chinese, talked about how that experience changed when she started working with celebrity makeup artist Patrick Ta, who changed the way she viewed makeup and her Chinese features.
“Over the last year, I actually started working with Patrick Ta, who is an Asian-American makeup artist, and that’s when I really appreciated how makeup can transform you in different ways,” she said. “You know, being multi-ethnic has always been difficult with makeup artists and hair artists, because one little thing can drastically change my face. I had one makeup artist for the Entertainment Weekly Pop Fest, but then I worked Patrick a week later at the CFDA dinner in New York; and if you put those pictures side to side, I look drastically different.”
The actor also called out makeup artists who assumed that makeup would look the same on her features as white celebrities. “I’m Chinese and white, and I actually have more of a Chinese bone structure but more white features, and little things completely transform my face,” she said. “Like putting shimmer in the corner of my eyes can make me look cross-eyed. There are some people who can wear any makeup style, and they will look beautiful. But for me, I can see drastic changes. Like when I work with other makeup artists, sometimes they’ll do the same thing to me that they’ve done to a lot of white girls, and it doesn’t work. They don’t understand that rimming my eye in black will just make it smaller.”
She might be considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, but Chopra isn’t immune to beauty standards in India, which view fairer skin as more beautiful. “I was very conscious of the color of my skin,” Chopra said. “[In India] you’re prettier if you’re fairer,” she told Vogue India in 2017.
Chopra’s insecurities were so bad that she even used skin-lightening creams as a child to lighten her darker skin. “A lot of girls with a darker skin hear things like, ‘Oh, poor thing, she’s dark,’” Chopra said. “In India they advertise skin-lightening creams: ‘Your skin’s gonna get lighter in a week.’ I used it [when I was very young].”
A turning point came when Chopra was cast in a commercial for a skin-lightening productand realized that there was nothing wrong with her skin. What was wrong were the beauty standards. “I did a commercial for a skin-lightening cream. I was playing that girl with insecurities,” Chopra said. “And when I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh shit. What did I do?’ I started talking about being proud of the way I looked. I actually like my skin tone.”
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Canada, Mitchell, who is half-Filipino, often wanted to hide her Filipino features. She wanted her skin to be fairer and her eyes and hair to be lighter. “When I was younger, I really did not want to look like myself,” she told PopSugar in 2016. “I didn’t want to have tanned skin. I wanted to have light eyes. I wanted my hair to be light. I wanted to look like my friends.”
She went so far as to dye her hair blonde and used colored contacts. “All of my good friends growing up were blond-haired, you know, had light skin, fair complexions, and these beautiful light eyes,” she said. “I truly just wanted to fit in with them.”
Now, Mitchell realizes her mistake and wishes that her teenage self would have embraced her natural beauty, instead of trying to hide it. “I wish I could tell myself then to celebrate more of my natural beauty and what I was born with, instead of trying to be something I’m not,” she told StyleCaster in 2017. “But look, we all go through different stages where we’re trying to figure out who we are and what we want to look like. Ultimately, it comes down to celebrating your uniqueness and not trying to conform to anything else. Be proud of who you are and what you were born with.”
In a 2018 interview with Glamour, Mizuno, who stars in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, talked about how she often saw herself as ‘not enough’ because of the predominantly white neighborhood she grew up in. “For most of my childhood, I grew up in the countryside of England where it was very suburban—there weren’t a lot of people who were multicultural like my family,” Mizuno, who is British, Japanese and Argentinean, said. “It was a place where the blond and brunette girls in school were considered gorgeous. And because of that, I remember feeling like I wasn’t good enough. But as I got older and experienced the world outside of my hometown, I started seeing more people like me. Now I don’t compare myself to anyone. I look the way I do, and I totally embrace that.”