When I was in high school, innocent and free as a bird, a couple of my friends and I came up with a term for ourselves: the AA, abnormal Asians. In a school dominated by over 60% Asians, we were the ones that stood out. You know, the ridiculously tall Asians, the ones who were pear rather than stick shaped, Asians who probably didn’t score at the top 10% of class or thought cram school was a form of recreation. Oh, I’m not saying we could check off all of these boxes, but I’m sure all of us could list at least one and maybe add on some of our owns.
It’s a funny thing being an AA- you don’t quite fit into the compartmentalized box of your racial peers and yet you’re still a bit different from the mainstream, just like everyone else. While Michelle Phan is out giving her fabulous make up tips, I still can’t quite figure out where to make my eyelid crease darker (thanks for one eye having five folds and the other three.) While all the slender, 5’5” across the board clubbing girls are having their pick of stores like Forever 21 and H&M, I’m trying to find discounts at express, while looking hopefully through racks for the “tall” lines. When all my tiny (to me) Asian friends are posing for pictures, I’ve learned to find the farthest back spot in the line, turn to the side a little and God forbid I forget to stick my arm out at an angle on my hip. While I’m trying to convince myself that inner beauty is what matters, my size 8 jeans and butt-hiding cardigan on my 5'10" figure says otherwise.
Yet, I still don’t feel quite as mainstream as my less-than-typical body would belay. Going out with a large group of coworkers, I still feel like “the Asian girl”. Perhaps it’s less discrimination and more of just racial profiling, but it’s hard to not be tagged as “the Asian girl” when you work in a building full of- well, non-Asians. At first it was strange, being treated like I was someone special just because of my race, but then it wore out its charm. After all, I thought, when there’s a new “typical Asian”, there won’t be room to think I could be special anymore. A part of me inside feared that being unique would turn back into being abnormal, once everyone had seen a true “Asian girl”.
Crazy, right? After all, I’m college educated with a decent job, you would think my self-esteem would be unaffected by simple things like shoe size, the inability to wear five inch Louboutins like my tiny friends, or to buy anything straight off the rack without worrying it’ll be too short. I still feel a bit of sore point when my mother points out all of her friend’s children who are now in (what she deemed as) typical Asian careers as doctors and lawyers, nurses and engineers. Studying criminal law and forensics in college? It was like I had decided to shave my head.
I wish I could say this was a post about how I became stronger than all of these stereotypes, that I learned to overcome and completely disregard how others view me or how I view myself in relation to the typical Asian girl. It’s not. But they do say that acceptance is after denial so maybe this is a step in the right direction. It’s not easy being in your twenties and trying to not fail too much at becoming an independent adult, much less being one that doesn’t feel like she has a place to really fit in. But maybe at least when you read this, you’ll realize you’re not alone. Everyone is a bit different from the norm and whether you were brought up being told that Marilyn Monroe was beautiful or Angelina Jolie, the truth is, they probably were brought up on a different image than the one they sought out to be. And if we’re all a little insecure about how we fit in, it’s alright. Just don’t let it stop you from still trying to make the best of what you have.
After all, I may not be able to draw that eyelid crease very well, but I’m getting damn good at winging my eyeliner.