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This Is Our Asian American Experience

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There was a distinct period in my life when I was fixated with my eyelids. I hated my monolids and wanted to have a clear, defined crease more than anything. I spent hours on the Internet watching obscure tutorials on how to fake a crease and would stock up on eyelid tape every time I returned to China to see my grandparents. When I started working in beauty—where I discovered Chinese models like Liu Wen and Fei Fei Sun, who were lauded and considered beautiful with their monolids—my double-eyelid obsession waned until there was barely a sliver left. I started appreciating my natural eye shape, which slants slightly in the corners and falls somewhere between a full monolid and double eyelid. I wrote and edited stories about empowerment and embracing the features you were born with, and slowly but surely, I started to embody that mindset and accept—even love—my own appearance. But I had years of conditioning to undo—years of believing that success, love and happiness would only be mine if I looked more white. It’s still an ongoing process.

On the surface, the beauty industry might appear to celebrate Asian culture more than others, from the rise of K-beauty to the growing interest in Ayurvedic skincare. But working in the industry as an Asian person is a complicated experience. You’re tasked with championing a more diverse version of beauty, while simultaneously dealing with dismissiveness from your peers and your own long-held beliefs about your own identity. There’s tokenism, appropriation, and daily microaggressions in the form of veiled “compliments.” It’s a nuanced, complex experience, and one that needs to be shared, especially with the rising anti-Asian sentiment in our pandemic-stricken world.

Ahead, I asked 23 Asian editors and influencers at the top of their game to share the personal journeys that got them there. There are common themes—lack of representation, a yearning to assimilate in childhood—and there are stories that are uniquely heartbreaking in their own ways. As anti-Asian hate crimes grow exponentially, it’s time for our stories to be told. No more “model minority” myth. No more putting everyone else’s causes before our own. We are not a monolith, but rather as vast and diverse as the stars in the night sky (and to that point, you’ll find stories from our South Asian sisters here too, who are often overlooked in conversations about Asian Americans in beauty).

To all Asians reading this, I hope these stories help you feel seen—and to non-Asians and our allies, I hope they help you see us.

tina craig


Tina Craig

Instagram: @bagsnob

Background: I am 100% Chinese, born in Taiwan. My grandparents immigrated to Taiwan from China during the cultural revolution

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I was a teen in the ‘80s, the era of glamazon supermodels, like Cindy Crawford and Paulina Porizkova. My favorite model was Reneé Simonsen, a blue-eyed blonde Danish cover star. I watched mainstream sitcoms like Growing PainsFacts of Life and Family Ties. The only times Asians appeared on the shows were when they were the Chinese “Susie Wong” waitress in restaurant scenes or Chinese-food delivery guys in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances. I hated how Asians were represented in film and television. Asian women were mostly portrayed as slutty dragon ladies with heavy black eyeliner and tight Cheongsams and Asian men subservient punching bags (Long Duk Dong, anyone?). It bred self-loathing in not only myself but I think many of my peers.

Clear lack of representation was compounded with simultaneous misrepresentation. It was as if you had two choices: Resort to invisibility or subscribe to the hurtful stereotypes. I chose neither.

When I immigrated to the United States at eight years old, I did my best to become as American as possible. I wore Levis and rainbow tees, instead of the custom-made dresses my grandmother had her tailor sew for me. And I learned to speak English without a trace of accent. But I knew I was never fully accepted. I was everyone’s pet: “Teeny-Tiny Tina.” By high school, I started tanning at the beach and pool during the day and hitting the tanning salon at night: purely a rebellion against my grandmother’s “no sun” rule. I wore heavy black eyeliner to make my eyes appear rounder and accentuated my lids with pastel-blue eyeshadow.

All throughout high school, I only befriended non-Asian friends, mainly because I grew up in very white communities. The few Asians at my schools were the typical quiet and studious kids of immigrants. Not me. Instead, I was loud and demanded attention. I spent a lot of time in detention. I recall a few teachers (usually white males) commenting that I wasn’t very “oriental” because of my boisterous behavior. They wanted me to know my place. I’m thankful I had a few strong female teachers who encouraged me to find my voice, my art teacher especially. She understood me, encouraging me to try out for cheerleading (the Pom Pom Girl dance team, to be specific) and run for student body, so I could channel my loud energy in a more positive way. If not for people like her, I would have been completely on my own to forge a path—which I was determined to do no matter what.

I didn’t like how people treated my family, and while they stayed silent in the face of blatant racism, I wanted to be heard and seen. In the ‘80s, someone threw a soda can at my dad’s white Cadillac as we were pulling out of a Gemco parking lot and called us “Ching Chong Chinks.” My dad stopped the car and got out to pick up the soda can to politely throw it away, but I jumped out, grabbed it, chased after the teen and tossed the can back at him, screaming. My family worried about me. They thought I was a troublemaker, and I was: Little Tina wanted to be heard.

When Lucy Liu came on the scene in the ‘90s, I was in college at USC. Everyone said I looked like her. Random white people felt very comfortable telling me, “You look just like Lucy Liu.” WE LOOK NOTHING ALIKE. But it was at the same time, embarking on this new phase of life at USC, when I began embracing my heritage and made Asian friends. At 18, I stopped tanning and have never tanned again. Suddenly, I was more interested in taking care of my skin than altering the shade of it. So I spent my grocery money on eye and face serums and facials, instead of burgers and wine coolers. And I began doing my makeup in a way that suited me, rather than disguise me.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

It’s been mostly positive, because I demanded to be treated well. I’ve simply never accepted anything less. If people were racist towards me, I’d call them out. I felt seen because I demanded to be seen. I never felt represented anywhere, so I decided to represent myself.

How do seeing “trends” like fox eye makeup make you feel?

I detest fox-eye makeup and the accompanying gestures of pulling one’s eyes back. It reminds me of kids yanking up their eyes at me and shouting, “Chinese! Japanese! Look at me!” when I was young. Even now, people, specifically editors and brand PR reps confuse me with other Asian women, like Aimee Song and Tina Leung. They tag us interchangeably on Instagram. Mixing me up with Tina Leung: I get that because of our names. But Aimee? We look nothing alike. She’s gorgeous, but the fact is, we look nothing alike.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

We are not the “quiet minority” that will be passively silenced and continuously stereotyped. There are a few ways people can make a difference, which is increasingly imperative as hate crimes against Asian-Americans have increased by 1,900% in the past 12 months. End the model minority myth, and start by educating yourself on the wide Asian-American experience. It’s vast, layered and a vital part of the tapestry that makes up this country. Volunteer with organizations doing their part, like the NAPAWF. Support your local Chinatown and Asian-owned businesses. Every little bit counts. Speak up on the subject. Racial injustice and hate crimes against Asian-Americans are seriously underreported by mainstream media and underplayed by government officials. The more people spread awareness, the more chance we have for real change.

aya kanai


Aya Kanai

Instagram: @ayakanai

Background: I was born in the US, have a dual citizenship, and my parents have lived in the US since the late 1960s.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I did not see myself represented in magazines growing up. I looked up to the ’90s supermodels (Linda, Kate, Christy, Naomi) who were larger than life, but not Asian. I am 5’10” so I knew that being tall was an asset, but my perception of beauty was that I should always be striving to be something different than what I was. And if I had a penny for everytime someone asked me how a Japanese person could be as tall as me, I would be rich! When people ask me where I’m from, I like to stare blankly back at them and say, “I’m an American” or “I’m from New York.” I know they are trying to ask what kind of Asian I am but I can’t give it up. If you want to know what kind of Asian I am, just ask that question.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

The fashion/beauty industry has had a long term fascination with Asian cultures. This, for better or worse, means people think I wont get wrinkles (I have them) or will be quiet and passive (I’m neither).  Aging and the signs of age are honored in many Asian cultures, which makes the shocking rise in crimes targeting elderly Asian people even worse. Nothing is acceptable about the violence against Asian people, especially as so many have been living in fear while trying to celebrate their New Year. Elderly people (of any race) are the keepers of knowledge and inspiration in a pre-digital world. Searching the Internet doesn’t compare to talking to elderly people about their experiences. Support the Asian community by amplifying the stories of this violence to your network. Talk about it because the news wont. Say it’s unacceptable. Wear your mask and when you are out on the street, if you see someone in danger, help them.

Deepica Mutyala


Deepica Mutyala

Instagram: @deepica

Background: South Asian

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

Absolutely not. I changed everything about myself; dyed my hair blonde and wore blue contacts. It’s the whole reason I set down the career path that I am. I want to change this narrative for the next generation.

What has your experience been in the fashion/beauty industry?

I’ve always felt tokenized in the beauty industry. That said, I always viewed it as a positive because the existence of a token Brown girl wasn’t even a thing when I was growing up, so we are moving in the right direction. My goal is to normalize all shades and skin tones to be seen as equals.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

We deserve more opportunities in creative careers. We were told our whole life to go down a very traditional career path to “live the American dream,” but the reality is that there is a whole collective of us out there that are super talented and meant to build our own versions of the American dream. I hope more of us are given the opportunity to do so, and I plan to do what I can to help make that happen.

kathleen hou


Kathleen Hou

Instagram: @kathleenhou

Background:  Taiwanese-American.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

The first Asian I saw on TV was Connie Chung. The first Asian I read about was Claudia Kishi of the Babysitter’s Club. The first Asian I saw in a magazine was a random person who was a runner-up (not even a winner) in a Seventeen modeling contest. Growing up, it made me think that Asians had to exist on the fringes of society and culture, and the rare one who “broke through” was an exception. Then, in my teen years, on a summer trip to Taiwan, I realized Asians were everywhere. There were Taiwanese pop stars like Jolin Tsai, singing to sold-out stadiums, with pyrotechnics and fireworks. There were Taiwanese hotties doing CW-like shows. There were Taiwanese basketball players. There were Asian makeup artists who didn’t try to Westernize my features. It made me realize that the realm of possibility of what I thought Asians could do and look like, was limited because of whiteness.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

Previous to this week, I would have said that I felt lucky in a lot of ways as an Asian in the beauty industry. And I still do, in many ways. Thanks to the explosion of J-Beauty and K-Beauty, we are recognized for our manufacturing know-how to the industry. Compared to Black people, we are more seen and recognized, and have a much easier time finding our foundation shades in-stores or products which work for our hair.

But it makes me think of what Steve Yuen said: “Sometimes I wonder if the Asian-American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but nobody else is thinking about you.” To that end, I’m going to ask for more and say that we aren’t still aren’t seen in a lot of ways. In brand discussions and imagery, it seems that the only races discussed are either white or Black. I receive so many DMs asking, “What is the best ______ for Asian _____?” so I know that people aren’t feeling seen in the industry. There are lot of microaggressions that show that people think of us as a monolith, such as receiving an email about J-Beauty, and the “stock image” pictured being Korean actress Song Hye-Ko. There are many white TikTokers with their gua shas who exoticize alleged “ancient Chinese beauty practices” or worse, quickly gloss over, or barely acknowledge, where this “hot new trend” came from. When speaking about eye makeup, how many people know how politicized Asian eyes are, or that there is a wide range of eye shapes that affect technique and the products that suit us? I can’t even imagine how underrepresented the Southeast Asian and Indian community must feel in beauty.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

You can support more than one community at a time. Asians have to be included in anti-racism discussions. You can’t talk about K-Beauty or be influenced by it, or be a brand that sells jade rollers, without supporting the Asian community or donating to anti-Asian-hate causes.

kristina rodulfo


Kristina Rodulfo

Instagram: @kristinarodulfo

Background: Filipino—both of my parents are Filipino immigrants who moved to NYC in the late ’80s/early ’90s. I’m the first American born in my whole family, so I’m very connected to and proud of my culture. I grew up learning the dances, eating the food, participating in traditions, and doing Filipino American community work. My background is a huge part of who I am.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I never saw myself represented–and I was a magazine lover from a really young age because I knew I wanted to be an editor one day. My earliest memory of feeling somewhat represented was watching Michelle Kwan figure skating at the 1998 Olympics. It was the first time I saw someone who looks like me on TV being celebrated as strong, powerful, graceful, and beautiful–I became so obsessed with her I bought my own pair of white skates, read every book about her, and wore the same gold dragon necklace on a red string she wore (even though I’m not from the same cultural background).

Other than that, I remember searching for other Asian women in magazines, beauty brand commercials and campaign imagery in drugstore aisles, television, movies–and never seeing them. Even when Filipino people like myself started getting notoriety in Hollywood—Vanessa Hudgens, Shay Mitchell, Darren Criss—the fact they were usually half-white always reinforced the idea that proximity to whiteness is most desirable: You’re only beautiful when you’re mixed with white features, like a straighter nose or a sharper jawline. This is something deeply embedded in the Philippines too, especially with its history of Spanish colonization and U.S. occupation. When I visit Manila, there are entire drugstore sections dedicated to whitening your skin. I even had an aunt gift me papaya soap to lighten my tan complexion when I was 14 or so—and I used it for six months because I thought that’s what I had to do to be pretty. I would pinch my own rounded nose, dream about getting a nose job, wish I had blue or green eyes, lighter hair…it’s heartbreaking, really, thinking back on how young I was and how deeply insecure I felt about features passed down to me from my ancestors because my kind of beauty was never celebrated in mainstream media. I’ve come a long way in loving myself and unlearning these racist, singular ideals of “beauty,” but validating my own beauty is something I still work on everyday.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

I have to say it feels really lonely at times. First of all, even though I reject the model minority myth, it is true that a lot of Asian immigrant parents of my friends had this expectation for us to pick “stable” careers because of the sacrifice it took for them to uproot their lives and settle stateside. I’m lucky enough my parents were supportive (and I had an older brother paving the path for me in the media industry as a television producer), but I was very much still met with the “Are you sure you don’t want to be a nurse/doctor/lawyer/engineer?” question many times.

Coming up, I didn’t really have mentors or connections because there were not really that many Asian editors for me to look up to. I remember discovering Eva Chen when she was the Beauty Director at Teen Vogue so I went to Teen Vogue University to meet her, and then to Teen Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out event in Soho just to see her again. It was so novel for me to see a senior level-editor (and eventually an editor in chief at Lucky!) who was Asian, so to this day I look up to her and follow her as an example of what I could do with my own career.

Even when I found success, it still felt lonely at times. I remember going on a huge press trip for a major beauty company—there must have been 40 editors on that trip—and I was the only Asian woman there, and one of two Asians, total. It was jarring. When I go to industry conferences, sales/business meetings, I am always the only Asian person in the room. When people are talking about diversity and inclusion, they almost never include Asian people, experiences, or perspectives into the equation—so I feel like I always have to be the one to push for it. And, throughout my career, I’ve always made the effort to cover Asian story subjects, hire Asian talent, interns, writers, models, makeup artists…anywhere I could lift us up, I would. But I always wondered to myself…if I wasn’t there, would that still happen?

People don’t even realize the number of microaggressions we face daily. I was once told by a high-level person after they saw a video I hosted that I was “actually SO articulate!!”….like it was a surprise I was comfortable and commanding in front of a camera. That’s almost as bad as the time a man at a bar once told me “You speak English really well!” Both meant it as compliments. It made me wonder if stereotypes involving Asian women being “quiet” or “docile” (ugh) had something to do with that. It stung me.

I feel like there’s a general sense of apathy toward the fact that I’m Filipino/Asian American and I resent that. Like I wrote on Instagram recently, “it feels like you have to distance yourself from your own heritage and history to be some culture-less avatar to fit conveniently in molds and systems that still uphold racism and never celebrate you.” I used to feel like I had to minimize my cultural background to try and “blend in” to the very white-dominant world of media, but I’ve come to learn that being silent about it doesn’t help anyone.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

I want allies and non-Asian people to expand their understanding of “Asian”—there’s a lot of nuance. The East Asian experience is very different from the Southeast Asian experience is very different from the South Asian experience and Pacific Islander experience. And within those groups, the individual cultures (Filipino, Indonesian, Vietnamese, etc) are vastly different as well. Our traditional clothes are not costumes you can put on for Halloween. Our food isn’t just your Friday night takeout. Our countries aren’t just Instagram background playgrounds.

Our traditional clothes are not costumes you can put on for Halloween. Our food isn’t just your Friday night takeout. Our countries aren’t just Instagram background playgrounds.

Watch movies that center (not fetishize!) us, read books by Asian authors, like Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings. But don’t just stop at memoirs or critical race theory—read our fiction, too (like If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha)! Diversify your feed with Asian creators, follow Asian news networks (like Vice AsiaNBC Asian America)—especially because news about us is extremely under-reported—support Asian-founded brands and companies, and by all means diversify who you hire and, most importantly, promote in decision-making roles. I think we desperately need to shift perceptions of “Asian” from stereotypes and tropes, and the way to do that is expanding how you, yourself, view Asian people.

Arshia Moorjani


Arshia Moorjani

Instagram: @arshiamoorjani

Background: I was born in India and moved to the United States when I was eight years old.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I definitely did not see anyone who looked like me in the media/magazines growing up. Not only that, I didn’t grow up around a large South Asian community, which definitely made me feel very different from my peers. I remember being as young as 11 years old and feeling like I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t beautiful and disliking certain facial features, like my big eyes and my skin tone.

What has your experience been in the fashion/beauty industry?

When I first started blogging over five years ago and started to work/meet with beauty brands, I had very serious conversations about the lack of diversity in the beauty space. Beauty brands would claim to have products for all skin tones but their ad campaigns did not reflect that at all. A lot of brands took well to the criticism, but some did not.

Fast forward to over five years later, we have come a long way in the beauty industry in terms of diversity—but we still have ways to go. No matter what your gender/age/race etc. is, beauty brands should be catering and representing everyone. It’s also important for brands to hire a diverse group of people because I genuinely believe diverse people create diverse products.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the South Asian community?

I remember a small group of my friends who were so kind and accepting of me when I moved to the US from India. Those people really gave me the confidence to thrive in a new country. Similarly, I also vividly remember those who bullied and made fun of me simply because I was different from them. Those people really crushed my confidence and made me feel isolated in a new place where I already felt so alone. I think the simplest way to support the South Asian/Asian community or any group of people who look different to you is to be kind and accepting.

Michelle Li


Michelle Li

Instagram: @himichelleli

Background: Chinese

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I think growing up in Indiana, especially in elementary and middle school, I was both so aware that I was different but unaware really of how I was different. I remember just feeling like the “Other” and constantly being left out. But then in high school, I loved being different and being Asian. I didn’t grow up feeling myself represented at all in media or magazines, but I did have Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels and I had my mom who I thought (and still think!) was so beautiful and that was sufficient for me.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion industry?

I’ve experienced so many microaggressions while working in the fashion/beauty industry. I think it’s automatically assumed that because I’m an Asian American, I won’t speak up for myself or that I’ll be a workhorse and stay quiet about things. The industry is so competitive already and I think that a lot of people try to exclude Asian Americans and make them feel like they don’t belong. I think the most recent experience where I really felt this is when I was on a press trip and another editor kept confusing me with an Asian woman on the PR team. I tried to just give her the benefit of the doubt and just brush it off, but this happened multiple times and at one point it felt like she was doing it intentionally as some strange way to assert herself. Trends like the “fox eye makeup” just show me that there is so much more work to be done, and seeing luxury designers try to profit off of Chinese New Year lately when a few years ago they really didn’t care feels a little wrong to me.

The moments where I have felt the most represented throughout my career are when I’ve seen other Asian Americans creating beautiful work or in positions that I admire (and strive to be in one day). It makes me feel empowered to see other Asian Americans stand up for themselves against coworkers, be respected and accomplished in their industry, and support other Asians and share the success. The Asian American community can be really insular sometimes and so there are only a few of us that truly succeed, but we can remedy that by supporting each other at every opportunity.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

I think that people should think about the things they say in passing, like, “Oh, he’s cute for an Asian” or “You look exactly like [insert other only Asian friend]” because to me, those comments show the real deep-rooted racism and perception that people have towards Asian Americans. As BIPOC, we are constantly thinking and aware of our race and we’ve been thinking about it and have been confronted by it since childhood. Because I didn’t grow up in a predominantly Asian community, I understand that a lot of times the things people say aren’t malicious and instead come from a place of curiosity, so I try not to get offended and instead help them understand. But allies should be willing to listen and admit when their perception was incorrect and harmful, even if they didn’t mean it to be. It is okay to be honest about things you don’t know and to ask questions. Now is the time to start helping small Asian businesses and Send Chinatown Love is a great resource for that. Instead of using [NYC’s] Chinatown as a backdrop for a photoshoot and then going to Dimes or Kiki’s in the area, do a little bit more research and support an Asian restaurant in the area instead.

sarah wu

Sarah Y. Wu

Instagram: @say.wu

Background: Taiwanese-American

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I know many AAPIs have felt a lack of representation in media and magazines growing up, and that’s a very isolating thing to go through. I grew up consuming both Taiwanese and American media and magazines, so I personally never felt that Taiwanese faces couldn’t be considered beautiful or that there were spaces we couldn’t occupy. I sit very comfortably in that aspect of my Taiwanese-American identity. Of course, the older I got, the more I realized the distinction between what I was seeing in Taiwanese vs. U.S. media.

One thing I do strongly feel we need to work on in terms of AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] representation overall is highlighting the full scope of our appearances and experiences. The AAPI community encompasses so many different cultures, yet only a few are regularly shown. One of the projects I’m proudest of leading was Teen Vogue‘s inaugural Asian Pacific American Heritage Month package. I worked with my good friend Megan Dacus, a talented Korean-American photographer based in L.A., on creating a photo series that explored what being Asian-American looks like, through our own eyes. Many of the individuals we featured were still figuring out exactly what that meant for them, but they were taking agency over that narrative, which I found so beautiful and powerful.

The AAPI identity is interesting because everyone else is constantly trying to define it for us. I know I’m not the only one who has been continually told that I’m “not American enough,” and also “not Taiwanese enough.” But by what metric? Being Taiwanese-American does not make me any less of either; it means that I possess an even broader perspective on both cultures I claim. We are the only ones who have the right to define our own identities and determine how we choose to see ourselves.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

I have not at all felt represented and seen in a meaningful way throughout my career, and this is something we are going to have to push for ourselves because there remains such a lack of understanding of the diversity of our experiences and cultures. My colleagues of color can attest to the numerous times I’ve been on the receiving end of blatant racism in the workplace, including one memorable experience where I was asked to wear a ninja outfit to represent “my culture” in a video meant to denounce culturally appropriative Halloween costumes. If you’re somehow unaware, ninjas are historically Japanese, and I’m Taiwanese-American. Some additional context to note: Japan colonized Taiwan and ruled our country under an oppressive regime for 50 years. A 2-second Google search could tell you this, but the assumption was clearly that all Asians are interchangeable and the same.

I was vocal about why I refused that video ask, but I also am aware that the majority of upper management in media and HR doesn’t have our backs in these situations. It becomes more challenging to push back or speak up when you know you’re on unequal footing from the start. (Not to say that we shouldn’t, but to acknowledge that there is that deliberately placed barrier, and that this is part of a larger systemic issue.)

As far as trends go, I’ve sat in countless meetings where non Asian-owned brands pushed “exotic Asian skincare ingredients” to me or talked about racially appropriative trends. This ties back to colonialist history, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the War Brides Act of 1945. Go back in our history, and you’ll see how this country deliberately pushed legislation that causes us to be continually exoticized and fetishized, and then told to be grateful for our mistreatment. This mindset has become so ingrained that non-Asian folx really don’t see the issue with mocking us by pulling on their eyes to make slits, and then turning around and using it as an aesthetic for the “fox eye trend” without being subject to the same discrimination.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community during this time? 

Learn our history, know our present realities. Don’t treat us as a monolith. This is such a basic ask, but I’ve also seen that people just know nothing about the differences between our cultures, the long history of oppression and erasure we’ve faced in many Western countries, or the fact that many Asian-Americans are still kept in poverty and receive no funding or aid.

I tagged a few starter resources in this post that are great for staying informed. Google also exists. The Asian-American experience is so varied and nuanced, but we keep seeing it get shoved into this one inaccurate model minority myth. I’ve had someone say the words “positive racism” to me in reference to the discrimination we go through. I see so many people perpetuating stereotypes that Asians are quiet or submissive and not realizing or caring about the harmful, brutal histories that these mindsets come from.

I also feel for my AAPI community that is going through this firsthand and processing trauma while also having to speak so loud and face continuous minimizing of our pain. It’s a lot to go through and a lot of heavy emotions and rage to sit with, and I see a lot of us differing on what the solution should be. And it’s important to have that dialogue. I personally feel that we can’t look to an oppressive law enforcement system to somehow “save” us when they don’t care about us in the first place. I’ve written before that I think it’s crucial we have this conversation without co-opting the BLM movement or perpetuating anti-Blackness because liberation is linked. At the same time, I refuse to minimize the extent of our pain or stay silent about it. I want awareness and solidarity, but by awareness I don’t mean playing the violent attacks against us on a loop. It’s not a spectacle for you to consume and dissect in front of us.

What I’m also asking is that you don’t put additional burdens on us. Don’t have the expectation for us to teach you or tell you what to do when there are already resources being voluntarily given out there. I previously spoke to Byrdie about the double trauma we go through in experiencing and witnessing these attacks, and then having to go up against law enforcement and the people around us to “prove” to them that these attacks are hate crimes in a long history of anti-Asian racism. Stop gaslighting us and start acknowledging our realities. Stand up for us within your own communities as well, where we can’t always be present to speak up for ourselves. I want meaningful change to follow your awareness. This goes especially for those in positions of power who can work to change systems within their industries. I’m sure that you can do more than reposting once or sending me a heart emoji. That’s below the bare minimum.

Mi-Anne Chan


Mi-Anne Chan

Instagram: @mianne.chan

Background: Chinese

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I grew up in Northern California’s Alameda County, in which Asians make up the largest share of the population. It became very clear to me at a young age that my non-Asian peers saw us as monolithic. Comments like “all Asians are good at math” and “that guy has an Asian fetish, that’s why he likes you” were thrown around with abandon and that, naturally, lead to a period of self-hatred. I spent a lot of my time thinking about how to differentiate myself from other Asians growing up in the way I looked and the way I acted.

This desire to be “different from the rest” was reflected in media, where Asian actors or models were cast one-at-a-time in magazine spreads or as supporting characters on TV shows (London Tipton from “The Suite Life Of Zack & Cody” comes to mind). I think I felt like I had to be the only Asian in the room to be special and unique. Looking back, I hate myself for this period of my life. The idea that there can “only be one,” seeped into my subconscious and I have to actively work every day to unlearn that thought.

Here in New York, I have fewer Asian friends, but a special connection to my friend Michelle, who is also Chinese. I didn’t realize how valuable it was to grow up surrounded by people who looked like me. Now, we’ll often seek out opportunities to celebrate Asian holidays with friends over hot pot and when I’m surrounded by a group of Asians now, I don’t think about how I can differentiate myself from them. I just think about how much I miss that invisible connection you feel when you gather around a table with people who share aspects of your culture.

I felt like I had to be the only Asian in the room to be special and unique. The idea that there can “only be one” seeped into my subconscious and I have to actively work every day to unlearn that thought.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the beauty industry?

I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of tone-deaf comments like “Asians don’t count, you’re basically white,” when discussing diversity initiatives with editors I respected. The model minority myth is pervasive, and even worse, it was used as a tool historically to pit minority groups against each other. I’ve had the enormous pleasure of writing about the Asian experience through the lens of beauty many times throughout my career and I have loved those stories. But in the time of hot taking and sensationalism, I’d love to see a version of media where minority groups aren’t tokenized and asked to exploit their own experiences for traffic.

How do seeing “trends” like fox eye makeup make you feel?

“Trends” like fox eye makeup give me pause, not for the makeup but because of the poses associated with it. One of my friends, Ivan, always says there are a lot of ways to frame your face that don’t involve pulling your eyes back in offensive ways. That’s it, that’s the tea!

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

Support Asian-owned businesses and assess your own prejudices. You can also donate to projects like the Chinese Planning Council’s Covid-19 Relief Fund and Welcome to Chinatown’s Longevity Fund which provide essential services (like meals and PPE) to frontline workers and seniors and distribute grants to at-risk small businesses, respectively. Do not use these horrific crimes against Asians as a way to drive a further wedge between the Black and Asian communities. Urge your representatives to approve a progressive stimulus and to keep income thresholds where they are, rather than bringing them lower!

Ayesha Perry-Iqbal


Ayesha Perry-Iqbal

Instagram: @ayeshapi

Background: I am Welsh and Pakistani, raised in the UK.

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

I didn’t see myself represented at all in the media. It was so alienating and confusing just seeing images of white thin women plastered on every tv screen and in every magazine.

It is already hard enough finding my identity as a mixed-raced person, especially a mix that isn’t super common, so I struggled a lot especially as a teen to feel beautiful and represented. I had to fine that love in myself and I realized in my early twenties that if I don’t step forward and make the change, all the young girls growing up after me will feel just as isolated as I did.

What has your experience been in the fashion/beauty industry?

I didn’t see one person in fashion or beauty that looked like me when I started in the industry. It made me feel like I wasn’t pretty and I had to do things to change myself to look like what the industry deemed as beautiful. Now in 2021, I am still the only Pakistani Plus model signed in the United States. It’s been such an uphill battle trying to get brands to work with me. I have had brands say my “ethnicity is a risk” and haven’t cast me. It’s such a shame that Asian women, particularly South Asian women, aren’t seen all over the fashion and beauty industry all the time. Every time I book a campaign I see it as a win for the whole community of curvy Asian women. It is so important for me to pave the way for us because we deserve representation in every facet of the media and I know there are little girls out there who need to know they are beautiful just the way they are. So being in the industry for me means representation, it means growth, it means breaking down barriers. I am proud to be South Asian.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the South Asian community?

Support the community by using us in every facet of entertainment/ fashion/beauty and media campaigns not just as tokens, but with real diverse representation. Educate yourself on Asian and South Asian culture.

There are so many young women and men who want to feel seen and heard. We all have the opportunity to be better for all races.

Erica Choi


Erica Choi

Instagram: @eggcanvas

Background: Korean

Growing up, did you see yourself represented in media or magazines? How did that affect your perception of beauty?

Growing up in the ’90s, I definitely did not see myself represented. I gravitated towards Korean fashion and beauty magazines because they felt so much more relatable. They were not so commonly available in the US back then, so I would ask my dad to bring back the most popular ones from his business trips to the homeland. In media, there were a few key Asian-American celebrities that seemed to represent all of us. When an Asian person had a role in a movie, they were always the supporting character, and was nerdy, did martial arts, and/or had an accent. When I was younger, K-pop and K-dramas were definitely not something that you proudly said you listened to or watched. Korea was also not very widely known yet, and I was frequently greeted with “Ni hao” and “Konichiwa” by random strangers on the street. Even though I came to the US when I was two, I felt very much like an outsider. I had a hard time with the English language and had to take ESL lessons, which further removed me from my classmates. In school, the popular kids who were Asian were very assimilated to white culture, and really did not want to do anything with the Asian culture. This really affected my self-confidence and perception of beauty.

Over the years, I’ve realized my true viewpoint of beauty. I’ll never forget, however, in school how I was always the quiet, hard-working Asian girl, who needed to stay in her place.

What has your experience been as an Asian American in the fashion/beauty industry?

Most of my career has been in graphic design and luxury fashion, where Asians make up a large number of roles. Due to many beauty, fashion, and music trends coming out of Korea over the years, it has helped me to navigate the space with more strength and guidance. I’m also blessed to have had a few Asian women in leadership roles in my past companies, and I was able to look up to them as mentors and role models. It taught me resilience and helped me to set goals for where I wanted to go and who I wanted to become.

What do you want allies and non-Asian people to know most about how to support the Asian community?

That we are all in this together to help one another in order to build a better future. To please listen to us as we listen to you. To have respect and understanding of our cultural differences. Don’t jump to conclusions and stereotypes.

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