Why can't I hold all these projections?, Charmaine
Words by Charmaine Li
"Up until my early twenties, I subconsciously fluctuated between trying to conform to white beauty norms and Asian standards of beauty (which are, undeniably, also influenced by Western ideals of beauty). Growing up, I remember being bombarded by images of women with light skin, big eyes, thin noses and curved bodies nearly everywhere I looked.
To mimic the poses of these women who represent conventional notions of physical beauty was to become acutely aware of how much I had been altering my face, body and behaviours to fit into these norms when I was younger. I remember staring at myself in the mirror as a teenager and feeling an overwhelming sense of inadequacy spreading through my body. I remember saving up money to get Korean Magic Straight perms, buying questionable products to grow longer eyelashes and spending too much time researching ways to have more pronounced double eyelids. I remember the countless times I looked at myself before leaving the house – surveying the contours of my face and body – from what I imagined to be the perspective of a conventional man. Perhaps it’s why, now as an adult, I felt most uncomfortable and unnatural when contorting my body to emulate the poses of Posh Spice and Kim Kardashian. These days, a mere inkling that someone else might be subtly dictating my gestures and expressions makes my body stiff.
When I was 18, I stumbled upon Alexander Wang’s Fall 2008 collection on style.com and couldn't stop looking. It was the first time I had seen boyish frames like mine draped with fabric in a way that I was drawn to. Even as images of “beautiful” women in the media started losing their power for me in university – particularly after I became acquainted with the “Ways of Seeing” series by John Berger and the essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” by Laura Mulvey – I think I only began feeling joy and freedom in my own skin at the age of 23 after I moved to Berlin, where I didn't feel as much pressure to conform to any particular standards of beauty. More recently, when I encountered the essay ‘Its Time to Reclaim Our Skin’ in adrienne maree brown’s book Pleasure Activism and did an exercise on decolonizing beauty standards created by Rachel Cargle, the associations between beauty, whiteness and capitalism became even more crystallized to me and I could feel the many years of stifling internal programming further loosening its grip on how I see myself and others."