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How to Grow Up Beautiful, Without Representation

I remember when I was very young, I believed I was white. My friends were white and all the people in our neighborhood were white. Even though the people around me would often call me simply Asian or, by the older white men my family knew, Oriental.

I thought that — as someone who was actually biracial — if I was being called by one of the two halves of my identity, then I should also be called by the other just as easily.

My mother had a mirror in the upstairs bathroom that was frustratingly small. It was round and placed at a height where, at my short stature, my reflection would cut off a little below my chin. I often had to stand on tiptoe to get a sense of what my full hair and face actually looked like, but after a while I didn’t even bother anymore.

Growing up, I tended to avoid mirrors unless I needed them. Seeing my face was never intentional, only by accident when my eyes flickered to the reflective surface and caught a glimpse of myself.

If you would have asked me what I saw in that mirror that made me so uneasy from such a young age, I would have simply said: I look like an alien.

Growing up in the ’90s era of beauty

I grew up in the ’90s, a time before there were YouTube videos about the finer tips of on point liner, cut creases, and perfecting one’s contour. If your mother, aunt, siblings, or friends weren’t into makeup, then you either had to experiment on your own or rely on magazines to lead you to aesthetic enlightenment.

Classic magazines like Seventeen and the famously risqué — at the time (though laughably absurd in retrospect) — Cosmopolitan offered girls guidance on what colors would suit you best.

Were you warm-toned or cool-toned? Should you wear silver or gold jewelry? What eyeshadow colors worked best with your hair color and your eye color? What lipsticks were kiss-proof and which mascaras were cry-proof?

I remember becoming increasingly interested in the idea of beauty and the possibility of making minor tweaks to make myself aesthetically pleasing. It wasn’t necessarily to get attention from girls or boys. More than anything, I think I just wanted to understand what my “best” features actually were.

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