by Catherine Zhang
As often as I’ve analyzed my relationship with makeup, I’ve always done so in a love-your-body, self-esteem-centered light. Not until recently had I considered it in a racial context.
Looking in the mirror, I’ve always seen myself as an Asian girl who was often surrounded by Caucasians, as I went to private middle school and high school and am now at a private university. Aside from the Asian American community in which I spent some of my early years, I’ve always felt like a member of the minority.
But after years of mind-wracking, I finally realized how much of an impact my specific racial situation has had on my approach to makeup.
When I was in middle school, I was not only relatively “white-washed” (meaning that I largely assimilated into Western society), but I was also quite ashamed of my ethnicity. This was true in relation to my culture, but also in relation to my physical appearance. What I envied most was the thick, naturally curved eyelashes of Caucasian girls and how their eyes were defined and penetrating without additional enhancement.
I ignored the fact that my Asian skin was comparably clearer, that I tanned without burning, and that my Asian hair was so thick and silky that it never knotted.
Perhaps what led me to envy the Caucasian girls were all of the quotes I’d been exposed to throughout my childhood, which painted eyes as the window into the soul.
Naturally, I feared that no one would be able to read my soul through my thin, straight lashes…after all, my eyes were comparably less defined.
Many Asian girls that I know don’t even bother using mascara on their lashes until they’re all clumpy and spidery-looking. Instead, they’ll use half a container of liquid liner, painting on eyeliner thickly to create the illusion of definition. Every now and then, I combine a toned-down version of that with mascara to dramatically define my eyes.
In comparison, my eyelashes are naturally longer than those of many other Asian girls, and I also have defined eyelids.
Whenever I woke up late for school (a common occurrence) and had to do my makeup in the school parking lot, I would reach first and foremost for the eyeliner and mascara. This decision perplexed me.
I tried to decipher my judgment, asking myself: If I had blemishes on my face and my same eyes, would I choose concealing the blemishes or defining my eyes? I’d likely choose eyeliner.
Why? Because acne is something that most everyone has grappled with at some point in their life. Due to a timely surge of hormones and stress running through teenagers’ bodies, acne has become a sort of accepted norm, however unflattering and unfortunate it may be. Bottom line: Western society is more forgiving of acne.
On the other hand, as a white-washed Asian American female attending a largely white private school, where physical appearance was highly valued, I believed that undefined eyes made me instantly inferior. At least, that’s how I saw it in the 7th grade.
Still, I did not start wearing makeup until 10th grade. I remember penciling in that life-changing line above my lashes and being thoroughly impressed by the improvement in my physical appearance.
My relationship since that year has been an uphill-downhill battle. My skin has gotten more disruptive, and yet I’ve learned the importance of skincare in helping my skin out in the long run. I’ve discovered and aimed to enforce No Makeup Mondays, and I’ve come to understand myself better simply because of the way I treat my personal appearance. I have found confidence in both my outsides and insides.
I’ve stared myself down in the mirror for a combined who-knows how many hours just inspecting my skin, my nose, my eyes, assuring myself that I look great the way I was born.
The best part? I believe myself.
– originally posted on the NU Asian Magazine website