Upon learning that I am half-Thai, folks want to know, “Can you cook Thai food?” When I was younger, the answer was no. As in why on God’s green and blue earth would I want to? My mom can cook wonderfully though, thank you.
As I got older, I became annoyed by my mom’s badgering.
I’m binge watching Season 24 of America’s Next Top Model (don’t laugh). In fact, I’ve watched every season (not every episode though) because I’m a wannabe model. Funnily, I take really bad photos, but counteract this by making goofy faces, and accepting the fact that I’m not photogenic.
But what has struck me, as I watched the girls in the house interact with one another, is how many of them carry pain inside them. At first, I thought it was ironic as heck that some of these stunning young women grew up being told they were ugly or funny-looking (this is a repeat theme throughout the seasons), but there’s more to this than just this.
Last week, my Public Speaking and Debate students gave their first formal speeches. As always, I was intrigued by what each new set of students will talk about and how they will deliver their speeches. One student in particular gave a speech called, “How to love yourself without losing weight” that brought a tickle of tears behind my eyes.
There is a blogger I follow on Instagram (I don’t know why, really, I don’t read her blog, but I find her – a curiosity) and she’s posted recently that she LOVES women’s magazines and how she’s obsessed with them. It reminded me of a time when I felt the same way.
I used to be a fan, too. I used to have so many teen and women’s magazines you’d laugh over the sheer volume. It got so ridiculous that I quickly learned that I could donate my zines to the local library and old folk’s homes. I suppose you could have called me a collector because I looked them over and over again and, well, bought them in stacks and eagerly awaited new issues like a dog at the front window.
I grew up watching my mom pour over her Thai soap opera + movie star magazines that I suppose it became natural for me to seek out my own. Although, I did look through hers quite often and I can tell you that the language barrier wasn’t a problem in figuring them out. Glossy extensions of the cover were at the beginning or a middle insert, then gossip columns and interviews, beauty ads sprinkled throughout with erotic-looking romance series and horoscopes towards the end. Call *009 for a kinky chat with big breasted Japanese-looking ingénues were at the back, and why those types of things were in a women’s magazine, I’ll never know.
It started when I grabbed a Redbook out of sheer boredom on a road trip and while it was too adult for me at the time, I was hooked. The habit of flipping through the pages is akin to smoking a cigarette, it’s a ritual that gives a short high and it is an addiction. I mean, how can it not be? You are looking at beautiful women and desirable things. Sometimes, it even smells nice if you like the perfume samples between the pages. And other times there are celebrity interviews, fun stories and facts and stuff about boys – BOYS!
It took years though, certainly well after college, until I realized how reading/flipping through these magazines made me feel. Ever since I was a teen, I was aware of race. I never saw an Asian woman on the cover of Glamour, Elle, Teen, Vogue, Cosmo, Harper’s Bazaar, In Style, Seventeen, Marie Claire and W. Of course, I certainly remember Jenny Shimizu, the only Asian American supermodel to go mainstream.
But other than the exceptional Jenny, there wasn’t much for me to relate to. And for some reason, I paid close attention to women of color. There was one model that was half Asian and half white in Teen that I like the best, purely based on color and looking back at young Lani and I think, “Now there is a girl who wanted a role model.” I was actually very unhappy with the way I looked growing up and I have to wonder how much looking at fashion spreads and flawless women contributed to this.
A lot probably – it took me ages to get over being small on top, short and that I had bad skin. I considered myself too Asian-looking, as well, if you can believe it.
Even now when we’re all aware of Photoshop, and phone aps that make us look ‘beauty’, I feel like many young women (and men!) unconsciously compare themselves to an ideal industry standard. But maybe I’m wrong, it’s very easy to upload yourself on social media and make yourself into whoever you want to be these days.
But growing up when I did, being Asian didn’t feel beautiful and like most young women, I wanted to be desirable. It certainly didn’t help that I was teased for having a flat face, something that I learned later in Physical Anthropology is a rather Chinese characteristic. I must confess during that class, I felt such a startling weight leave my body. I felt relief and, for the first time, a little proud.
I also noticed how many things in these magazines were EXPENSIVE. I’d scoff at the “Under $99” page. The idea of buying a $70 blouse or bracelet seemed incredibly wasteful and outrageous, especially in my 20s when I was struggling with credit card and student loan debt. I learned to be frugal instead, going through mad coupon cutting phases and certainly falling in love with second-hand or consignment stores. I felt no shame in buying dresses at Goodwill. I couldn’t afford to.
Of course, some parts of the magazines were useful (if not ironic) like the articles on having a healthy body image or tricks to snag boys. Those articles gave me ideas on bravery and so I had no problem walking up to a boy I knew from class and asking him out on a date. They always replied, “no,” so then, I had to read the articles on rejection and boosting self-confidence. Vicious cycle.
I’m starting to sound pathetic, huh?
Women’s mags are good for learning aesthetics and studying advertisements, product placement and the psychology of these types of things. Once I started paying attention to how I felt looking at these zines, I started to wean myself off of them. This probably corresponded with figuring out how expensive this little addiction was as well. I also noticed how the British Glamour’s magazine size was half as big as the American version and I thought about environmental waste, too.
So I ended subscriptions and eventually stopped buying them all together. Then I became one of those folks who goes to Barnes & Noble and stands by the mag section perusing them for free. And the great thing was I started checking out other sections besides “Women’s Interests” and eventually learned to skip the magazines all together and study the bestsellers lists and get my hands on some books.
To be clear, I used to read books and magazines, but now I don’t read women’s magazines. Occasionally, I’ll look at them at airports or when a friend has a copy, but I don’t feel the pull like I did and the magic has certainly worn off. It’s made it easier to not covet unnecessary beauty products, designer brands, feel nonexistent and that the world revolves around celebrities.
It hasn’t made me less girly though, just more myself.
Ah, the joys of womanhood, eh? Every one of us ladies can remember our first visit from Uncle Payne and Auntie Flo. Or that time, you didn’t know you were going to have it and how you decided to wear light pink pants that day. Or that time in Bangkok, the city of grit and sweat, you saw that tourist wearing shorts soaked in her own blood and you were mortified that no one told her, so you did. It’s a really hot city.