This was a video created for my Asian American Studies class on Race, Gender, and Sexuality based on a spoken word piece I had performed at Northwestern University’s recent Pan-Asian Formal. I’m an avid subscriber to many Asian American beauty vloggers and watch their videos as a way to engage in self-care or general procrastination; and because I adore make-up as a hobby for my artistic expression. I absolutely admire and love the work that beauty vloggers do on YouTube but I’m still a critical media consumer to a fault and end up writing papers on these subjects instead. This video is an extension of my never-ending analysis of the multifaceted realm of Asian American YouTube.

I created a typical video makeup tutorial that would be found on Youtube, but instead of each voice-over step being a guide to how to apply make-up, it was instead a spoken word about my personal experiences within Asian America – through learning about our history, understanding how we are racialized subjects, being in the diaspora, to dealing with various forms of racism and ethnosexualization. The reason this spoken word is in the format of a makeup tutorial is to play on the current hypervisibility of Asian American women on YouTube who specialize in creating video content related to makeup, beauty, fashion, and lifestyle. Individual Asian American beauty vloggers have channels with hundreds of thousands to millions of subscribers – making this presence significant to the rise of an Asian American self-created, but aspirational femininity that is meant to be emulated. YouTube exists as a platform “informed by the structures of capitalism, labor, and consumerism”, and although Asian American women have entered – and possibly disrupted mainstream white beauty discourse – unfortunately, only a narrow range of Asian American women (East and Southeast Asian, thin, attractive, etc.) are visible, considered beautiful, and achieve monetary success on YouTube and beyond.

Additionally, despite the significance of popular content created by these Asian American women, a conversation with producer Christine Chen of Wong Fu Productions revealed that non-beauty related content by Asian American women remains underrepresented on this platform. More narrative and creative works are not afforded the same kind of reach as that of Asian American men on Youtube. Following this discussion with Christine Chen, I definitely felt inspired to create a video which explores a more nuanced representation of typical Asian American femininity – through a monologue which combines various themes of makeup and how they relate to differing aspects of my Asian American identity juxtaposed with the visual focus on just my external presentation. The subtitle of my piece for those who refuse to be silenced refers to the many of us who reject the power of institutions, media, and peers who actively silence the voices of marginalized people. For me, this also plays into the idea of how Asian women/girls are stereotyped as being quiet, silent, and submissive both politically and sexually, and the hope that my “makeup tutorial” will counter that.

RED LIPS EVENING MAKEUP TUTORIAL: for those who refuse to be silenced

(Updated from the original spoken word poem in the video)

step 1: primer

start off with a primer which provides a base-

history of why these Chinese and Taiwanese features

are only read as “Asian”

faces foreign, facing racism

caricatures of 20th century immigrant bodies

excluded, massacred, detained

until we were considered desirable for our brains

intellect weaponized

to uphold the model minority myth

as the basis

of how Asian America

is supposed to appear

 

step 2: foundation

when you choose a foundation

you need to either match your own skin tone

or be lighter so you don’t resemble

those working-class farmers from the motherland

so you forget about how your darker predecessors

fought for your place in America

and still how they die because this world sees brownness and blackness

as threat, thug, terrorist, illegal

these communities of color ignored by

upper-middle class east Asian America

because it’s easier to look out for our own

yellow skin

 

step 3: eyebrows

in class this white boy made a music video

centering himself in a rap about overcoming ignorance

only to set it to some stereotypical-as-fuck Chinese tune

unironically

I could only raise my eyebrows

when he claimed he felt “heart”

in this soundtrack to Hollywood’s mystical orient

 

step 4: eye makeup

make sure you use waterproof eyeliner

so it doesn’t melt off when you return to the fatherland

of Taiwanese humidity and feelings of humility

when you can’t understand the dialect

slowly erased by the Mandarin of the mainland

your own eroding Mandarin once inherent

now in Chinglish

can’t even express to your family

the longing you feel for their acceptance

because you are two parts too many

Shanghainese and American

 

step 5: lips

these red lips now speak

to counter the era which silenced you, wàigōng

for political dissent from CPC policy

cultural revolutionary separation of family

96 years you lived

but too many spent in isolation

now resting in peace

but never living in power

these words I say today

are a privilege you never had

 

step 6: reflection

finally look at the result in your mirror

and wonder

when will your reflection show

that who you are inside

is a girl worth self-love

a girl worth more than the number of hearts you captured

and worth no less because of your power to destroy

the heart of that boy who loved you—

no, who loved the idea of you:

exotic, china doll nymphomania;

submission

reflected back onto

the face of the next Asian girl he’ll conquer

love yourself because

this disease of racist desire

known as yellow fever

will never love you

Acknowledgements:

This silly video of mine would have never happened without the support of my APAC family, especially Alicia Zheng for planning the Pan-Asian formal and for giving me a space to speak, and Kevin Luong for helping me write and film the piece. Also to the audience at that formal: for the ones who listened, thank you. For the ones who talked throughout the performance as a way to either intentionally or unintentionally silence me, I am only going to be speaking louder.

I also want to thank the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern for offering courses which allow us to explore our histories and to present our stories through creative final works like this, and even more so – for providing me a home within an academic institution that too often keeps us at the margins. I’m excited that the program will be able to expand in the future to offer current and future students at my university an Asian American Studies Major after a long history of organizing and fighting to be heard. 

Ava Love,

Theanne

 

Written by Theanne Liu

Theanne is currently a JD/MSW candidate hoping to one day help subvert the inherent oppression within the legal system. When not spending her life studying in the library, she's binging and overanalyzing TV and YouTube, aggressively playing casual mobile phone games, and researching her next makeup purchase.

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