Dear Gigi Hadid… (Inspired by Chloe Bennet)
Recently, Gigi Hadid was seen in an InstaStory video with a Buddha cookie seen below (video from 0:37 to 0:43)
I am not one of the model’s 29.5 million+ fans, but the short clip got me thinking.
I grew up wishing for blonde hair and blue eyes; instead of the dolls and stuffed animals that topped every other kid’s list (that I knew of), I wanted blonde hair and blue eyes. I wanted an Anglo-Saxon sounding last (and middle) name; I wanted to fit in; no matter how hard I wished, no matter how tightly I closed my eyes or how long I had a conversation with whatever powers that be, I woke up every Christmas disappointed. In other words, had Gigi Hadid been a prominent model in the 90’s, I probably would have wanted to be her when I was 7. (This was before I was aware of the existence of colored contacts, bleach, and hair dye, which, surprisingly, I never used. Maybe it was because I saw the results of many of my Japanese friends’ failed attempts to turn themselves into blondes, which led to the realization that dye was not a magic substance that could disguise my black hair for long.)
Those same kids I idolized for looking like walking dolls also pulled the corners of their eyes and told me it was just a “joke.” As I got older, the “jokes” turned into pushing, shoving, and spitting (among other things). Those “jokes” escalated into what I know now as casual racism. I would always be torn between laughing it off because it was a “joke” or swallowing retorts. I would smile to their faces and cry within the safety of my home, where no one else could see, hate myself for my heritage, and wish one of my parents looked different. I didn’t care which one, I just didn’t want to look so Asian. I couldn’t control what I looked like, what my parents looked like, and I hated myself for it.
Every time I tried to express my discomfort with these so-called jokes, I was brushed off; the words I usually heard were “too sensitive.” These words were usually punctuated by more than a few eye rolls, sounds of disgust, or people walking away from me. Eventually I was so terrified of being called “too sensitive” that I settled on silence; I figured that no matter what I said or how I said it, I would still be taken as too sensitive, particularly on the subject of Asian-ness.
I didn’t feel like anyone took me seriously; I felt like a doormat that people just stomped on as they trailed mud through the house. I was always waved away, dismissed, like I was insignificant. I even heard a classmate say (obviously thinking I wasn’t in earshot), “She’s Asian, she won’t care.”
I grew up hating myself and my heritage, suppressing everything and anything that could brand me as different. Part of the reason I hated myself was because I would look at the American mass media, and find no one who looked like me. YouTube wasn’t a thing yet, so I had no Michelle Phan, Ryan Higa, or any Asian-American figures in the public that I could look up to (until I realized that there was an Asian-American newscaster on my local news several years later.)
I was suppressing so much pain from being laughed at, for having my heritage be a thing that everyone laughed at, and I have sadly grown used to the reality we live in.
I am now proud of my heritage (and the language ability I acquired) but it took me more than half of my life to get there. I have to constantly remind myself that I am no longer a 5-year-old girl; I still look at pictures of you and your friends plastered across glossy magazines and I still feel self conscious even though I consistently work out, eat well, and am aware of the fact that those covers are often Photoshopped and don’t contribute to an accurate representation of the female body.
Watching the Instagram Story (which was brought to my attention by Chloe Bennet,) I was in pain, even if it wasn’t physical. As she so brilliantly said,
“This does not make you a bad person or racist, however, it does make you ignorant to the pain that your actions can cause others. No matter how unintentional those actions are. And, even if it was just “a joke”.
I see the young girls around me, some of whom are my family, idolizing you and your friends. I overhear them saying things like, “I wish I wasn’t Japanese; I wish I was half” while staring at pictures of you and your friends in magazines and I’m reminded of how self-conscious my heritage made me feel. I see those same girls looking at Instagram, and using some of your posts as “fitspiration” and limiting their calorie intake, not because that’s what’s best for their body, but because they want a set of abs like yours. These perfectly beautiful girls look at themselves in the mirror, and all they see is imperfection. They use Instagram as a tool for comparison, a way for them to see everything about them that is wrong instead of appreciating everything that they have.
I do not want my future children thinking that it’s okay to use people’s heritage or other cultures as the butt of “jokes” regardless of whether or not their intentions are harmless. I do not want my future daughter to look at Victoria’s Secret ads (or any ad in a magazine, for that matter) and think that she’s ugly for not having her desired physique (or that she has to make herself sick to achieve it). Like it or not, these things have occurred-and continue to occur-in the society in which we live. As a beautiful young woman with power and influence, it can be easy to think your actions are harmless. However, even the littlest things can have a resounding impact.