By: Ashley Valera
Transitioning to a college environment and moving away from home for the first time sounds great with all the freedom that you’re gaining and all the experiences you will have as an adult. But it can be a tough time for students and leave them more susceptible to the media and what others say or think about them. For Asian American college women who face social oppressions and underrepresentation in the media it can be especially difficult for them to fit in amongst their peers. Factors such as the media representation, the model minority myth, and peer influence can ultimately affect their self-esteem and lead them to be dissatisfied with their own body image.
Asian Americans are already highly underrepresented in the media but Asian American women specifically feel the need to conform to societies standards of “beauty” especially at this time when they are very impressionable and seeking to fit in. But the media tends to display European American beauty as the most desired which isn’t always attainable. Biologically, women of Asian descent and women of European descent have different facial features so unless a woman wants plastic surgery to get the “desired” European look there’s nothing she can physically do about the differences. European beauty is seen in magazines where the models are more often than not of European descent and most of the popular actresses that we see being cast in movies and TV shows are also European. For example, the boycott after the 2016 Oscars because all of the winners for the movie categories were predominately white with no representation of minorities.
We see very little diversity in our media outlets and European women are so overrepresented that it creates this standard of beauty and what society perceives as “normal” American features which makes Asian Americans seem foreign to the United States. This also makes fitting into the U.S. culture and the U.S. standards of “beauty” difficult and discouraging for many Asian American women because they may never be satisfied comparing their bodies to those seen in the media. In the reading Asian American College Women’s Body Image: A Pilot Study they found a “significant correlations between… media influence and overall body image”. This means that the media is in fact influencing a substantial number of college women, as proven in this study, which leads them to look at themselves in a negative way because of it. Asian American college women also won’t be able to relate to these women being portrayed in the media because they won’t be able to identify with their struggles they’ve had to face as a minority. Also making them feel alone in our society with no one to look up to through this very rough time.
The model minority myth is one stereotype that has been placed on Asian Americans in our society. This myth takes a minority group and presents those members as ones who have an advantage over the average population. But being portrayed as part of a model minority you hold yourself to a high standard, like the rest of society, and your self-esteem can be hurt when you don’t live up to this high expectation put onto you. We often look at the model minority as an expectation of how they should act in the education system or the workplace but we forget about how society expects them to look. Asian American women who are seen as a part of this model minority can’t live up to this expectation of European American beauty, as portrayed by the media, which can make them dissatisfied with their own body image. In the paper The Double Binds of Our Bodies by Kayoko Yokoyama she writes about “the model minority myth that may serve to hide the body image problems of Asian American Women”. She is explaining that this model minority myth acts as a shield to Asian American women who experience body dissatisfaction which then makes them less likely to get help for any psychological or eating/dieting problems they may be experiencing because of it. As a result of the model minority myth these minority groups can be perceived that they don’t need economic or mental help because they are portrayed as being satisfied with their status in society which makes it harder for an individual who needs help to actually ask for it. But this also means that Asian Americans don’t want to admit to the fact that they might be less than this model citizen they’re perceived to be. This stereotype that was placed on them in American society has actually stuck with them and Asian Americans find not only themselves but also their friends and their families have these expectations that they will live up to the model minority. Therefore, if they fail to live up to these standards they feel like they are not only disappointing themselves but others around them too.
Asian American women also have to confront other social oppressions based on their race because our society has directed racial and gender-specific stereotypes towards Asian Americans and towards women. In the reading Sociocultural Influences on Eating Attitudes and Behaviors, Body Image, and Psychological Functioning their findings suggest that “there exist important racial differences on various aspects of eating, dieting, and body image in college women”. This means that in their study they did find significant differences between the African American, Asian American, and Caucasian views on body image which specifically differed because of their experiences with their race. Asian American women often have to confront the stereotype that they should be petite and delicate which could hurt their self-esteem if they’re not as small as they “should be”. Also Asian American women who do get roles in movies often play the sexy, submissive, and exotic objects of desire for the male lead. Which not only degrades Asian American women but applies this stereotype to them or this expectation of what they should look and act like. Stereotypes like these can also make Asian American women feel unsatisfied with their bodies because of the ways that other people view them.
This transition to college can also leave Asian American women susceptible to their peers and what other people think. Already feeling rejected because of the underrepresentation in the media and feeling pressured to excel because of the model minority myth it becomes harder for them to find their way and fit-in in school. Moving away to college means that you are also moving closer to your peers which can make them more influential when establishing relationships. Sarah J. Javier’s paper An Examination of Influences on Body Dissatisfaction Among Asian American College Females claims that “the fact that AA students are in a minority status may further exaggerate peer influence”. She is saying that because Asian American women are already isolated as a minority they don’t have very many people to turn to that face the same struggles. Many people don’t understand the racism and sexism that Asian American women face and it is barely ever talked about in society so outsiders don’t understand. In order for Asian Americans to be accepted they have to be vulnerable to these people who may not understand their thoughts and struggles. Which could leave them defenseless to instances of racism and sexism where they are afraid to speak up because they want to fit-in and essentially have no one else to turn to. This can lead to psychological problems, such as dissatisfaction and depression, and self-esteem issues along with eating/ dieting problems.
Overall, research has proven that media representation, the model minority myth, and peer influence have contributed to the body dissatisfaction of many Asian American college women. When it comes to beauty standards it is nearly impossible for them to live up to these expectations set by our media which often leaves them to be dissatisfied with their own body. In addition, because of the model minority myth it is frowned upon for these women to get help with issues such as body dissatisfaction and because they are a part of a minority there aren’t many people around them that they could turn to who might be facing these same issues. The fact that this sample of people are part of a minority race and they are women causes them to be double oppressed in this country. Therefore, social oppression and media portrayal often hurt Asian American college women and their body image but not to say that this can’t be fixed. The first step is acceptance, society has to recognize the oppression and the underrepresentation that we’ve put Asian Americans through before we can move forward to change. For change we can start with our media and how we display Asian Americans in it and making it more welcoming to diversity. This will lead to people realizing that women come in all shapes and sizes and how someone feels about themselves shouldn’t be determined by their race.
Akan, Gloria E., and Carlos M. Grilo. “Sociocultural Influences on Eating Attitudes and Behaviors, Body Image, and Psychological Functioning: A Comparison of African American, Asian-American, and Caucasian College Women.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 18.2 (1995): 181-87. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Javier, Sarah J., and Faye Z. Belgrave. “An Examination of Influences on Body Dissatisfaction Among Asian American College Females: Do Family, Media, or Peers Play a Role?” Journal of American College Health 63.8 (2015): 579-83. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Lau, Allison S. M., Sharilyn K. Lum, Krista M. Chronister, and Linda Forrest. “Asian American College Women’s Body Image: A Pilot Study.” Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology 12.2 (2006): 259-74. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Yokoyama, Kayoko. “The Double Binds of Our Bodies: Multiculturally-Informed Feminist Therapy Considerations for Body Image and Eating Disorders among Asian American Women.” Women & Therapy 30.3/4 (2007): 177-92. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.