Even before quarantine, I consumed a lot of media content everyday. From Instagram to Netflix binge-watching, I have spent unimaginable hours mindlessly scrolling. I bet that accounts for a lot of college students, as social media platforms and Netflix serve as a distraction or a way to unwind from the stressors of daily life. However, I think especially during these times of social distancing and quarantine, we cannot ignore how the media can contribute to body and image insecurities due to the sheer amount of content we are consuming and, overall, the severe lack of representation which comes with it.
Like a lot of young girls, I used to be (and still am) obsessed with “Gossip Girl.” When you’re only thirteen or fourteen watching this show, you have these fantasies about being like Serena or Blair and having their impeccable style. I thought they were so beautiful and definitely tried to take some inspiration from them.
What I didn’t acknowledge, however, is that by trying to be like them, I was basically trying to uncover the more white part of me. Being half-Asian and half-white, I always felt some pressure to decide which identity I was going to embrace, and felt a little self-conscious about my Asian side growing up. I would deny that part of my identity, saying things like, “I’m ‘not that Asian,’” or “I’m ‘fake Asian.’” To be honest, I also felt like it was easier and, quite frankly, better to be white. And seeing Leighton Meester and Blake Lively nearly four hours a day on TV only affirmed that I should definitely embrace the white side because they were what I began to associate with beauty. After all, the only Asian characters were either really quiet or seen as a nerdy nuisances. I did my makeup like Blair and Serena and got upset when it turned out badly, but in reality, it was just because I didn’t look as white.
And while it seems obvious that I would not look completely white when I am half-Asian, I couldn’t and didn’t want to accept it at that time.
These feelings contribute to developing a really negative self image and relationship with your identity. In my quest to be prettier — which meant more white at that time — I rejected my Asian half and was kind of embarrassed about it. When I started watching more Asian YouTubers and started “Pretty Little Liars,” which features Filipina actress Shay Mitchell, I began to realize that being Asian is something to embrace and not to devalue my non-Eurocentric beauty.
I know this may not be every Asian girl’s experience or could be a mild version of it, but it is something to look out for. I had this extreme distaste for my Asian heritage before I realized the impact of representation. It is so important that people do not harbor these negative attitudes just because of the entertainment industry’s favor for whiteness.
I am not opposed to watching TV or using social media. I think they are great tools for allowing you to relieve stress or pass some time. However, it is crucial to remain mindful of what you’re consuming and how it could possibly be affecting you, especially if you belong to a minority group. People might invalidate your feelings or identity, but many of them do not understand the luxury of having someone that looks like you on TV, because POC representation doesn’t happen very often.
If you find yourself being influenced by what you’re seeing, take a step back or find a new program or even a YouTuber(a personal favorite method) who you feel connected to and empowered by. If not, what should be a simple activity can enable and develop a much more serious issue. And push for representation — because it truly does matter.
Karen Raskind can be reached at email@example.com.