You Are Beautiful…
Recently, I began working for Spylight, a fashion and entertainment company based in Los Angeles which, through web and mobile applications, is building the leading platform for monetization of Hollywood content — follow their blog here. In honor of this new position, I thought I’d lend my thoughts on a concept we’ve all come to know, love, and hate: The true meaning of beauty.
Unfortunate as it may seem, beauty seems to define a lot of who people are in this day and age, especially in the entertainment and fashion industries where ideals of who may or may not be “beautiful” lay rigidly inside a small standardized box. For years now, both media-entrenched environments have been challenging for anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘super-white’ standard– just take one look at Forbes’ list of highest paid models and you’ll see what I mean. Simply put, it’s no secret that women of color have much more difficulty working their way to the top, and though both industries have taken great strides in breaking racial barriers in the last couple of decades, there’s still a long, long way to go.
In a recent article for Vogue, Chinese supermodel Liu Wen opens up about her childhood in southern China where she of all people was not considered beautiful as a young girl. “People in my hometown seldom called me piao liang, because my smaller eyes were a far cry from the wide irises of the most beloved television actresses. Further, I was tall and awkward and tended to dress more androgynously as comfort was always my priority,” writes Wen. She was playfully given the nickname “Mulan,” as she blended in much more easily with her male counterparts. Yet, as she learned to ‘tower’ over her classmates, Wen seemed to happily accept that being “outwardly ‘beautiful’ was never in [her] destiny.” But being confident was.
In 2010, Wen became the first Asian woman to become the face of Estee Lauder’s global brand, and within the piece, she shares with readers her experiences about working in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the fashion industry was a lot less accepting of Wen when she first arrived onto the scene– the stereotypes of Asian women as dainty and submissive were still embedded deeply within the Western culture, and new depictions of “adventurous, assertive, career-oriented women” of color were difficult to embrace.
As one who has dabbled in the film and television industry for some time now, I, for one, can personally attest to the multitude of challenges Asian-American women are met with on a daily basis. From casting calls and cattle calls to call backs and actual on- screen representation, the industry’s knowledge of Asian-American actresses (and models) is, as Wen puts it, “quite limited.” On both personal and professional levels, we are met with racial barriers in every direction we choose to go, which, of course, does wonders to our confidence and self-esteem– usually not in the best of ways. I should know.
But what makes Wen’s rise to stardom so inspiring is that we are slowly (but finally) entering a time where individuals who do not represent traditional ideals of beauty can also become as celebrated and respected as those who do. There has certainly been a “profound change in perspective,” and for Wen, her big break in the industry is so much more than just a personal accomplishment, but an affirmation that persistence and confidence serve as reflections of our beauty.
What’s more is that difference and diversity, each individual’s own uniqueness– no matter how quirky or odd– seem to now be valuable assets for anyone to posses. For the fashion industry, people are beginning to understand that the definition of beauty “can encompass more elements than ever before.” In the creative industry, the boundaries between disciplines– whether it’s fashion, drama, music, or art– has become far more fluid, which in turn, has allowed for even greater works to be made and discovered.
Take New York fashion designer and Creative Director of Balenciaga Alexander Wang, for example, who in 2012 shocked the contemporary fashion world by not only becoming the first American (and Asian!) “designer in over a decade to run a heritage French name, but the first designer since the recession to attempt to run two houses.” In a recent piece for The New York Times, Vanessa Friedman talks with Wang, who in more ways than one, looks neither like a “lightning rod ” or “the boss of a storied Parisian atelier.” Instead, as Friedman puts it, he looks more like “a chirpy, black-clad club kid with a messy ponytail.” Yet he is a “facile juggler of brands, people and responsibilities,” a man who will change the prevailing wisdom of the fashion industry.
If we as human beings have learned anything, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Today, there’s no longer just one reason for respect and admiration, there is a whole bevy. I’m happy to be working at a time when profound changes are gradually occurring, especially in the worlds of entertainment and fashion. I’m blessed to be living in an era where a variety of cultures and heritages, as well as modern ideals such as independence and self-confidence, have become more widely accepted than ever before.
The time is now. Our time is now. Let’s get ready to change the world.