Thursday, February 9, 2012

CULTURE : Slim and Slanted Eyes Perceive

Reflection of Woman, by Sasha Martin
          Asheley Gao

As a woman I have no country; as a woman, my country is the whole world.                                                                     --Virginian Woolf

My grandmother never left the village where she grew up. She worked in the fields when she was young and then became a telephone operator in the 60s when the telephone was so rare in Chinese countryside that people were haunted by its magic. But this was not how the villagers remembered her. What buried deep in their memory was her beauty: her almonds shaped eyes, chubby-round face, her small and pointy nose that almost melted into her high cheekbones. When she sat on the telephone booth, connecting one line to another, her straight long hair tied into a pony tail and her skin, tanned from her work in the fields, glows in the light of the kerosene lamp. For her, the border of the village, where the field ends, is the border of the world. Little did she know about the outside world she is trying to connect in front of her booth everyday.

            I grew up in a small yet prosperous city next to the sea.The last decade of the twentieth century was a crazy time for China. Billboards, televisions, magazines, and posters bombarded the streets of my hometown, as if all these forms of media are not enough to handle this explosion of information. It was at that time when Disney movies were first imported in southern China, with low quality Cantonese voice dub and subtitles in traditional Chinese characters. The white castles with statues of angels on top, the dragon with giant wings, and animals that sing and dance were all quite mesmerizing; but what buried deep in my memory was the shock I received when I saw all the princesses with their marble blue eyes, golden curly hair and tall and straight nose. 

            For me, the shock comes from different directions: these women are exotic, mysterious and most importantly, different. A few years later, women with white skin, blue or green eyes and tall noses began to appear in all kinds of media. They are the cover girls for Chinese fashion magazines, posters in front of Chinese barber shops, mannequins in major Chinese department stores, models in Chinese clothing commercials and even the packaging of beef jerky and beverages. Cosmetic stands on the ground floor of shopping malls featured numerous enlarged faces of Caucasian celebrities, and Chinese women flooded into these stands, hoping to look like them, as if a creme sponsored by a Caucasian face will guarantee beauty.

            When they finally realize a jar of creme can only make their skin so white (nearly all the cosmetic products, from mineral powder to facial wash, are parading their signature ingredients that will make your skin white, whiter and whitest), cosmetic surgery comes into play. By the end of high school, two of my friends had already invested in eye surgery. One of them went through the notorious “double eyelid” surgery, which creates a crease on your eyelid so your slim and slanted eyes can look bigger and have more depth. The other one asked the doctor to open up the corner of her eyes so they will appear a lot bigger than before. Colored contact lenses were popular among fashionable girls and blue, purple and brown are their favorite color choices. These efforts extended to the nose as well, surgically enhanced by adding paddings which will create a tall, straight, caucasion-esque nose. This obsession with noses originated from the dissatisfaction of a flattened face. Without the sunken eye socket and a protruding nose, the face of an Asian woman can look very flat both on the frontal view and in profile view. For this reason, a tall and prominent nose will add a new dimension to a flat face.
         Now I moved to a country across from the Pacific, a place where my grandmother would never dream of connecting, and live with people who will shock me every day, like Cinderella and Princess Aurora did ten years ago. I wonder, if my grandma finally got the courage to step across that field and see the place that I grew up and the place that I live right now, how would she feel? Would she give up her black and straight hair for chestnut curly hair? Would she give up her barley colored skin and small and pointy nose for alabaster white skin and artificial and tall nose? Would she give up her almond shaped eyes for “double eyelid” eyes? I would never know. Because I never know the world she sees from her almond shaped eyes. I will never know what beauty really means to her in that world. But for me, my world is no longer bordered by corn fields or the little telephone booth where my grandma connects one call line to another; these pieces are long gone, replaced by a computer table which bombards my life with new information every day. For me, beauty comes from the ever changing world that my slim and slanted eyes perceive. It is this world that makes me feel beautiful.
As the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, the beholder lies in the world.

The Woman Behind the Cultural Perspectives Section:
Asheley Gao is an extremely creative young woman, currently attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, a long way away from her home country of China. She is double majoring in Political Economy and History of Art. Her interest in life and exuberance is evident, not only in her work as an artist and academic, but also a friend and co-worker.

1 comment:

Unleashed said...

"When you seek beauty in all people and all things, you will not only find it, you will become it."