Asian Girl Problem #99: Get Dat Glow

I know healthy habits and the right regime are the foundation for all good skin, but I wouldn’t trade my Asian skin type for any other. Commonly known traits include:

-Thicker and denser dermal layer with more collagen, which makes it harder to damage/age.
-Darker color (“caramel, if you will) that tans easier than it burns.
-Less likely to get skin cancer/diseases, because of the darker pigmentation.
-Retains darker scars after minor injuries. Still waiting for two bug bites from last summer to show some sign of fading.

Another reason I think we maintain dat glow is by drinking plain hot water, an unspoken and mostly unconscious habit passed down from our moms and grannies. In China, cold water that’s safe to drink only comes bottled, but you can find places to fill up your thermos with free boiled water almost anywhere. But now in America, where hot water no cleaner than iced and probably annoys servers, we still ask for it whenever we can.

My Asian girlfriends know what I’m talking about–when we roll up to a restaurant, we get hot waters all around. A spot of tea or squeeze of lemon is great, but can sometimes sullies the pure experience–steeping our face in the steam and inhaling the warmth has a magical effect. As it cools enough to drink, tastes different too–almost thicker and more mineral-y, like the heat enhances every flavor nuance.

Far more crucial than a blender or food processor in our family.

I forget how uncommon it is in American culture until I’m the only one doing it in the presence of non-Asians. Happened yesterday at a bar, after one too many whiskeys. (Which, for those of you who underestimate my alcohol sensitivity, is one whiskey.)

“You just got hot water?” they asked, followed by a long pause while trying to decide if I’m cheap or weird.

“It’s an Asian thing.” So probably both.

For all that’s great about Asian skin, we pay our dues in social chagrin: Asian glow*. I saw an exceptionally bad case the other day– a fellow yellow turned Crayola red within ten minutes of entering the bar. So red we couldn’t be sure if it was alcohol-induced or rosacea. But unless people are genuinely wondering if they need to be calling 911, I don’t see why it’s embarrassing. Maybe it’s compounded by coming from a culture that values self-control and reticence and being in the one situation where you can’t maintain a poker face.

*for an antidote, Pepcid AC 30 minutes before drinking has always worked for me.


Asian Girl Problem #85: The Fight Against Age

A couple months ago, right before I turned 26, a switch turned on. I started worrying about my perceived age, my actual age, my dating life (as affected by my age) and ultimately how I can dodge mortality. The battle has officially begun.

When this chart first made the internet rounds, I was in college, and thought it was hilarious. It was like reading a novel about married people having affairs–interesting and possibly relevant one day, but too farfetched from my life to consider as more than entertainment. I also couldn’t take it totally seriously because never have I looked like the 18-50yo woman–maybe the 60-7yo during more unfortunate phases of my life (i.e. sixth grade).

I know I have a lot ahead of me, and that my genes will probably keep my age ambiguous for another good decade. But whereas age used to be a non-factor, I now brush against it all the time. I’m suddenly sensitive to the effects of food and diet on my skin. A coworker who guesses my age to be “mid-to-late 20s” irks me. Dating 30-something guys because they’re looking for 20-somethings is a concept I can understand, but hesitant to experience.

Feminist inclinations be damned, my primordial urges are like, “All I want to do is eat, make out, reproduce and eat some more. Get it before it’s too late. Where are these dudes? I’ve actually been trying to date for six months, more than I can say at any other point in my life. What do you mean it takes time and luck? I’m entitled to popping out children and I will not be denied. My skin ain’t getting tighter.”

I know the underlying problem is that we put too much worth into looks. Not saying I’m all that–I can only imagine how much harder it is for gorgeous ladies who have been praised and assessed solely on their looks throughout their youth. It was common in my parents’ household too. They never valued inner beauty more than outer–both were important–and they always commented on physical characteristics of people, whether that was my fat body, “pretty face,” my friends’ skin colors, or a stranger’s limp. Of course, they wouldn’t talk about it publicly, but all positive and negative features (mostly these) were up for discussion in the privacy of our home.

If nothing else, it was ingrained in me that looks are one of the most important factors in a person’s chance of success. And age is a direct enemy of them, so here we are today. Always equipped with sunscreen, cutting out refined carbs, and wearing that crop top like it’s my last chance (which it should be). I’ll keep fighting the battle I’ll inevitably lose by taking care of my health. But there may be ways to reduce it from a battle to something lesser, like domestic strife. And to quell the fears by writing them away.

Asian Girl Problem #74: Making It Up

I can’t complain–my eyes have been pretty good to me over the years. Since childhood, I learned that I had the desirable double eyelid, courtesy of my dad’s “Western feature” genes. Both he and I also have these weird dark ridges under our eyes, which my classmates used to ask me about. But I was cool with those too, after my dad convinced me they were awesome. (I wish a persuasive and positive male figure in every young girl’s life.)


But in the rare instance I’m applying eye makeup, I’ll notice that my upper eyelid hella droops over my lower one (thanks, Mom). And I’ll end up on Google, trying to find the right word to describe my problem and looking for makeup advice to minimize the effect. A smoky eyeshadow angled up? Concealer under the lid? I never find the answer, but ten out of ten times, I’ll get sucked into watching some YouTube video for “Asian eye makeup.” The other day, it was this:

Just another “fashion guru” sharing her two cents to help other girls learn how to have fuller lips, thinner noses, bigger eyes, Whiter features. And, though I’m not sure the contour effect can be pulled off in real life, I’d concede that her results are hot. Then I find myself rewinding, desperate to see what she looks like naturally, but she doesn’t provide a before shot. “Good for her,” most of my mind says. Makeup is a powerful tool. If you have two hours a day to change your face, instead of painful and expensive surgery, you could go through life convincing almost everyone of your made up reality. Putting the best version of you out there–I’m into it, I think.

A few years ago, my Taiwanese friend shared a game show with me, wherein the host presents adorable photos of girls, and then they come on stage, sans makeup. When they do, it’s like the Springer show. The audience gasps in delight and surprise at the below-average-looking girls. Then they sit down at a makeup table and go through their entire makeup routine. Special contacts, fake lashes and contouring are always a big part of the transformation.

To cap off this circus, the audience votes on which girl has the most dramatic transformation–essentially, which girl is the least attractive and can cover her undesirable features the best.

I don’t want to hate this, but I do. What gets me is that internet usage and online social media is so pervasive in Chinese life. It’s a generation of only children–kids aren’t that social but lonely, the economy’s tough so they get their kicks online, and lots of girls have fantasies of meeting a wealthy prince through online dating. They know the tricks and their photos all look great, but identical–puckered lips and babydoll stares up at the camera. The moment a guy sees her naturally, whether that’s the first date or hookup, is something I would both pay and cringe to witness. If online dating in America is a jungle, in China it’s a bloodsport.

Beauty is a bitch that you always want to own. More on this later.

Asian Girl Problem #28: Skinlightened

Seeing as my days are currently filled with house hunting, job hunting and no socialization, I’m resorting to a fall-back AGP: skin lightening. However, I’m realizing I have very few personal experiences and that it’s not just an Asian problem. Skin-color alteration happens in all developed communities and the definition of the “perfect tone” changes so much from one to another, it’s impossible to take it seriously. But lots do–Americans go tan, and everyone else in the world goes the other direction.

When I went to China as a kid, I would go into “consumer” mode, buying everything I could get my hands on, including beauty and hygiene items like lotions, shampoos and sprays. I bought them mostly for the cute packaging. And I quickly saw that there was not a single skin product that didn’t claim to lighten it. Want to look sun-kissed? Too bad, you could only attempt to look like a delicate pink invalid. Or a pampered wife who never had to leave the house unless it was in a car.

I bought lotions, soaps and toner-like liquids. Most of them made some reference to “milk” one way or another, because that’s how the Chinese like to describe skin perfection. I’d take them home, excitedly try them once, and never use them again. A couple immediately made me break out. It’s probably a good thing that I can never stick with a beauty regime more complicated than applying daily sunscreen. My mother would tell me horror stories about skin bleaching and over-the-counter medication. Lucky for me, kids in Ohio would’ve killed for my tan.

All photos sourced from this article.

People bring up a lot of underlying political and socioeconomic issues when it comes to this topic. It’s heinous to use skin tone to measure a person’s class or integrity, as is often the case. (I wish I knew more to write about that.) But people with severe acne, scars or wrinkles have an even harder time in their own way, yet we don’t read any outraged articles about that. And god knows there are a billion products out there to target those as well.

Glorify whiteness, darkness, Nicole Kidman, Kim Kardashian–that’s how the industry works. I think this is one case that we’re all in it together. Clearly, I’m grappling with this topic and need someone to further inform me.

Asian Girl Problem #27: Snake-lotion Salesmen

The skincare industry is ruthless. I don’t know if it’s a prerequisite for its salespeople to be uppity and insulting, or if I just have bad luck. The first time I bought any serious powder was in college, at the Clinique counter in a shop next to campus. Instead of educating me, the lady brushed me off and acted as if it was my fault I was inexperienced. But I’m low maintenance and I like their product design, so continued to buy their products for a couple years until I switched to Bare Minerals.

Maybe it’s because I don’t use enough makeup to become a regular BM customer, or because I ask stupid questions like “Do I have to buy the special brush? Is it that different from applying it with my fingers?” but they’ve never given me the time of day either.

I think the beauty counter is the most intimidating place for a woman to approach. It’s not a huge taboo to comment on a woman’s skin or makeup, yet they seem to prey on insecurity. You’re either not wearing enough, too much, or the wrong kind. The only time you might be in the clear is if you are wearing their product, head to toe. Seriously, sometimes they don’t even look at me before diagnosing me with a skin condition. Who are these people?

As I was leaving work the other day, I experienced a new level of salesmanship. This high-end store called Orogold had opened on our street, and at any given time of day, they had a cute little European man standing at the door, looking for women. They would always start the conversation with “Where are you from?” which is just a brilliant technique. It opens conversation, especially with wide-eyed tourists and flatters vain women. After managing to dodge these guys several times that day, I gave in and accepted the gold gift bag he was waving at me. Inside were two lotion samples for their best-selling product.

Not as pretty as Clinique and much more $$$. Here’s a tip: if you’re selling good skin, let your model show her face.

It’s a nice change to talk to a prepubescent boy than an abusive lady, and I’m sure Orogold considers that when hiring. Though it was uncomfortable talking about my (lack of) skin regime with a boy prettier than me, I humored him while took my hand captive and rubbed layers of different product on it. As he kept rubbing, a layer of dirty, flaky crap started coming off my skin. Apparently, this was all the dirt on my body that nothing except this magic lotion could take off. Personally, I’m convinced most of the crap was in the lotion he applied in the first place.

“Did you not shower this morning?” he asked with a chuckle. I would’ve been offended, but his execution was so unbelievable–like someone was forcing him to use that sales tactic, that I just said “I did!” and let him continue to have his way with my hand.

I can only imagine how annoying it will be when I have spots and lines to hide. Thank god for online shopping.

I originally meant to write about skin lightening creams. To be continued!