Asian Persuasion.

Living as a semi-expatriate for twelve years, I find it extremely fascinating listening to the opinions of westerners concerning Asians; specifically, Asian women. I've asked a hefty number of guys the first thing that comes to mind when I say Asian women, and the general consensus seemed to be either "exotic," "sexy", or "femme fatale." Secretly, I was laughing inside; this response would've horrified my elders. First, a little background: in most of eastern Asia (by that, I'm narrowing the pool to China, Taiwan, HK, Japan, and Korea, I've only traveled to those countries so far), the stereotypical teenage girl is decked out in Hello Kitty, any popular European athletic brand (Adidas, Puma, etc.), and does not usually flaunt her body shape. It makes sense; along with a history of cultural "prudence" and reservations, the public influences girls by deeming sexy as whorish, while being very "ke ai" (cute) is encouraged. Sometimes to a point where I have to rack my brain to understand why girls think this kind of stuff is fashion.A sad attempt at luxury during the SARS epidemic. At least we can't see the rest of her outfit.
However, I've noticed that Asian fashion is literally an ocean apart from Asian-American fashion, and I appreciate the latter much more after summers surrounded by Sanrio and razored haircuts that half resemble mullets. First generation girls are experimenting with style very successfully, in my opinion, and these femmes chics can be found nearly everywhere these days, whether west coast, east coast, or in between.

Soho, New York--amazing curves for an Asian girl. Source

Seattle--should I go into detail about the fantastic juxtaposition of plaid and wool, or can you figure it out for yourself? Source

Then, why is it that there is close to zero representation for Asian or females in American media? I bet I can name five African-American celebrities before anyone else can think of with one Asian celebrity. But then again, perhaps due to certain gross examples of Chinese actress Bai Ling, Americans' perceptions of Asian women are slightly misconstrued...

Patent leather leg warmers. Always a winner.

By my count so far, she's flashed her nipple probably... oh, 5 times now? There's a reason she's dubbed the Chinese Paris Hilton. She also claims she wants to die while having sex because she loves it so much. This is one classy broad. Source

Thank the pillars of Babylon that there's a plethora of classier Asian figures in the public to make up for her noxious but also hilarious attempts at dressing herself. Note the following; here's to betting a month's worth of shopping allowances that you haven't heard of them before, unless you're Asian or a diehard fan of la mode.

Ai Tominaga, a supermodel from Japan. 5'11" (a literal giant in Japan where girls are, on average, about 5'4"), walked all the major shows in Paris, Milan until she had a baby. Gorgeous face.

A more famous figure in the western world right now: Zhang Ziyi. Known for her roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, and Memoirs of a Geisha. (Stereotypical Asian roles though, I wonder if she can play anything other than a kung-fu master.) Currently the muse of Giorgio Armani.

Du Juan (left) and Hye Park (right), seen all over the runways in NY, Paris, Milan. Du was Miss China 2002, and Hye is actually a Korean-American from Salt Lake City. They're finding success all over the industry, with YSL and LV campaigns for Du, and a Roberto Cavalli ensemble ad for Hye. These two gave a running start these couple of years for rising Asian models.

Zhou Xun, one of the most famous actresses in China currently. Miuccia Prada featured her, with fellow Chinese actress Dong Jie, to star in Miu Miu's Fall/Winter '06 campaign. Also on my banner!

The point: with more Asian-Americans living in the U.S. and Europe, the pace with which Asian public figures are rising doesn't match the growing population. Girls are made to feel inadequate because what they see in Vogue doesn't fit with their body type and doesn't incorporate their heritage at all. Some can't wear eyeliner because some girls are born without eyelid creases (a very common characteristic on the other side of the Pacific), but every other page in the beauty section of American magazines teaches the fundamental principles of applying mascara, and you better follow those crucial directions step-by-step, lest you remain celibate the rest of your natural born life. Or move back to Asia.

Vogue China, Sept. 2006--Vogue China, Nippon, and Korea are making progress by actually starting to feature Asian models on their covers, but still insist on complying with western standards of beauty (as repped by Gemma and Sasha). Maybe Du can have her own cover one day?

When a magazine proclaims a pectorially well-endowed model on the cover, Asian girls--who have naturally slender frames, and therefore, no curves--can spend their time agonizing over their "shortcomings" (although I hope we're smarter than that). Beauty can be blue-eyed, curvaceous, yellow, biracial, alien. It's daunting, because African-American women are still struggling to appeal to American society, so as an even lesser thought-of minority, the Asian community is even more obscure. But still, I don't think it's too hard to ask for equal representation when there are 12,500,000++ Asians currently living in the U.S. alone, not counting Europe. Casting directors, Hollywood agents, Anna Wintour... take note.


Danny said...

Keychain, this is by far my favorite post yet. It had heart, it had meaning, I guess it had it all.

Mill said...

My experience of asian women( I spent 3 months in Southeast Asia) is that they do wear beautiful clothes and they look very stylish and sexy. The big difference is that they don't try to be sexy, they just are. There are none who's showing to much skin or are wearing to short skirts...

And by the way, my absolute favourite among american/asian celebrities must be Lucy Liu!

Haute Girl said...

very interesting and thoughtful post. i think both african american, asian and asian-american women are underrepresented in american media, especially positively. i think asian-american women have incredible style and i am always inspired by their looks. maybe the media will eventually sit up and take notice.

coco said...

Ai Tominaga looks so cool in that picture. great post.

alluretone said...

i'm asian myself, korean to be exact, and i'm obviously in the 5'3 range. hye has it so lucky! ai tominaga really does have a gorgeous face, she has really defined cheekbones! haha i think the movie industry should consider putting asians in roles where they aren't playing a role in some kung-fu movie. although i loved watching luvy kick ass in charlie's angels. i know sandra oh played a sexy role in sideways and that one girl that harry had a crush on harry potter.. hmm radcliff is so fine. "Secretly, I was laughing inside; this response would've horrified my elders. " haaa so true.

be glad to trade links :)

Candid Cool said...

well written post.
i loved that picture from face hunter.

Anonymous said...

pam = DOOFUS!!!
cool blog :]

Teresa said...

Ooooh this post rings so true to Asian females. It's like, the stereotype is either Asian females are slutty (example: bai ling and the vietnamese prostitute from Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket) or we're cute and carry hello kitty bags well into our 30s (example: billions in China). I love how Dujuan and Hye and Han and the new wave of Asian models are stomping their way into the runways, and into American media as well, but it doesn't help that in my school, asians are so discriminated against, they are automatically stereotyped in every single possible way.
And I linked you already, mmhmm, this blog is interesting.

Maddy said...

I despise Bai Ling, thank god she's not nearly interesting enough for any tabloid's cover, because then I would have to pull out my own eyeballs. And we all know that wouldn't be pretty.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

Good job with the blog, it's lovely. And cheers for the post. I'm Indian (subcontinent, that is) and it's odd how deficient so-called 'Western' standards of beauty can make girls from every race feel. Indian women are, by and large, short and on the curvier side of things, but over the last ten years there's been this trend involving blonde highlights- which looks TERRIBLE on most girls. I wish they wouldn't try looking more 'white'- it makes me sick. At least the coloured contact lenses trend died out.

Emily Lin said...

What can I say?? Amazing post it is... like the way u make statements to asian... I'm a asian too, from Malaysia. Back in Malaysia, women here have improved their style, but still they are many girls who're wearing "ke-ai" [cute] outfit which I don't understand too.

By the way, awesome blog. I like it :)

Ming_the_Merciless said...

Bai Ling is Asia's contribution to the world of Paris Hilton.

Aside from Ai Tominaga (who peaked 2 years ago), and Hye Park and Du Juan, there are also (Hye Jin) Han from South Korea and (Tan Man) Ling from Malaysia (who peaked in 2001).

At this year's NY Fashion Week, Hye Park, Du Juan and (Hye Jin) Han are three of the most popular models on the catwalk.

But the first Asian model to rule the catwalk is Ling.

mareGa said...

I think Asian women are beautiful. Its a shame that they're being underrated.

ambika said...

Very interesting post with lots of great points. Minority women, as haute girl points out, are underrepresented in general in the states. And when they are, they're almost always over-sexualized. It's depressing but anyone with a brain (especially those in urban centers where interacting with minorities is a part of life) knows the reality is far from what's presented in the media.

Konstantine said...

You're so right about how most Asian girls dress (in asia). I'm not a fan of Bai Ling at all, but I really like Lucy Liu and Lisa Ling.

curiositykiller said...

Burberry mask. Very original. LOL

Yes, I can definitely relate with this post. I'm asian -- British-born-chinese-canadian-american (I know, but I'm chinese enough) Anyhow, I'm relatively "overweight" by asian standards but I happily carry my weight in curve hugging european designers. Mais c'est la vie, even if I wear a tank top I'm being sluttish.

Being "classy" is more important than being happy in the asian cultlure. Worse off -- asian women are expected to be thinner than north americans. Asian boutiques carry their clothes one size smaller than north americans. It's sad, but true.

I like to shop in Europe and North America FAR more than Asia. The girls in Asia are toothpicks and pale and look like they're drying up from lack of fatty acids.

The Fashion Economist said...

Very well written blog post on an interesting topic. My experience from being an exchange student in Bangkok is that Asian girls are very consious about their looks, take good care of themselves, and are a lot more feminin than many western girls.
Hence, I'd love to see and learn more from them in the western part of the world.

Danny said...

Do you post them as links or upload the photo?

Tru said...

Lucy Luo (did I spell that right?) is asian....see I though of one...anyway cool post, its good to see another perspectieve on that type of fashion

.m. said...

aww cute cute cute post!!
thogh im not sure if bai ling should be included, she's not really doin much with her life is she

i was hoping you could add me to your blogroll: modelmisbehaviour.blogspot.com


-S said...

i'm surpirsed you didn't post about han, another asian model. she is right on top right now with dozens of runway shows.

NYC Fashionista said...

Han (Hy Jin) is an up-and-coming Korean model who has been getting a lot of notice lately. She was in more runway shows than Hye Park or Du Juan at the F/W 2007 shows.

But Hye Park and Du Juan still score most of the major advertising campaigns.

discothequechic said...

What a great post! Its very well written too.

I've only just got round to reading it in depth as its quite long.

I love Hye Park-shes stunning and shes one of my favourite models. But excluding Du and Zhang Ziyi I hadn't heard of your other examples of asian reps."

As for the cover of Chinese Vogue, I think its so ridiculous that there have to be two white, western, well known models gracing the cover before a native model can show her face!

S xx

Cool Like Chloe said...

great post!
very interesting and informative. i hate how people sometimes just think of asians as exotic or extremely sexy

Anonymous said...

i am vietnamese, born and living in Germany and I have been to Vietnam, HK and Tokyo so far. I love Japanese style and, anyhoo, I never thought I could ever look sexy and I am all into that loose fit thing (especially when back from Tokyo). Southeastasians may be more attracted to look more sexy but I really dismiss all that curves-and-tits-thing. you wrote: Girls are made to feel inadequate because what they see in Vogue doesn't fit with their body type and doesn't incorporate their heritage at all.
In my personal oppinion, I am more or less proud to be an Asian and look like it, although sometimes I struggle with it, but not because of myself, but what people see in me (i am NOT exotic! what the heck? am I a zoo pet???). I cannot expect the same kind of feeling from anybody (I mean, feeling good about oneself), but there is not much logic to the question of i.e. rather being curvy or asian-style-y skinny and curveless.
The fash industry celebrated the subtle sexyness and told us, it is not neccessary to show off too much flesh and curves to show one is a "real woman". then there was this 0-size-debate. And then there came Scarlett Johanson finally showing all her flesh and curves in full bloom and everyone was so happy to see. "girls don't need to be skinny to be sexy or pretty" or sth. so being skinny is ok. Or not. And having curves means you should show them off to prove you're confident and sexy.. oh I am not at all good in English, but did you get my point?
we should stay as we are because the world out there is so full of antagonism and you should really trust yourself in what you consider pretty although your image may sometimes get warped, and being Asian makes me rather feeling cool and unique (though only in Germany :)

Tok said...

i love asian culture and asian beauty and i've just stop buying vogue nippon because there never appeared asian girls! In Madrid i just only can buy vogue nippon and china, but Vogue china is better than spanish vogue!