So, I signed this petition (I’ve been signing petitions lately.). This one is by 18 Million Rising because American Girl® doll cancelled their only Asian American doll. 18MR basically wants American Girl® to create another doll that looks like us.
Originally, I heard about this campaign through This Flooded Sky, and I thought, “Hey, this is actually important.” Here’s why…
Even though I grew up in ethnically diverse Hawaii, I ended up in ethnically-devoid Barstow California during my pre-teen and early teenage years. And the effects of not having anyone that looked like me in fashion and teeny-bop magazines subconsciously took its toll. I went so far as to have plastic surgery when I was only 16.
I wasn’t obsessed with my ethnicity so much as I think I was just trying to identify with beauty. I think before we find it in ourselves we look for it in the outside world. Like any good teenaged girl, I wanted to be seen as attractive, but when Wonder Bread is the standard, it feels like you aren’t worthy or good enough to be on a magazine cover or in mainstream media.
I want to say that these days representation of Asian Americans is better in the media, but looking through movie previews (or magazines) lately has made me realize – no, they aren’t better. We are horribly under-represented and while there are a multitude of theories as to why this is, it doesn’t change the fact that girls (and boys) need role models that look like them.
Not even Buddha could be portrayed as a full-blooded Asian in Hollywood. Buddha!! (Keanu Reeves plays Siddhārtha 1993’s Little Buddha) Hellooo!! Really?? Would it be such a large leap to have a leading Asian male for the role of Lord Buddha? Unfortunately, there are many Hollywood and Broadway examples of Asians being side-casted or neglected for a Caucasian or “whiter” actor.
Asian Americans get excited when other AAs end up on TV, movies and advertisements. My favorite X-Men in college was Psylocke, the only Asian superhero that a geek like me could get thrilled about. When I was a kid and Asian Barbie came out, I added her to my blonde Barbie collection. When I was buying magazines, I could tell you which model was half-Asian and then later, I found a magazine that exclusively featured Asian women (FACES, I believe it was called), and I was over the moon.
I’m not sure why, but I don’t think Asian Americans are considered Americans, yet. We are still foreign. American blacks are considered American and to their credit they have created their own magazines, TV channels, and award shows. Latinos probably experience more of a “Are they American or not?” bias, but they are clearly represented in mainstream media. Yet, Asian Americans struggle to be noticed and taken seriously.
I don’t believe the American public is not ready for us, that’s not the problem. I think the elites or the monies behind the media aren’t ready. When there isn’t a gate-keeper, we are indeed out there on YouTube and social media.
In Thailand (and other Asian countries like China and India), even though you see your own kind everywhere, the ideal beauty is white. I look at some of my students with naturally tan or darker skin and I hope to sexy Siddhārtha they don’t fall into the whitening cream and treatment trap. I’m waiting for a tan-skinned Thai movie or TV star to prove to Thais that tan is beautiful, too.
Keep pushing Asian America. There are little girls and little boys watching.
*update: American Girl has brought back an Asian doll, but without the historical storybook.