Why Would A Model Feel Ugly?

The desirability of Asian men

Jen Kim
Jen Kim
Jul 26 · 7 min read

“It’s time that we, Asian men, define masculinity for ourselves.” — Michael Benzinger, Actor and Producer, Korean American Adoptee, New York City

For me, it happened in an instant. Years before we were treated to the shirtless Henry Golding, Chris Pang and Pierre Png in the crazy box office success Crazy Rich Asians and Randall Park’s shoulders in Always Be My Maybe, I had my moment on May 23, 2014.

Just another day working at The Metropolitan Museum of Art changed my life and world view in an instant right at the Information Desk in the center of The Great Hall, where fellow Korean American Adoptee David became my new standard.

Why had I not been dating Asian guys before that moment? That’s a long story for another time, but today I want to commend Kevin Tae-jin Kreider and the creators of the documentary THE UGLY MODEL.

From the outside, Philly based Korean American Adoptee and fitness model Kevin Tae-jin Kreider seems to have it all. Yet since childhood, he has always felt second best as an Asian male in America. THE UGLY MODEL examines the paradox of a handsome male model who feels ashamed, ugly and emasculated because of his Asian ethnicity in America.

“By telling Kevin’s extraordinary story through the powerful medium of film, we aim to raise awareness of the effect of stereotypes on individuals like Kevin, dispel those stereotypes and empower other Asian men.” — Bianca Kuijper, Producer, Korean Adoptee and Also-Known-As, Inc. Board Member

The New York City premiere is tonight, Friday, July 26th at 6:30 p.m. as an official selection of the Asian CineVision Asian American International Film Festival.

Cast and Crew Q&A afterwards will be moderated by Comedian and Korean American Adoptee Ed Pokropski:

“THE UGLY MODEL and Kevin Tae-Jin show the pain and often times, anger that comes with feeling like “the other”. Doris Yeung as a director does a great job showing her subject with an even hand. As a Korean Adoptee myself, I could really relate to a lot of what Kevin was expressing.”

I talked to Kevin and other men who are Korean American Adoptees and here’s what they had to say:

“Growing up I had no examples of Asian men in traditional, masculine roles. All I heard was that I was not attractive to women. We need to see Asian guys as sexy and romantic to help the next generation of Asian males, like my son, see that Asian men can be desirable.” — Andrew, Teacher, West Palm Beach, Florida

“Some may dismiss this topic as ‘M R (male rights) Asians,’ but they’re missing the mark. We need these spaces to re-define healthier ideals, lest we reinforce the toxic masculine culture.” — Chris Detrych, Korean Adoptee and President, Korean Adoptees of Chicago (KAtCH), Chicago, Illinois

How did the idea of making a documentary about your experiences come about?

Kevin Tae-jin Kreider: “I spoke at an Adoptee event and mentioned this YouTube video I did with Jeremy Lin about breaking the stereotypes about Asian masculinity. We thought we were going to do a web series, but Bianca introduced me to her friend Director Doris Yeung, and she thought it would be more compelling to make a feature documentary on the effects of feeling emasculated and what I’ve been doing to help other Asian men feel like they belong just as much as any other race.”

“As an Adoptee, there sometimes occurs a collision between internal identity and how society perceives me. I’m looking forward to seeing how THE UGLY MODEL may touch on it.” — DISQO VOLANTE, technojazz musician, Washington, D.C.

“The Asian Adoptee experience is complex and often erased or unexamined, so it’s important that Asian male identity is fully considered, attractiveness, desirability, self-esteem, and sexuality included.” — Lee Herrick, Poet, Author, Professor, Fresno, California

“The opportunity of being seen and heard as bold, confident and masculine will help empower (Asian men) to embrace who they are in the face of stereotypes and misperceptions. For Kevin to use his own truth and personal experience as a platform to elevate this community is both admirable and of great consequence to our identity.” — Jacob Kennedy, Director of Security at a global insurance company, Brooklyn, New York

How has being an Adoptee factored into your view of yourself and your ethnicity?

Kevin Tae-jin Kreider: “It’s given me a gift to have both perspectives of the white and Asian communities. As an Adoptee, we have access to thoughts and ideas that Asians who weren’t adopted don’t have. It’s unique that people see us as whitewashed differently than Asians who do similar things to assimilate to white culture.”

“How many times have many of us heard ‘He’s pretty good looking…for an Asian guy’? Too many to count, and always said without a trace of irony or awareness that it is not a compliment but an insult. Hopefully this film can serve as a view into the passive dismissal of the Asian male for those who don’t realize the stigma of being considered less manly because of that and being viewed by society as an afterthought.” — Andrew McDiarmid, Toronto, Canada

“Growing up as an Asian male in America I thought I was alone in my deep belief of being flawed or ‘less than’ as a person. I so desperately wanted to be liked or considered attractive but was full of self-loathing. Later in life while navigating relationships, that old childhood desperation resurfaces in spite of career success, achievement, or physical attractiveness. That deep insecurity of being flawed emerges and cripples confidence, the very thing that most induces desirability. And thus the search to find better ways to overcome this destructive belief is needed.” — Luke McQueen, Singer/Songwriter, Seoul, South Korea

“As an Asian American Actor and Adoptee, this documentary really relates to me well. Hopefully it will keep representation moving forward in a way I didn’t have growing up.” — Nick Messersmith, Actor & Stuntman, Iowa City, Iowa

Has making this film changed how you see yourself, and if so, how?

Kevin Tae-jin Kreider: “Before the film, I did a lot of soul searching, recovery work, and my own reflections to feel attractive and confident. The challenge was to reopen pains I experienced in the past. Tapping back into the anger was challenging butI was able to use that energy and fuel it into my own personal development and career and being of service to the Asian community…a community I once turned my back on and now find so much belonging in.”

“The question of Asian American masculinity is especially poignant for Adoptees. At a young age, we can experience a lot of acceptance and integration into mainstream America, and the reminder that we’re Asian can be sudden. It can be quite a surprise to realize limitations imposed on us due to things we don’t even have cultural context to understand. On the other hand, it is also natural as Adoptees for us to question and challenge the established pecking order. We’re used to not fitting into people’s expectations and pushing forward anyway. So it’s almost natural for an Asian Adoptee to confront Asian American male stereotypes so directly and on his own, even though it is a long and difficult journey.” — Mike Mullen, President, Also-Known-As, Inc., New York City

“This film insightfully adds to a much needed dialog. My struggles as a mixed race Adoptee with fitting in and defining my American identity are now writ large as our society in general is struggling with defining what it means to be American and who belongs and who is accepted. This film is timely and fully on point.” — Joel L. A. Peterson, award winning author of Dreams of My Mothers, La-Canada-Flintridge, California

“I purposely never wanted to get super muscular because of hyper masculinity views in the West but at the same time it was very frustrating and sometimes sad not being seen as the ‘ideal man’ based off of western standards.” — Nathan Reft, Los Angeles, California

What is your message to future Asian children of the future?

Kevin Tae-jin Kreider: “Embrace your identity and what makes you different. Instead of trying to change everything about you on the outside, such as your appearance, possessions, houses, cars, clothes, and even your partner, to make you feel valued and accepted, change what’s going on inside.”

“Everyone should feel understood in their own skin. I’m glad this film exists and wish I could have watched it when I was younger.” — Jon F. Jee Schill, Minneapolis, Minnesota

“The existence of a documentary like THE UGLY MODEL highlights the severe lack of positive representation Asian males have in the media and popular culture. It also signifies, to me, a shift in the right direction — towards awareness, discussion, and change. Being an Adoptee adds yet another layer to this already complex issue. This documentary gives a voice to a specific identity that is seldom heard from.” — Ricky Song, Merchandiser and Product Stylist, New York City

“This work is important to all of us. Western society needs to see that these toxic stereotypes about Asian men were never based on reality.” — Spencer Stevens, USAF Veteran, St. Louis, Missouri

Thank you to all who shared their thoughts, and to the filmmakers for creating a vehicle to change perceptions, create understanding and continue the conversation…

“It’s great that we are starting to see a wider variety of Asian-American men in the media, like Harry Shum Jr, BD Wong, Osric Chau, Christopher Larkin and more.” — Michael Benzinger, Actor and Producer, New York City

Jen Kim

Written by

Jen Kim

Film, Event and Festival Producer, Writer, Korean American Adoptee

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