Asian Female and Femme Body Image
The Asian Female and Femme Body Image is complex and deserving of discussion. Perhaps, you’ve experienced this for yourself over the years. Asian American female & femme bodies have to deal with both Asian and Western beauty standards and are often in conflict. Body shaming about weight and skin color from family is difficult. Then there’s also objectification and stereotypes from strangers and media. Many experience body dissatisfaction, which can lead to anxiety, depression, or eating disorders. Asian American women are often left out of the body image conversation because they are expected to be ‘thin’ and ‘cute’. These negative beliefs are not true, and Asian American women deserve to have their own spaces to learn and heal their body image.
Body Image 101: What’s the difference between Asian beauty standards and Western beauty standards?
Asian and Western beauty standards are often in conflict. Asian beauty standards tend to prefer someone with a slender figure, long dark hair, and pale skin. As a result, Asian women whose sizes are mid-sized to plus-sized or have darker skin are excluded from what is considered ‘beautiful.’ Also, many Asian clothing brands do not make clothes in plus sizes, and many Asian makeup brands do not carry dark shades.
Many Asian women are then shamed by family and ‘concerned relatives’ for their weight or their skin color. They are recommended to eat less while being scolded for not finishing their plate. They are told to avoid the sun or use skin-lightening products, while being told to get outside to exercise. It is oftentimes a confusing and embarrassing experience for Asian women. They did not ask for these comments or who would not fit into this beauty standard, no matter how much they tried.
The Comparison Trap
Western beauty standards prefer someone with a curvy figure and light-colored eyes and hair. This standard also tends to prefer Eurocentric facial features. As a result, there is popularity for colored hair (particularly lighter or blonder). There is also a popularity for colored contacts (for colors like blue or green). Eyelid tape or surgery are both popular to add a crease to the eyelid, as many Asian women have monolids. At the same time, Asian American women are expected to be thin and ‘delicately’ beautiful in a combination of Asian and Western beauty standards. In other words, they experienced more pressure to be slim and small.
How do Western Stereotypes Impact Asian Female and Femme Bodies?
Beyond Western beauty standards, Asian American women must also deal with Western stereotypes. You may have seen these stereotypes before in movies, TV, and other media. There are two main stereotypes that they are often subjected to.
“Waifu” Schoolgirl Without a Voice
The first is the stereotype that Asian women are cute, small, demure, and submissive. This can be seen in the popularity and fetishization of the ‘Japanese schoolgirl’ aesthetic. There is a huge market in the U.S. for media portraying young-looking Asian women. For example, women who stream video games gain popularity and receive lots of viewership if they fit the ‘kawaii’ aesthetic (Japanese for ‘cute’). Using an ‘uwu’ voice, higher-pitched, sweet, can even considered to be a ‘baby’ voice is also popular. In popular media, the “Lotus Blossom” character is a gentle submissive Asian woman.
Here’s a quote from a 24-year-old Asian American woman:
“Stereotypes can make dating really hard. When men idealize Japanese anime or Korean pop stars, they build this ‘ideal’ image in their heads. I am not anyone’s ‘waifu,’ and I am not going to dress like a schoolgirl. I’m an adult woman with my own voice and my own desires.”
Sexualizing Asian Women’s Bodies
The second is the stereotype that Asian women are exotic and sexy. This can be seen in the popularity of the ‘femme fatale’ aesthetic. Or, an Asian woman who pretends to be submissive and then uses her sexuality as a weapon. This character is also often considered the “Dragon Lady” and can be seen in movies like James Bond or Kill Bill. Lucy Liu has written an opinion piece protesting the Dragon Lady stereotype for her role.
This stereotype can also be seen in the desire for Asian women in regards to sex and sex work. The stereotype of the “happy ending massage” from specifically Asian massage parlors. “Yellow fever” is the term for non-Asian men who have a sexual preference and fetish for Asian women. There are non-Asian men who will look for pornography specifically depicting Asian women. They will get on online Asian spaces in an attempt to meet Asian women, often using sexual advances.
Here’s a quote from a 27-year old Asian American woman:
“I have received inappropriate pictures on Facebook and inappropriate messages on LinkedIn (which is supposed to be a professional site!), all from non-Asian men who are interested solely in my appearance and my sexuality. Even when I’m not on dating platforms, I still experience yellow fever, and I hate it when men tell me I’m so ‘exotic.’ I was born in the U.S.”
What is the Impact of These Beauty Standards on Asian American Women?
These beauty standards make Asian American women ashamed of their weight and size. They can be afraid of gaining weight or eating too much, or being desperate to lose weight. Body shaming from family and strangers can make them feel uncomfortable in their bodies. This can lead to them wanting to change their features, or feeling insecure about different body parts.
Asian American women may also feel like they could never be considered ‘beautiful’ by wider society. It is usually thin, light-skinned East Asian women being portrayed. These beauty standards can lead to overall body insecurity, anxiety about their appearance. Also, depression from never being able to meet expectations.
Additionally, these standards and stereotypes can lead to negative external consequences as well. The Western stereotypes described above can result in fetishization and exotification. Which can lead to objectification and dehumanization. One tragic example is that of the Atlanta spa shootings. The perpetrator primarily killed Asian women working at these spas. Then, claimed that he wanted to eliminate the “temptation” of his sex addiction. The intersection of racism and misogyny in Asian women being exotic and submissive sexual partners is real.
A Path to Healing: Therapy for Asian Women in Los Angeles, CA, New York City, NY and Beyond
Working through beauty standards and racial-related trauma can be painful and difficult. As you work on your individual journey, we recommend using a body neutral lens. This means accepting and appreciating your body for what it can do rather than trying to love your appearance.
Reframing Food as Fuel
Another helpful tip is to reframe your relationships with food and movement. Food is fuel! While some foods may be healthier in nutrients than others, you can remember that there is no morality assigned to any food. Intuitive eating means being present when you are eating, and eating the foods that taste and feel good. Reframed ideas of movement focus on doing physical activities that feel good. Feeling good is more important than focusing on exercise for the purpose of physical health. Whether that means going for a walk or dancing in your kitchen, use movement that allows you to appreciate what your body can do at the moment.
Setting Boundaries About Body Image and Body-Shaming Culture
We recommend distancing yourself and setting boundaries against those who body shame you. For example, you might try comments like “While I appreciate your concern, I do not need you to criticize my body”. “I’m good with my body as it is and do not want any more comments.” Whatever works for you! We know that setting boundaries with certain family members can be difficult. You can start with a realistic boundary setting with the people that you are able to.
Written by: Angela Nguyen, MSW
Begin Therapy for Asian Women in Los Angeles, CA and New York City, NY
Finding a therapist who understands the particular struggles of the Asian American experience can feel difficult. But, you can get help from an Asian Therapist, here. You can also ask how to join our Asian Female and Femme Body Image Support Group to explore in-depth tools of reconnecting with your body in a way that feels right for you! To get started with our Los Angeles and New York City-based therapy practice, follow the steps below:
- Request an appointment using the prompt below or our contact form.
- Begin meeting with a trained Asian American therapist.
- Begin your journey to becoming the best version of yourself.
Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective
The skilled therapists at our Los Angeles and New York City-based counseling center are ready to meet you. We specialize in therapy for Asian women, and also in Adult ADHD therapy. We provide expert EMDR for trauma therapy and PTSD treatment. If you are looking to improve your romantic relationship, we offer couples therapy. If you are working on yourself, we offer individual therapy, burnout treatment and work stress management, and HSP treatment and therapy for empaths. We also have experience working with teens as well as mothers for postpartum therapy. Please reach out to us at Yellow Chair Collective for any questions you may have about our in-person or online therapy services.
Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | Asian Women & Intersectional Body Acceptance (with Angela Nguyen & Catherine Vu)