Growing up, Camille rarely felt negative bias for being Asian, except for a couple situations such as the aftermath of mid-high school break-up. After breaking up with her boyfriend of almost two years, she received hurtful messages on Formspring, a question and answer based social network that allows users to post anonymously. Her ex-boyfriend had moved on rather quickly (to a white girl) and people posted comments such as “You’re not as talented or pretty as her” or “They look so much cuter together than you did with him.’”
And Camille unfortunately started to believe them. While people can argue that attractiveness is subjective, it cannot be disputed that most models and actors in Hollywood are white and have established beauty standards to which many of us cannot live up, especially non-Caucasians. In addition, studies have shown that people are actually attracted to others who look like them. As a result, Camille couldn’t help but compare her attractiveness to that of her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend who was fair-skinned and physically resembled her ex-boyfriend more than Camille ever could.
“I wonder if Asians are replacing others for the role of the mean girl.”
Even within her own ethnicity, fair skin seems to be not just a preference but an obsession. At home, Camille and her parents frequently watch the television network, The Filipino Channel (TFC) which broadcasts news, sitcoms, live events, etcetera from the Philippines. Camille notes that all of the women who appear on TFC have pale skin. Since the Spaniards colonized the Philippines in the 1500’s, dark skin has been associated with poor laborers, while lighter skin, either from being wealthy or being mixed-race, also known as mestizos, was associated with the upper class. Camille admits, “My dad always asks me why I’m so dark all the time.” Even now, many Filipino women purchase products that help bleach or lighten their skin.
Camille and I brainstormed examples of Filipino females who have tried to break into the American entertainment industry. Jessica Sanchez was the runner-up of the eleventh season of American Idol but after some short-lived success including her most recent and only album in 2013, Sanchez has adhered to singing covers and producing YouTube videos. Another example is Lea Salonga who in 1991, became the first Asian woman to win a Tony Award. She also provided the singing voices of not only one but two Disney princesses, Jasmine in Aladdin and Fa Mulan in Mulan. Previously signed to Atlantic Records which boasts many mainstream artists such as Cardi B, Ed Sheeran and Camila Cabella, Salonga has not been able to reach the success in America of non-Asian performers. Notable Filipino entertainers include Vanessa Hudgens and Nicole Scherzinger, who both happen to be mestizos.
“I don’t want to be the stereotypical Filipino nurse.”
Camille agrees that Hollywood’s portrayal of Asian females have been limited to the nerdy and more reserved roles. However, she contemplates, “I wonder if Asians are replacing others for the role of the mean girl.” She might be onto something. A May 2018 article in Teen Vogue discusses the rise of the Asian mean girl and the shift of Asian actresses playing characters that have been historically reserved for white performers. The article points out that while this shift strays away from the lotus blossom stereotype of Asian females depicted as submissive and fragile, viewers are now more exposed to the dragon lady stereotype of Asian females, described as calculating and domineering. One example is Gretchen Weiner in the Broadway adaptation of Mean Girls played by Korean-American actress, Ashley Park and Chelsea Barnes, the only Asian chracter in the whole cast of Disney Channel original movie, Princess Protection Program, played by Jamie Chung. Gretchen is known as one of the trio of mean girls while Chelsea plays the head bitch in charge.
Camille is pursuing a career in the healthcare industry which may sound stereotypical for Asian females. However, she defends this choice as one decided by her genuine interest in science and one not pressured by a tiger mom or a dragon lady. She admits,“I don’t want to be the stereotypical Filipino nurse.” I had not seen Camille since high school graduation so I was in complete shock when I ran into her in the middle of a random street in SoHo. She had been working in the city as part of her pharmacy rotations and as much as she hopes to see more Filipino and Asian representation in Hollywood, she longs to participate in a show during her off-cycle to continue her own personal interest in the arts and musical theatre.