USAG- Humphreys (CC by 2.0)
Somewhere between the cuteness of Hello Kitty and the lusty image of a slutty mainstream backup dancer in a pop music video (“want me, want me!) female body, is the stereotype female image that South East Asia portrays today. The cliches couldn’t be more obvious, the time has come for an Asian Ruby Rose.
Recently, our international school organised its yearly Dance Fest, a dance festival by and for international students from the Chiang Mai area. From the first performance the stage was: naked belly’s, tight jeans, suggestive pelvic thrusts, long hair fiercely going from left to right and too much makeup. Seems harmless enough, except for the fact that the average age of the dancers was about fourteen! There’s something fundamentally wrong with the image of the female amongst Thai, Korean and Chinese girls, collectively they are all buying into the same statue quo of manufactured consent.
From Hello Kitty in one straight line to Playboy
Thailand has a reputation of being a country where sexual freedom and deviancy are limitless; where ladyboys are part of the natural streetscape scenery, gay and lesbian, heterosexuals, and everything in between aren’t considered taboo. Where numerous western men fall in love with girls young enough to be their grand daughters.
Nevertheless Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse are still the uncrowned queens of the country.
Next to the ladyboy, who is walking hand in hand with his/her boy/girlfriend, there’s the woman – fully grown up – wearing a Hello Kitty T-shirt and Minnie Mouse socks. To her, this image of a scantly dressed hooker is shocking, and their prudery complete.
In this contradictory landscape, a new generation of girls is going through their teenage years. They are Thai, but also Korean and Chinese. They have to try and find their identity amidst these extreme stereotypes. Gotta do it.
Beyoncé is a role model, but also the enormously popular ‘K-Pop’ bands (Korean pop music that influences most of South East Asia), and the rest of the world. K-Pop is a crossover between Korean and western pop music, dipped in a sauce of lust and fierce hip movements, even the occasional private-parts groping. The pop stars are teenagers themselves and they are the examples to the girls in our classes. For the Dance Fest, the majority of the girls clearly found their inspiration in mainstream K-Pop choreographies.
The worries of the school girls
The girls in our classes are intelligent, open minded and are preparing themselves for an international academic career. All good, except for the illusion they have of who they think they should be.
I occasionally overhear conversations in between classes: often it is about the latest makeup purchase, the newest whitening cream because – God forbid – a suntan is evil itself. While gallons of self tanning cream are being purchased in the West, here ‘whiter than white’ is the ideal.
In our school uniforms are mandatory. Which is fortunate, because otherwise we would have to fight a daily battle against tight shorts (or are they underpants?), naked belly’s, clubbing outfits and cleavage.
All this to illustrate that the ideal of what a female should look like in South East Asia is getting out of hand, or better yet has fallen into the wrong hands. This has to do with the Asian image culture, that promotes an absurd and short-sighted image of the female. Fashion also plays an important role: the female uniform today is tight jeans, high waisted pants, short shorts, and naked belly. The only alternatives are the extreme opposite, Minnie Mouse and Kitty.
Underneath all this, there’s a spooky white skin. That’s who girls want to be. Or: what they think they want to be. There are hardly any exceptions.
Ruby Rose to the rescue
In the West, Ruby Rose is mainly known because of her striking appearance in the popular series ‘Orange is the new black’, but that is not her only achievement. Ruby Rose is a DJ, model, actress, but most importantly, a symbol for the breach of the female status quo. Her short movie Break Free is a beautiful symbolic campaign to promote genuinity. It explicitly says no to short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness.
Being a woman or a man is a state of mind, but it has become a social label. For South East Asian girls, being a woman has been reduced to a trashy piece of meat ideal, which in reality is impossible to attain.
Ruby Rose, can you send your Asian twin sister to this side of the world, please?
I am neither a feminist, nor a suffragette, nor a female rights activist. I was born in a female body and I am happy with that. I have short hair, a few tattoos, I like motorbiking and I detest pink. But I also love high heels, a tight dress from time to time, and I am not afraid to show some cleavage.
Therefore, to all of our school girls: just say NO to the status quo!
This is an adapted translation of the text that was published in Dutch on the Belgian website www.mo.be in June 2016.