So goes the story of my life as a first generation Filipina-American: absent of letters, recognition of my history, and a face that looked like my own. Growing up, my story was never told in movie plots or television scripts. My reflection was hardly mirrored in the magazines I devoured as a teenager, and my room was filled with magazine cutouts of celebrities that shared no resemblance to my own face or upbringing. Alas, all my life, I did not have the novelty of having a celebrity look alike.
While the search for a celebrity look alike may seem silly, the absence of one pointed to a much larger issue: when it came down to it, my version of beauty was not validated by a culture that relies on media to dictate what exists and what doesn’t. I didn’t see myself. I was invisible. And during those tender and formative years of my adolescence, I mistook invisible for being ugly. And the scary thing is, I wasn’t alone.
In the United States, Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest female suicide rates among all other ethnic groups in that age range, making suicide the leading cause of death for Asian-American women in that age group (CNN). Depression runs high among young Asian-American women, and self-esteem issues are partly the culprit. As fashion icon and Richard Avedon muse, China Machado once said in an interview with New York Magazine, “We [nonwhites] had no images. We had nothing that told us we were nice-looking. Nothing. So I didn’t think of myself as good-looking at all. It never occurred to me.” This was coming from the woman Avedon himself called “probably the most beautiful woman in the world.”
You see, Asian-American women like me come from countries where whitening creams are constant best sellers in the cosmetic industry. In Asia, skin bleaching, and in some cases, eyelid surgery (the procedure of getting eyelids sewn in to make the eyes seem wider) have become common beauty regimens. Speaking from experience, I came from a post-colonial Asian country of the Philippines, where brown women are pitted against impossible standards of beauty (remnants of a deeply embedded inheritance from the Spaniards and the Americans who colonized us). Add this history to our invisibility in American media plus the pressures to become “model minorities”, plus growing up with immigrant parents who don’t always understand our assimilation to American values, and the pressures come to a dangerous boiling point.
This is why, two years ago, upon reading Michelle Obama’s letter, I made a decision to write my own letter: A Love Letter to the Filipina. Published on my blog, it was a gift for my sisters to let them know that I believed in them, that I loved them, that I wanted them to know something I didn’t always know: that they are beautiful. Then, like Avedon, I made China Machado my muse.
—Ruby Veridiano, “The Glamourbaby Diaries Film: Self-Esteem For Asian American Women,” BlogHer 9/19/12