The Asian beauty dilemma: are we really ugly or do we just think we are?

Yesterday, an old friend of mine asked me to weigh in on Singapore’s obsession with mixed-race persons. She was irate because organisers of Singapore’s Motherhood Magazine had snubbed her fifteen-month-old Chinese toddler, in favour of candidates who were either Eurasian or multi-ethnic. She was quick to concede that  these mixed-race candidates were better looking than mono-race ones, but asserted, and quite rightly too, that Singapore is a largely mono-race city-state.

Asian media pundits point to the double or triple fold circulation of magazines with mixed-race persons on the cover, as opposed to those with mono-racial ones, as being incentive enough to go with the former. While parents of mono-race children such as my friend bemoan their beloved offspring’s lack of desirability, does the mass appeal of mixed-race children to a mono-race population not speak volumes of the way Chinese look at themselves?

I’ve heard and read that in many parts of Asia, the cosmetic procedure du juor is blepharoplasty, followed by rhinoplasty. In lay man’s terms: eye jobs and nose jobs. In more extreme instances, Koreans and Chinese have been known to get their foreheads implanted, chins lengthened, jaws chiselled and skin-whitened ala Michael Jackson, in a bid to approximate their ideal. This begs the question: are Chinese really physically unattractive or is this widespread dysmorphia the result of deifying the wrong beauty paradigm?

Many of my Asian friends were totally amazed when I told them that Aussies routinely compliment me on Amanda’s looks. To Asians, Amanda has small eyes and a short nose. To Aussies, she’s  the equivalent of a pink flamingo in the middle of a suburban park. I just wished my Chinese, Korean and Japanese sisters would see themselves the way enlightened whites do, then none need be subjected to the plastic surgeon’s knife.

Confessions of a former ugly duckling.

As the third of four children, the first two Eurasian, and the last looking more like our Peranakan side of the family, I was what no family member would call a beauty. Indeed, the common refrain among my mother’s Peranakan family was that I looked like my father’s youngest sister and mother, both small-eyed and flat-nosed, if like most Chinese, very fair. With Chinese notions of beauty having always been about big-eyes and sharp noses, even my father’s family considered me rather dour-looking.

Estella as a baby.

Me as a baby with my mother.

Thus, no one expected me to look quite like I do now. As you can see, with time, my Peranakan genes, unknown to me until I was twenty-nine, would out itself. My eyes, while never as large as any of my siblings, somehow grew or opened up to take in the heightened bridge of my nose. My face elongated when I was six and by the time I was twelve, I looked like a childlike version of what I am today.

Estella aged 3.

Me as a 3 year old.

Estella aged 6.

Me as a 6 year old with my father and brother.

Estella aged 12.

Me aged 12.

The point of this whole story I suppose is to say that one can’t really tell how a child will grow up looking. Certainly, having no expectation that I would ever be good-looking, even though I should point out that my mother is, allowed me to concentrate on developing other aspects of my person. It sure beats having everyone fuss over your looks as a child only to outgrow them as an adult.

Estella aged 21.

Me aged 21, at my graduation from university.