Every race comes up against stereotypes, whether it be claims that all white girls love Starbucks, that black guys are all track stars or that Asians are all maths-whizzes.
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But one is calling out the media for its lack of Asian role models and the subsequent effect that has had on society’d attitudes towards that community.
Within an hour of Michelle Elman posting a note on Instagram, reading ‘”You are basically not Chinese” is not a compliment,’ she had Chinese celebrities like Alexa Chung and Harry Shum Jr messaging her words of support.
I am half Chinese and half British and so in many ways I benefit from white privilege and whilst I acknowledge that, I want to use his platform to speak up. I will be the first to admit that I have not always been proud of being Chinese. I grew up in England in an environment where being Chinese equated to being unpopular, geeky, uncool – all stereotypes I didn’t want to represent. I would be told this statement many times and for years I took it as a compliment. “You are different. You aren’t like the other Chinese girls”. With age and maturity, I began realising, my race wasn’t ever the problem. Please don’t equate my likability to me being more western or more ‘white’. Please do not explain our friendship by referring to one half of my race. The perceptions/stereotypes are the problem. Jokes about Asians are commonplace, how we all look the same, how small our eyes and penises are, how anyone who likes an Asian must have ‘Yellow fever’ – the women are fetishised and the men portrayed as sexually unappealing. It’s no wonder that these are connotations people don’t want to be associated with. Growing up, the only 2 actors I connected with from this side of my heritage was Sandra Oh in Grey’s Anatomy and Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels. These women were bad-ass. They were smart, witty, intelligent without being labelled as geeky. They were strong and helped me in turn to be empowered by both aspects of my race.But these characters are rare. We need equal representation of Asians in the media. We aren’t just here to be your comedic sidekick with broken English or the geek in the back of the classroom who fixes your calculator. There has been a rise in the inclusion of other minorities in the beauty industry and on TV but when it comes to Asians, it’s still stuck at 2%. 2%! In an Oscar’s ceremony that was so racially driven, people were outraged at the exclusion of black actors yet no uproar was caused when the host found it acceptable to make jokes at the expense of the Asians. I may have benefitted from white privilege but I just wanted to share my experiences of being mixed. Thanks to @bodyposipanda for encouraging me to speak about this
She says that for many years, she believed being told that she ‘wasn’t like other Chinese girls’ was a compliment.
‘With age and maturity, I began realising that my race wasn’t ever the problem,’ she writes.
‘Please don’t equate my likability to me being more western or more ‘white’. Please do not explain our friendship by referring to one half of my race’.
Michelle told Metro.co.uk: ‘I get comments on a weekly basis about my race and this post was in response to these comments that I’ve grown frustrated with’.
The 22-year-old body confidence coach is half Chinese and half British and says that she’d be the first to admit that she hasn’t always been proud of her Chinese roots.
The identity, she says, is often equated with being ‘unpopular, geeky, uncool – all the stereotypes [she] didn’t want to represent’.
‘Working in the body positivity industry, we are seeing an increase in the number of body diversity campaigns,’ she says.
‘Yet, whenever I see them, they still don’t include Asian people.
Have you heard about @instagram ‘s awesome My Story campaign? It’s highlighting 28 women on Instagram who are beating the stereotypes. How incredible is that! •••••••••• Here is #mystory : I am Michelle and I am a Body Confidence and the person behind the Scarred Not Scared Campaign. My Instagram is all about self-care and loving your body exactly the way it is and I’m passionate about this because of the scars all over my body. I’ve had 15 surgeries, a brain tumour, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in my brain and a condition called hydrocephalus and my body bears the scars of each of those battles. In person, you might not see them but when you are wearing a bikini, you can see them. When you are changing in PE in front of your friends, you can see them and when you are taking your top off for the first time, you can see them. This is why I launched #scarrednotscared because we should all stand proud that we have overcome our scars, whether they are emotional or physical and that’s what I am all about over on my Instagram – loving your body and appreciating the ability it gives you. I love that this campaign is about breaking the stereotypes because despite all of this, I have graduated with a degree in psychology by the age of 20, started a business by 21, and launched by campaign by the age of 22. That is because I am not the stereotypical idea of illness and medical trauma. We are just as capable. I am Michelle and this is #mystory
‘Asians account for about 60 per cent of the world’s population.
‘More specifically, 20% of the world are Chinese. And yet, they hardly exist in these kind of campaigns.’
She goes on in her post to say that growing up, the only two actors she connected to were Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy and Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels.
‘We need equal representation of Asians in the media,’ she says.
‘We aren’t just here to be your comedic sidekick with broken English or the geek in the back of the classroom who fixes your calculator.’
Michelle has campaigned in the past for women to be proud of their body scars, using her Instagram account to promote her #scarrednotscared movement to her 15,000 followers.
She says that the support for this new campaign has been ‘incredibly overwhelming’.
Soon after posting, Alexa Chung commented: ‘This is wonderful. Wish I was cool enough to write this. Xx’.
‘Even though I often speak up about my scars and body confidence in general, I was wary of speaking about race – so to have received so many personal messages means a lot,’ she says.