I recently came across news of controversy surrounding a racist casting call. The casting call asked for a Chinese or Korean mother and child, describing specific criteria for the actors' appearances such as "Skin tone: clean, white and pinky" and, even more controversially, "Eyes: Although almond-shaped, not too downturned eyes, no monolid." Unsurprisingly, the casting call drew a large amount of controversy, especially among Asian Americans who saw this criteria as looking for Asian actors who fit cleanly into Western beauty standards.
When I saw this casting call myself, it was somehow simultaneously surprising but not unexpected. I was shocked at the company's blatant exclusion of actors with traditionally Asian features, and yet I wasn't surprised that these features wouldn't quite suit the appearance they wanted. Still, it had been quite a while since I'd seen anything like this, since I'd seen anyone reject Asian features so blatantly.
As I read through the casting call, I couldn't help but to reflect on myself. When I look in the mirror, I am not "clean, white, and pinky": I've always tanned easily, and my skin has always had a yellow undertone. I look at my monolids, and I know for sure that this company wouldn't like me. I look at my wide, flat nose and think that they probably wouldn't like that either -- although I suppose at that point, they'd be better off finding white actors.
In the end, I don't really care about these casting companies. But when I looked at this casting call, I remembered being ten years old in Chinese school, being told by my teacher that double eyelids are prettier. I remembered trying to say that sometimes I did actually have double eyelids then going home and trying to rub my eyes to make my eyelids crease. I remembered secretly eyeing the double eyelid tape in Asian beauty stores and getting frustrated with eyeliner tutorials that simply wouldn't work with my monolids.
I don't care about this company, and I really don't care about getting validation from a company that would have the audacity to put out a racist casting call. What I do care about is that this casting call asked for a mother and a child.
I think about my childhood experiences with beauty standards that just didn't have room for my Asian features. The fact is that my experience isn't unique at all. The childhoods of many East Asian Americans consist of being told to pinch our noses to make them less flat, being given whitening products to lighten our skin, or watching our mothers stay out of the sun at all costs to avoid tanning. Many of my Asian friends have had a "white phase" when they were young, wishing that they, too, could have white skin, lighter hair, and lighter eyes. We never completely grow out of these experiences. Once these beauty standards are internalized, it's hard to get them out of our heads. Imagine, now, being an East Asian child and being cast for your "pinky" white skin and double eyelids and "not too downturned eyes." And imagine being an East Asian American child and mainly seeing actors that conform to these features.
As I've grown up, I've learned to come to terms with my Asian features. I've even learned to grow an appreciation for my monolids and complexion (still working on the nose though). Even so, it's hard to shake the beauty standards that are still prevalent in our society. Every once in a while, I'll catch myself wondering if I should try out double eyelid tape or if I should try contouring my nose to make it look thinner. And every once in a while, I'll come across something like this casting call, and I'll wonder who else is looking at their Asian features the same way, how many children are growing up idealizing features other than their own.