Growing up in the States during the 1980s and the 1990s, it was hard to be a non-white girl. With the except of Iman, there really were any non-white fashion models, and advertisements for regular stores like Macy, JCPenny’s, etc. maybe had a black model, maybe. Every where I looked around, the standard of beauty was a white, tall, slender/skinny (depending on your perception), usually blond and usually blue-eyed girl. On the other hand, I was and still am, a short, almond-cream (according to my makeup) complextion, slender, black-haired, and dark brown-eyed girl. I remember the kids, especially at my elementary school, where there were only a handful each of Asian, Black , and Latino students, paying extremely close attention to my differences, particularly the fact that my nose doesn’t stick out to far, my cheekbones are placed different, my eyes are shaped differently, my torso is short, etc. I never really was at the point that I hated the way that God made me, but I didn’t love me either and I did, as I was growing up, think that lighter coloring was better.
When I left for college, in some ways I had no idea what to expect, it was a whole new world, especially socially. And truthfully, I wasn’t prepared for most of what I encountered. You have to understand, I’m a nerd, I may not look it, but if you take the time to get to know me, you’ll quickly realize how nerdy I am. So I hung out with fellow nerds in high school, ethnicity, nationality, looks, money didn’t really matter, the size of your brain and the willingness to hear other people’s beliefs and thoughts did, as well as the ability to put corraborating facts to back up what you had to say. So in uni, people (mostly guys) started to pay attention to me, because I’m Korean and exotic, not because I have a crazy sense of humor, or because I can be a good person (when I put my mind to it), or any other intangible reason, simply for how I looked. After a few bad experiences, I just shied away from guys in general, because they had made it clear that they were interested in my only because I was an exotic, Korean girl. It does hurt to hear that’s why someone’s interested in you.
And just when I thought that I had come to terms with my looks, I moved to Korea. In a culture that has evolved to prizing harmony, standing out, rocking the boat is not a good thing, and I stand out. I generally don’t dress like Korean girls, I don’t wear make-up, I’m not that concerned with fashion or trends. So I’m pretty much invisible here in Korea. For Korean guys, I’m generally not Korean-enough…my clothes, the lack of make-up, the more than willingness to speak my mind, etc…is slightly a turn-off for them or for the exact opposite reasons, I’m not “western” enough, I don’t drink, smoke, party, or anything else. On the other hand, I’m pretty much invisible to western guys for the same reasons.
So it was a surprise for me when I was in Russia and I got a lot of looks, unlike when I lived in Slovakia or traveled around Central Europe, with the exception of one guy, there wasn’t any dirty whistles, nasty stares, disgusting come-on lines, just a look. Of course, I do realize the paradox of the situation, if I were to live in Russia, I expect that I would have different reactions, but it was nice on a vacation to feel pretty and noticable for being pretty. Although I’m sure that several guys were more or less reacting to me being not a Russian girl, it was still nice to not be such a big freak show.