Asian Standards of Beauty: How 3 Southeast Asian Women are Redefining Beauty

Asian woman in garden holding red fan

Over the past few weeks, I had the privilege to speak to three incredible, independent, and beautiful women (over good old Zoom, of course). Each of their stories pulled on my heartstrings in different ways, as I felt every word that came out of their mouths. Each story showed me that the world is changing and with that, how we define beauty is also changing. These women displayed what true courage means, what it means to love themselves for who they are, and as a result each gained a wealth of confidence.

On the 16th of April 2020, I posted on a number of Facebook groups with a contest asking for video entries on the topic of ‘The Influence of My Asian Culture’. I was hoping to feature a short collage of videos on Soy & Spice Lingerie’s website and thought it’d also be a good opportunity to use this as a form of market research, to see if women are willing to speak up about growing up in Asian cultures. 

I went into this mini-project with no expectations, heck, if I saw some random woman posting about this, I would think she is crazy and there is no way on earth I would share such a video. However, after a few days, I started getting comments on my posts. I was so shocked (and ecstatic) that it’s actually happening, I remember doing a little dance in my kitchen. I decided to reach out to each of the women, thanking them, and get to know them deeper. After telling a friend about how incredible the stories were, she suggested turning them into blogs and sharing them with the world, so here we are today. 

Rosie's Story

One of the first people who commented on my post was Rosie. Rosie grew up in a Cambodian household in America and has 7 other siblings. She went through primary and high school fitting into what is considered the ‘Asian standards of beauty’. Skinny and head full of shiny, straight hair. She recalls waking up one day in her first year of University when everything changed. Her hair turned curly overnight and with that she started to gain weight. 

Being raised by a single mother, Rosie highly values her mum’s opinions about her and her looks. Rosie told me that she remembers one day when her mum and her were out, they saw a lady with curly hair too, but her curls were larger, more lushish. Her mum commented on how beautiful the lady’s curls were right in front of Rosie, when for years, she tried every measure to straighten Rosie’s hair and wouldn’t let her wear clothes that accentuated her curviness. I, too was raised by a single mother for the most part of my life, so this was SO RELATABLE. 

Rosie remembered feeling so hurt by it at the time but she found the courage to not let those comments get the best of her. She found her inner strength to push past those comments and found her own inner beauty. Rosie currently runs her own marketing agency, Rosie Chuong Content Services, and has recently founded API Curls, a multicultural digital platform focused on transforming outdated narratives about beauty diversity and empowering women in Asian and Pacific Islander communities to embrace their natural hair patterns and textures. You can check out all the amazing work she is involved with here www.rosiechuong.com

The topic of whether Rosie’s life would have been completely different if she had grown up in Cambodia, rather than America, came up halfway through our conversation and the answer was a definite yes. Growing up in a western environment allowed Rosie to make friends from different cultural backgrounds, who looked completely different from one another. It showed her that beauty can mean different things to different people and that she is beautiful in her own ways. It was heartrending for the both of us to imagine what it could have been like being so ‘different’ in a community where there were no other standards. As we discussed the topic further, I started developing a sunken feeling in my stomach. There are plenty of women who are indeed living in these communities that feel like they don’t fit in, that they are not beautiful.
             
             
Asian woman in black outfit curly hair
Above photo: Rosie with a super cute handbag! Love it!
             
            
Lala's Story
Lala used to be one of them. Lala grew up in Pemalang, Indonesia, and throughout her school years was bullied because of her curly hair, dark skin and was constantly subjected to fat-shaming. She wasn’t considered ‘pretty’ and everyone she crossed paths with wanted to change her. Many of her friends faced the same criticisms, to the point where they chemically whitened their skin to fit the beauty standards. The thought of joining her friends to chemically whiten her own skin went through Lala’s mind hundreds of times too, but she never went through with it, only to use DIY methods, like applying egg whites to whiten her skin at home. 

Lala got in touch with me through Rosie’s video post on Instagram. We hit it off from the moment we started talking. She described her experiences in such detail and I could read her story through her eyes. 

Her self- image was torn into pieces from the constant disapproval of those around her, but her love for learning languages saved her. It exposed her to new friends around the world, she met her now-husband and it allowed her to see the world from completely different perspectives. Through broadening her horizon, just like Rosie, she understood that beauty is represented differently across the globe and she too, is beautiful.
             
             
Asian woman looking into camera with confidence
Above photo: Lala with those gorgeous eyes! :)
             
             
 
Asian woman smiling with floral shirt
Above photo: Meira and that stunning smile of hers! Will never get sick of this.
             
             
Meira's Story

Lala is not alone in trying to redefine the beauty standards of her surrounding community. Meira, who also grew up in Indonesia, was bullied by both her friends and teachers in school because of her curly hair and body shape. Meira felt so ashamed, she didn’t want to be seen and felt she looked ‘wrong’ to everyone. My heart sank so deep when I heard those words and I tried so damn hard to hold back my tears.

However, just like Rosie and Lala, Meira started her journey of self-love. She began to embrace her curly hair and started to get fit, not for anyone else, but for herself. She is a strong believer that if you don’t love yourself, no one will love you. 

To me, they are what true beauty stands for. I think there are parts of other people that everyone wants to have. Take me for instance, I wish to not have to curl my hair every time I go somewhere fancy and just have gorgeous natural curls! It takes true courage for these women to not only love themselves for who they are but the fact that they pushed through the constant negative comments, came out the other end stronger and wanting to share their story and inspire those around them, is in itself beautiful.

We have the power to define what we consider beautiful, so why not use our influence to redefine what beauty stands for? 

This is exactly what Soy & Spice Lingerie symbolises. To love yourself for who you are, to have the confidence in trying things outside of your comfort zone, and to have the courage in pushing your boundaries. To join our growing community today and receive our latest catalogue, sign up at www.soyandspice.com.
Here's a sneak peek at our most popular set, The Wild Camelia :)
             
             

White lingerie set with flowers and champagne

Above photo: Soy & Spice Lingerie Collection- The Wild Camelia in white, $50AUD

 

Black lingerie with champagne

Above photo: Soy & Spice Lingerie Collection- The Wild Camelia in black, $50AUD

 

About the Author: Mary Liu

Mary, the Founder of Soy & Spice Lingerie loves every moment of her waking hours spent on developing the lingerie line.
She started her entrepreneurial journey at the age of 19 and has spent the past 10 years of her career in the Australian startup ecosystem. 
With a love for lingerie and a deep passion in advocating for women in leadership and entrepreneurship, Mary hopes to inspire others through her own journey, and for Soy & Spice to give every woman that it comes across the confidence to try something that is outside of their comfort zone and to love themselves in the process.

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