Category Archives: wider eyes

The Ideal Beauty

Catching up on my podcasts, I heard the most disturbing introduction on This American Life. (This post will address the first 8 minutes of the podcast.)

Teaching at a Korean high school for girls, a young American woman expressed her shock at the vagaries of the Korean teenage girl. While teens everywhere are preoccupied with their appearances, these teens were preoccupied with the ideal beauty they saw in the Western woman.

As I have mentioned here, I, too, wanted the large Western eyes.  So much so, I would paint liquid eye-liner on my lids to create a crease … a crease that these young Koreans want so badly that they undergo plastic surgery. My obsession with my eyes was rooted in my desire to blend into my Western society. Or so I thought.

For these girls, they are surrounded by other Koreans, and yet, they believe the thin, pale waif of a girl in all the Western ads is the epitomé of beauty. They believe it, just as their school master does. He believes these girls should stay thin and places scales on every floor of the building. The girls ceremoniously check their weight throughout the day. If they keep their collective weight down, they will earn a cafe!

The more I listened to the Korean girls, the more I wanted to shake them and say, “Cut it out!  You are beautiful!” But the same can be said of our Western teenage girls. Ads they see are the same that the Koreans view.

I see our worlds are not so different after all. I see that I was trying to attain what every other young Tennesseean girl wanted … to look like the models that graced the pages of Teen and Seventeen magazine. There were few Asians in those pages from the early 80s … trust me, I searched. Today, there are more ethnic models, but even they are extremely thin with more Western features.

This recent movie, Miss Representation will give you a brief sense of where women and girls stand today. (I suggest you screen this trailer before showing it to your children.)

The media have portrayed women and girls in a way that is virtually impossible in nature. I have vowed to teach my daughter that her beauty comes from within. Superficial beauty does not make one a better friend or partner.

However, in Korea, your superficial beauty may be the difference between getting into college or not. While in the end, the girls brought the young American teacher to understand their desires, I am still shocked and unconvinced.

Back to normal

Welcome 2011! Although, I must admit that 2011 still feels like 1977. A few days before school let out, my daughter came home saying that she wished she could have “wide eyes.”

My heart contracted in anxious pain, and my mind went reeling back to 1977. Kids surrounded me as I tried to leave my new school in rural East Tennessee. Taller kids, big mocking faces and chants of “Me Chinese. Me play joke …”

Before we had children, my husband and I discussed my hometown and my childhood experiences. We decided that once we had children, we would only live in places that were ethnically diverse. Madison is just that. So, I found it quite shocking that we would be dealing with this issue here.

As I’ve posted before, my daughter is struggling with her own ethnic identity. Of our two children, she is the one who looks less Asian. When we asked her why she wanted “wider eyes,” her response was “Because then, I would be normal like my friends.”

“Normal” is a word that creeps into my blog often (Mistaken Identity). To hear my daughter say it, not only showed her painful need for acceptance, but also brought back my old, childhood insecurities.

As a parent, I want to protect her. But life is filled with the need to be accepted and the need to conform. So now, I must pull out my best mommy advice from my mother’s guide to life.

“Your uniqueness sets you apart. Rejoice in that.”