CHANGE MY RACE
Before watching the documentary, I suspected that my ideals and sore spots would be exposed.
Anna Choy, a Chinese Australian TV presenter and actor, presents ‘Change My Race,’ takes us on a provoking journey about race and beauty. We follow five young Asian Australian women who conform to the western ideals of beauty. The documentary explores various questions about beauty, race and cultural identity as Australians.
You’re pretty for an Asian” says a bloke in a bar.
Just like Anna, I have my own share of such racial and complimentary insults. While not malicious it states that we are ugly in the first place. Why can’t one simply say, “You’re pretty.”
The most painful moment is watching a 17 year old Vietnamese girl being pressured by her parents to go under the knife. Her parents deemed her to be ugly and shaped her to their ideals of beauty. They made her undergo botox treatment, ensuring that her features be like a westerner: bigger eyes with double eye-lids, higher-bridged nose and a sharper chin. In the end, it wasn’t enough for the parents, her looks have slightly improved but she could be “more beautiful” they said. Her father begins plans for Kathy to undergo more drastic and permanent alterations.
If I ever become a mother, one of the things I will do is to regularly tell my daughter or my son that they are beautiful.
My relative touches my elder brother on the shoulder and compliments him by saying “So handsome and so tall. Look at your white skin” and then our father goes to me “how come you’re so black.”
Skin whitening or bleaching is one of the fastest growing segments in the beauty industry. By 2015, the expected market value worth would reach $10 billion dollars. The documentary highlights the story of Dominique Maber who was bullied as a child for being dark and different. To give herself a false sense of confidence, she lightened her skin to fit in.
I remember visiting Vietnam where my relatives encouraged me to wear long sleeved clothing and said “you don’t want to be black!” Having dark and tanned skin in Asia is synonymous of being to a labourer and leading a life of poverty. Beauty, for many Asians, is connected with how light your skin is. If you ever visit Korea, you will find beauty shops littered on the streets. What amazed me was that half of the shops are dedicated to skin whitening products. Even the advertising and promotions shows models with a western and light-skin look. It doesn’t matter that half the time, that the look has been photoshopped.
Many Asian and other cultures would put themselves in harms way to have snow-like skin. There is a stigma attached to being dark. Most cream sold in the marketplace contain dangerous compounds of steroids, hydroquinone, and tretinoin which has long-term health effects like skin cancer, liver damage, mercury poisoning and more.
My relatives points to by elder brother and excitedly exclaimed: “So handsome, what tall nose you have.” They look at me and said, “It’s a pity that you have the typical small and flat nose.”
Both men and women have undergone extreme lengths to be less Asian and be more Western looking. Anna Choy visits the infamous ‘Beauty Belt’ in Gangnam, South Korea. Over 500 cosmetic surgery clinics are found in this world leading plastic surgery spot. What’s more alarming is that one in five Korean women have gone under the knife. In Korea, if you don’t fit the ‘Baby-doll’ look you are considered at a disadvantage and fall back in society.
Cosmetic surgeon, Dr.Joo Kwon said bone-contouring or ‘face slamming’ is one of the popular cosmetic surgery request. Translation; many are changing their face to fit the ‘Baby-doll’ look. We just have to look at the KPOP phenomenon to see the manufactured look. KPOP stars have normalised the ‘Baby-face’ look: big eyes, high-bridged nose, narrow jaws, also known as the V-face.
There is a growing a trend in Australia for de-racialisation comestic surgery. There are Asian Australians who have travelled overseas to look more Western. It’s a lot cheaper to go to Thailand, Vietnam or South Korea then do cosmetic surgery in Australia. Which is exactly what had happened to a young Thai adoptee based in Queensland. She believes that she doesn’t fit into the curvy feminine looks and by having large breast implants would change that. On a personal level, I have close Asian and non-Asian friends and family who did the same, they believe bigger breast are more appealing. They think small breasts equates to looking like a young girl.
While going overseas I often been told that I sound Australian but I don’t look like one.
Similar comments have been regularly featured in Change My Race, it then raises the question about cultural identity but specifically what does it mean to be an Asian in Australia. Young girls and women featured in the documentary have experienced alienation and longing to fit into the western society.
Having a Scottish mother and Chinese father, we shadow Anna as she grapples with her own personal demons. She shares with us her personal story and insight of being a Euro-Asian, her concerns of being a mother with a mixed-heritage daughter, being accused of not being her mother’s daughter, how thoughts on alienation and being plagued with identity crisis as Australian. I can relate, it sucks to feel like you don’t’ belong here.
What’s more interesting is that the presenter herself unconsciously showcases her thought and desire to be a ‘White Australian,’ in a way she fuels the stereotypes that to be Australians, you need to look Caucasian.
Australians can be all sorts of colours too
Which brings up the question: what does an Australian look like?
In today’s society we are supposedly a multicultural society, yet as I continue to explore this issue I noticed the discrepancies in our attitude and thinking. There’s a consensus that ‘Australians are Caucasian’ and that we have to fit the stereotype of beach-loving and flag-wearing people, such a view is out-dated and somewhat nationalistic. I know many white and non-white that are willing to challenge that stereotype. People from diverse backgrounds who have either taken up Australian citizenship or are born here have the right to be regarded as Australians.
The documentary is part of a growing conversation about cultural identity, race and racism. Overall, it saddens me to see these beautiful young women who felt the urge to alter their appearances to feel more accepted by society.
*Written and thoughts shared by Suzanne Nguyen
You have till the 17th of December to watch it on SBS Demand. Click here to watch the documentary.