When your Asian mom doesn’t think you are pretty.

Growing up in China, I considered myself fortunate and free. My classmates were forced to go to various tutoring classes on the weekends, while I played outside with my friends in the self-built neighborhoods until it’s completely dark.

Not Noticing Abuse Due to Neglect

Even though every time I wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house, my parents said: “you are not homeless, so why would you need to sleep in someone else’s house,” I grew up having minimal parents supervision. My dad even set up a children’s website on the computer for me, so I could be frequently left at home as the single child without a babysitter. I later discovered that some of the “write your own ending” German children stories on one of the websites were highly sexual and inappropriate as a result of certain ill-intentioned website users really running wild with their imagination. Since I just didn’t know they were sexual and inappropriate for my then 8-year-old self, I never told my dad about it. But hey, who can grow up completely protected in the age of the internet?

Since I had so much freedom and so little supervision compare to those around me who were born to helicopter parents and tiger moms, I never realized that my mother saw me as an extension of herself, and she hated me as a result of hating herself. I always thought, if she was a bad Asian mom, she would determine my career, who I marry, etc, and since I’ve always had the option to be an artist or marry a black guy, she was a progressive Asian mom. Even though my parents had no career expectations for me, and never asked for my report card or cared about my grades, I was expected to be completely loyal to my family, in a “family first, you are second, and how you feel is not even third” way.

Shaming Puberty, Body, and Asian Features

Photo by Joy Marino from Pexels

So I ignored all of the signs of abuse. When my mother said I was too fat at 115 pounds and 5’2, and I could lose at least thirty more pounds, I just thought, that’s how all Asian moms feel about their daughters. When my mother said my face is too flat and I am not pretty, I just laughed it off and made self-derogatory jokes. I sure can laugh about it, and joke that my pepper spray is just my face. My white friends were horrified when they heard me say stuff like that, and often responded with you are beautiful, don’t say stuff like that! Other white people thought I was being attention seeking by joking about myself being ugly when I am not considered conventionally ugly. At that point, I didn’t realize that all of them knew something that I didn’t know about myself: how ashamed I was of my looks.

Growing up, my mother would look at me, physically try to stretch out my nose or chin, and say your face is just too flat, if your nose can be taller or your chin can be longer, you would look a lot better. Or you hav such a fat butt, have you been sitting down a lot and just studying? You need to walk around more, you are getting fatter and ugly with a butt like that. When I first started developing breasts, my mother took me to the doctor and asked them to make my breasts dissapear so I won’t become premature and unable to grow taller. The doctor told her one cannot reverse puberty, and my mother responded by telling me I should massage my breasts to make them go away. As a result of her constant shaming of my normal development, I became very hunched over and constantly tried to hide my breasts, making middle school a harder experience than it needed to be.

Photo by @thiszun (follow me on IG, FB) from Pexels

My mother would also subtly mention her brief trip to London and her approval of European standards of beauty without expressly saying it, so many of these women are so beautiful, it’s like people are just more beautiful in London, unlike the Chinese, they look angelic like models. At that point, I didn’t realize that the reason white people looked like angels and models, is because how angels and models look are based off of how white people looked. All my mother was saying only meant white people looked like themselves. Even though I have never had an issue when it comes to my appearance when dating, and I always get compliments from other people on my looks, I’ve always felt deeply ashamed about how I looked, and I spent countless hours googling plastic surgery on the internet. When guys try to flatter me, I would say oh that’s not true you flatter me too much.

Every time someone hit on me, I thought it’s because they think Asian girls are easy, and I never considered the possibility that me, someone almost never represented by Hollywood, could actually be beautiful. At the time, I thought being humble is true confidence, and being able to make self-derogatory humor is the best way to be funny. I didn’t realize that by joking about myself being ugly, I allowed my mother’s voice and her hatred toward herself, her whole race, and me to turn into self-hatred.

In the end of the day, it is rude to call someone ugly, and it is terrible to say that to yourself, een as a joke.

So Where am I Now?

I am still a work in progress. I feel more confident once I realize that I am just an average person, trying to make her average life worthwhile. There are a lot of average people who are happier and more confident, because they felt like they have a right to be happy, appearance isn’t everything, and it’s good to accept who you are.

There is no shame in just being an average person of any race. And now when people try to compliment me, I would take it as a sign of appreciation and truly be joyful about it, instead of thinking they were just being pitiful and charitable.

As someone who used to research and serious consider “height-extension surgeries” that require breaking your legs and laying in bed for a year, I am by no means fully recovered from a lifelong of body-shaming. But I am trying, and I will keep writing about my progress here.

18 Comments

  1. I can relate to your story so much, my mom was similar to yours. Maybe that’s how they were treated by their moms, and they thought it would help us? My mom wasn’t mean but she was critical/perfectionistic. I felt unattractive and only started feeling pretty during college when guys started noticing me for the first time. Unfortunately my mom convinced me to get eyelid surgery when I was 19 yrs old (lifetime of regretting that decision), the surgery was unnecessary and worse it was botched. My eyes were large and pretty but only one eye had a crease so I thought it would be an improvement to have surgery to balance them. Now every time I look in the mirror, I’m reminded that I rejected my true self, my beautiful eyes are permanently damaged. I’m so glad you resisted making any changes to your body. You are just right as you are! Beautiful🌸!

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I think being a perfectionist is means, I also agree that they believe they are helping us by being honest. But if you come up to someone in America and say “you are ugly, I am just trying to be honest,” they would punch you in the face, so why are we expected to take that as children? You are incredibly attractive, not that looks matters as much as Asian moms think it does! I think I resisted making any changes with my lack of money haha, but if I had more money I would definitely look like a Chinese plastic surgery monster with a chin that I can use to cut a fruit now. You look great and have beautiful eyes if you never mentioned that I would never have known it was botched! Ironically the amount of compliments I received from (mostly sincere) white guys made me realize that I can be pretty! Also, accepting yourself as pretty does not actually make everyone else worse, so no need to be excessively humble Asian. People in China won’t think you are pretty unless you are this insane goddess, so a lot of cute girls feel really bad about themselves. Unfortunate when your society lets you down and your approval has to come from some outsider.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, Justine, (thank you too for your compliments)! That’s true, “honesty”=unwanted, biased opinion! I think that there’s so much racism/self-hatred? ingrained in Western and Eastern culture that trained Asians to feel unattractive. It has to stop! I think your friends were being sincere when they said you are beautiful, it’s hard to re-learn to accept compliments! I was taught to be humble too and thought that meant putting myself down! I was born in South Korea, which encourages plastic surgery as if it were nothing drastic, but it’s a permanent change. I feel ashamed that I rejected my real self, (without eyeliner on, the disfigurement is very noticeable). My mom said after the painful procedure, “I’m sorry! I’ve ruined your face!” 😞. She meant well and spent hard earned $$$. For decades I punished myself (my vanity) by not wearing makeup so that I wasn’t hiding my mistake but now I wear a little bit of makeup because I feel more forgiveness to myself. I’m glad you wrote about this important topic.

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      2. Omg honestly people would never expect you to have this type of internal struggle since you’re so beautiful! People are usually shocked to find out about my insecurities too. But yes, I try to think about who is benefiting from my insecurity. China is going the South Korea route and really trying to turn everyone into the same person. I think makeup is good personally. I feel more like myself with makeup, and I don’t think it’s sad. I think a lot of people have asymmetrical facial features and from your photo it’s not noticeable at all. If you wanted to make a change for your looks, go for it but I don’t think you had a botched eyelid job at all! I personally don’t think double eyelid is too westernized since lots of Asians have double eyelid! You look very beautiful in an Asian way and you still look very recognizable. People probably can’t tell you even had plastic surgery! It’s so weird that most people can never guess other people’s insecurities.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Aww, thank you! I’m glad you said no to the unnecessary teeth shaving! Doctors are nuts! I agree, I think plastic surgery ti look like the Caucasian ideal is sad, (like Michael Jackson). I wanted to even out my eyes but made them crooked, ha! I can kind of laugh about it now finally. I believe that self-confidence can make people look physically beautiful and vanity makes them look ugly.

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      4. Omg but you are not ugly!! And we are all vain! Plus having double eyelids isn’t a white thing either, lots of Asians have it, for example you were born with one! Glad you gained the self confidence though 🙂 you and everyone deserves it!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Judy, I just wanted to say that I can relate. My mom pushed me towards plastic surgery for my chin when I was a teenager. I wrote about it here: https://lanivcox.com/2012/03/15/girls-like-me/

      It’s actually so crazy to hear your story and I’m sorry. I feel the same way because my chin puckers when I do absolutely nothing. (when I smile it goes away) It’s just a normal side effect to having the damn chin implant removed, which I had to have done since it was eating my chin away. Yup.

      At this point you could probably have it fixed, like me, but like me, you’re probably terrified about going under the knife again.

      Sending love from Thailand.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Lani, I look forward to reading your story, when I get home from work. I wrote about my experience in this blog, but made it private after trolls were reading my blog, (they don’t deserve to read about something so painful and personal). I understand how you feel, without makeup, little 6 yr old kids that I tutored asked what happened to my eye! It’s almost funny but it’s mostly sad. I’m sorry that your natural beauty was invalidated, it’s beautiful that when you smile the scar goes away🌸. I actually had 2 surgeries, the second one didn’t fix the problem, so I’m done with it! Sending love to you too from Northern California, USA.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I love what you wrote and can relate to your experience so well! I was 16 when my mom first asked if I wanted eyelid surgery, my older sister had pleaded for it for years, she was beautiful but didn’t realize! I refused when I was 16 but gave in when I was 19. It’s like eyelid circumcision. I was awake too and it was painful! In the US there’s still hardly any representation of Asians in a normal, positive way. We are not exotic!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you found me Justine. And I’m sorry you had to deal with such parents, and your mother. God, we could trade stories.

    Because I’ve written a lot over the years, I wanted to share a couple of posts with you that I think you might like.

    https://lanivcox.com/2010/02/06/beautiful-you-and-me/

    https://lanivcox.com/2017/10/17/why-is-it-so-hard-for-women-to-accept-themselves/

    My brother and I were ‘latchkey kids’ which is to say, we, too, were at home often without adults around. My mom worked, and her boyfriend did too, so that left us alone with cable TV and our imaginations. Looking back, I suppose there were times I was angry over not having an idyllic childhood, but now that I’m in my 40s, I’m so over it.

    Things will get better, they already are! as you’re learning to accept yourself. It’s good that you’re writing and sharing. xo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! I’ll check them out. I was shocked to discover the existence of babysitters when I came to the US, like kids are not just locked up all day? I’m glad to see the progress you’ve made throughout the years, self acceptance is difficult and I’m proud of you for moving toward that direction!

      Liked by 2 people

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