Full title – Let’s Talk About: Why I Needed Representation as a Child and Need it Now as an Adult
I’m reviving this discussion post series. Months ago, I wrote a piece on something I was very passionate about – ‘Strong Female Characters’. After that, I couldn’t think of anything to talk about. So now I am reviving this series and will be releasing a Let’s Talk About discussion post every second Sunday!
Today, I want to talk about media representation. Not only is representation of different peoples in media something I passionately advocate and support, it is also something very dear to my heart. In this post today, I will be talking a lot about ethnic identity, because it was something that I really struggled with growing up. So whilst I am talking a lot about Asian representation, my discussions and their inherent intention is for diversity and representation to extend to all groups. I will be drawing on a lot of personal experiences, so if they are different to yours, I would love to hear your own experiences in the comments below!
1. BECAUSE I LEARNED THAT I COULD BE BEAUTIFUL ONLY LATER IN LIFE
Growing up in a Western country where white beauty was the only type of beauty that was widely celebrated can raise a lot of questions, insecurities, and pain. Social constructs like beauty and what is beauty are things that are taught; they are not inherently understood.
Thinking back to my youth, there were so many instances where I envisioned myself as a tall, blond and white, when in reality I am a short, black-haired, and Asian. The incongruence was so confusing! I felt so conflicted about how I saw myself in my head and what I saw in my reflection. I had set myself this false expectation of my beauty that I could never meet.
It was only when I was in my early twenties did I discover Angry Asian Girls United’s Asian Face Appreciation Day. Then, it really hit me, “Wow, all of these girls are so beautiful! Why can’t I be beautiful too?” From there, I began to teach myself self-acceptance and self-love. It was trying – I had to unlearn a lot of harmful things, and be critically aware of what I thought of others and myself. I began to accept my identity and that it will always be conflicting sometimes (unfortunately contingent on the political climate!), but I should do my best so that it doesn’t impede on my self-worth.
I look back to the years that I spent wishing I was someone else – not doing things or putting myself out there because of my insecurities, and many of my insecurities were rooted to my identity and self-perception.
I wonder about the adults who still feel this way, if they look at themselves and wish they weren’t who they were. I need representation because although I have begun to accept myself and unlearn all my twisted perceptions of beauty, I wonder about the young children who might feel this way too.
I need representation because I want people to believe that they can be beautiful no matter and because of their skin colour.
2. BECAUSE I DON’T SEE MYSELF ENOUGH IN THE MEDIA
Friends, do you ever feel excited when you see a person of your colour in a movie or a book? That kneejerk reaction of, “Hey, there’s an Asian in this movie! I really hope they don’t die!”
Children should be able to watch or read things and see representations of themselves. It goes beyond making them happy that someone like them is important or a part of something important, but it extends to characters shaping their perception of the world, and teaching them that, yes, you do exist because I do.
Growing up and now, whenever I see Asian characters in the media, I latch onto them immediately. Seeing yourself is such a validating experience – something that people over-represented in the media may have difficulty understanding. When Fan Bingbing was cast as Blink in X-Men: Days of Future Past, I instantly fell in love with her. Sure, she says literally one thing in the movie – “Time’s up!” – but she looks out for everyone and saves so many from being killed. I had my mouth open with a big grin when I saw how awesome she was. I clung onto Fan Bingbing’s Blink like she was salvation.
And I thought later, “Why do I love her so much?” The reason: I never see awesome Asian women in the media. The most I see are the smart nerds that are used to facilitate the growth of a white character, or the fetishized and exoticized Asian woman who (surprise surprise!) has virtually no characterization but is there either because a) they are a love interest for no reason other than the fact the movie needs to have a love interest, b) a tacky deus ex machina, or c) they are exploited for comedy punchlines or for cheap shock value. These cheap representations perpetuate the stereotypes that dehumanize us. They are harmful and hurtful. It is absolute necessary to move beyond these poor portrayals.
I wish I grew up seeing more of someone like me in the media other than Mulan. I wish I had fictional characters that could have been role models, who I knew would really understand me and my struggles.
I need representation because I want kids to grow up seeing themselves in the media. I want kids to grow up and look at a fictional character that looks like them and think, “I can be smart like them too!” or “I can do anything because they can!”
I need positive representations that help kids believe in themselves, and help them find their place in this world.
3. BECAUSE HISTORY AND WHO THE CHARACTERS ARE MATTER TOO
In extension to my second point, a character’s history and their characters matters too – if not more.
While I certainly want to see more Asian characters out there, if the Asian characters are poorly written or are not accurate representations, then not only does it destroy potential to explore othered narratives, but it can also do more harm than good.
As much as I love seeing Asian women in the media, I want writers to critically think about who they are writing about. I want writers to research different narratives and personal histories to create complex characters that people can identify with. A great example was For Today I Am a Boy by Marie Fu. As well as exploring trans issues, the book also looked at the immigrant family and the conflict between Chinese and American values as well as the father’s desire to become the Western masculine archetype. This book mattered because these experiences are real – they are felt deeply by people who share even a sliver of that experience.
I want more than just mere ‘Asian’ characters with Asian-sounding names to appease the masses. I want more than authors including underdeveloped PoC characters in their books just to meet the mere minimum. I want well-written, well-researched characters with complex personal histories, and I do not want their ethnic identity and cultures ignored.
I need diversity because I want our stories and experiences to be told. I want invisible stories and experiences to be heard. I want others to know that they are not alone.
Though the points above don’t cover the diversity topic in its entirety, the three above really stood out for me when I was reflecting on my struggles as a child. The topic of diversity still remains more important to me than it did growing up. Not only would having more diverse characters be awesome, but including characters of different backgrounds in your stories ties to personal narratives and stories – and that matters. Diversity isn’t just a movement to make better narratives and better stories, it is also a call to give us humanity.
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
And now I want to hear your thoughts! ♥
- What are your thoughts on representation in today’s media?
- Do you have any experiences regarding representation?
- What do you think can be done to improve representation of different people?
- How do you feel when you are being represented well/poorly? What are some examples?
- Why do you need representation?