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The Asian culture I come from, since the primitive times, has been one that promotes group harmony as well as one that takes extreme pride in itself. With this sort of ethnic pride, I was consistently reminded of my beauty at home as well as in Asian communities, while at school I was reminded that I was far from beauty. I am a first-generation Korean-American who attended an all-white private school and was generally surrounded by the white population for most of my life. Growing up in a racially disparate community, I gradually began to adopt the ideas of beauty that had been projected onto me by my classmates and peers. As time passed, it became increasingly apparent that I would never fit the ideal image of beauty that mass culture advocated. I lacked the big eyes and the curvy physique, and above all, society had a specific image of beauty and it was undeniable that I did not fit into it.
It is rare to see Asian male actors in a protagonist role unless you’re outside western media. Since the introduction of the Asian male in the western movie scene, Asian men have been limited to very select roles such as the stereotypical martial arts fighter incapable of possessing emotions or the emasculated nerd-boy usually portrayed as weak and subordinate. The martial-artist stereotype originated from Asian actors such as Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Chow Yun Fat. Although they starred as the protagonists of many western martial-arts movies, they were in fact niche actors and were virtually playing themselves. This fact seems to be lost among scriptwriters as is made obvious by their designation of Asians to play the KungFu-foreigner role, which ultimately implicates the idea that all Asians possess fighting skills to some degree. Along with these stereotypes, the Asian male character is consistently depicted as Nerdy where he is usually immersed in the math or science realms of academia as is epitomized in the diligent lab assistant archetype. Aside from this conventional pattern of stereotypes, the Asian male is also commonly seen as rampant for the attention of a white female. This is seen in countless films such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with the Japanese buffoon neighbor, Mickey Rooney, who chases after Miss Golightly desperately throughout the movie (“How America Unsexes the Asian Male”, Mura).
Asian and Asian-American men are simply not seen as attractive or sexual beings by the mainstream culture. What could be attractive about the horny, thick-glassed, nerdy Asian guy, ridiculous in his desires for white women? (Mura 2).
These overtones of Asian men conclusively generalize the Asian male population as weak and retiring—basically emasculating Asian men and categorizing them as antisocial and therefore undesirable.
This generalization of Asian men in the movie industry is one example of how the standards of desirability are prone to change. Because white actors largely portray protagonists of movies, the standard of desirability is that of the white actor—usually tall or exuding the aura of strength and success. In most likelihood, if an Asian actor were to portray the protagonist in the same way that a white actor does, the standard of desirability would then shift to that of the Asian actor’s qualities. Aside from desirability, It seems that mass media has been increasing its influence on society’s perception of beauty. Due to these inferences frequently imposed on society, it is safe to say that mass media is gradually creating a culture of misperception. What was once originally created to promote consumerism is now causing society to be consumed by the messages themselves. This is apparent in industries such as fashion/clothing where the models themselves are put in higher focus than the actual clothing or product being advertised—making it obvious that the definition of beauty is reliant on what is being advertised by mass culture at the present time. A prime example of this “phenomenon” would be the evolution of women modeling for the infamous “Victoria’s Secret”. As risqué as the company and its marketing strategies may be, the models have gone from the Marilyn Monroe hourglass figure to the stick-thin, lankier figure. In direct correlation to these physical trends, women’s bodies have evolved parallel to those portrayed by prominent women of the time—thus the “perfect” body idealized by the “perfect” woman impacts the standard of beauty and determines what is desirable.
In terms of body image, Hollywood as well as mass media portrays a very specific image of beauty and desirability. This makes it common for society to view itself as undesirable or simply not beautiful. Through personal experience I was introduced to the repercussions that stemmed from negative perceptions of Asians. In terms of Asian women, it is common that we are stereotyped in the movie industry as readily available to the white protagonist male actor as well as extremely exotic and submissive. These influences constructed the ideal in many people that Asian women are subservient and compliant. Throughout all of middle school, despite our young age, it became evident that many boys would seek after Asian girls with the preconceived notion that these Asian girls would submit to their every will. This was a common day-to-day event that I personally experienced countless times throughout my schooling experience. Not only did this cause me to despise the movie industry but it completely extinguished any ethnic pride that I had at one time felt.
Mass media is unfair and deceitful in many of the things that it promotes. Time and time again, stereotypes are imposed and false images are advocated – transforming many standards in terms of beauty, desirability, and body image. Bombarded with countless media images, far too many American girls are aspiring to be “model thin” and viewing these female models and actresses as “beautiful” according to modern American standards of beauty. These images we are fed by mass culture affect our understanding of what is beautiful and desirable in countless ways. Not only have we adjusted our standards of beauty to those marketed by the media, but we have begun to consume these standards as our own.
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