The ugly truth about how beauty standards affect Asian Americans

As an Asian American high school student, I’ve noticed that many Asian Americans struggle to fit into the meticulous standard that the Asian entertainment industry perpetuates


Photo by Sophia Luo , Miramonte High School

When you take a look at the Asian entertainment and beauty industry, there seems to be a set of specific criteria and beauty standards: pale complexion, wide eyes, and smooth skin. Society judges a girl’s beauty on whether she has a slim nose, a slim face, or a slim figure. 

   As an Asian American high school student, I’ve noticed that many Asian Americans struggle to fit into the meticulous standard that the Asian entertainment industry perpetuates.

Asian entertainment industries are known to favor people who have exaggerated features that make them seem unrealistically beautiful and tend to shower adoration on girls with very particular physical features. East Asian internet users place celebrities on a pedestal; actresses such as Angela Yang Ying or K-Pop idols like Blackpink’s Jisoo Kim are considered the pinnacle of human beauty because of their thin figures, wide eyes, and small facial features. 

When the internet world glorifies the idealized image of such celebrities, Asian Americans often unconsciously lower their self-esteem. In a study conducted by a high schooler in Madison, Wisconsin, Abigail Lin, and Princeton University Ph.D. student Madalina Vlasceneau, 60 Asian teenage girls were asked how they viewed their own body image. After asking them for their original thoughts, Lin and Vlasceneau showed the participants a music video of female K-Pop idols. Following the music video, they asked their participants to share their thoughts a second time. Through a numerical conversion, Lin and Vlasceneau concluded that the participants’ body images grew more negative by 75 percent..

“A large part of my idea of Asian beauty standards comes from the Korean beauty and media industry,” Miramonte junior Marina Kim said.  “The most damaging and difficult of these standards for me is the expectation of pale skin and a thin, tall figure. Images of celebrities and models that fit these beauty standards are prevalent in places across the world, such as Asian cosmetic stores and television shows.”

As Kim said, public figures that fit into the beauty standard are seen on storefronts, in commercials, and on the internet. Their popularity in Asian pop culture can cause many Asian Americans to question their own appearances and can even lead to internalized racism. 

      “A lot of Asian Americans grow up insecure about their eyes and how they don’t fit Western beauty standards, and stories about using tape to open their eyes up more or wanting surgery are not uncommon,” Stop AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Hate intern Rachel Chen said. 

Chen partook in a project within the nonprofit organization Stop AAPI Hate, in which she researched the media’s negative portrayals of Asian physicality. In Chen’s work, she participated in a statistical study with her fellow interns and gathered data from 1,155 AAPI youth. In the study’s results, 71.4 percent of participants said they experienced anti-Asian hate from 2020 to 2021. Of those participants, 93.4 percent cited that their appearance and race were the target reason for the discrimination they faced. “When I was in elementary school, I actually received many comments about my eyes and if I could see since I had Asian eyes, referring to the stereotypical linear eye shape,” Miramonte senior Lia Toyama said.

“I’ve always had difficulty fitting in with both Western and Asian beauty standards. Both naturally and from the swim team, I always had tanner skin,” Kim said. “When I was younger, I was obsessed with skin-lightening treatments. These treatments were really damaging to my skin, but also to my self-image because it was unachievable for me to look like Asian actresses and singers and share their complexion.”

The Asian entertainment industry, especially in countries like Korea and China, normalizes and even encourages skin bleaching treatments. In Korea, people often receive the “Baekok Injection,” which naturally suppresses melanin pigmentation within the skin. The treatment is also known as the “IU injection,” named after Lee Ji-Eun, or IU, a famous K-Pop soloist who is known for her pale skin as a result of the injection. With a variety of these treatments and the use of makeup, the natural pigment of Asian celebrities is almost always hidden. When Asians only see celebrities with pale skin in the media, many begin to think that their tan skin is not beautiful.

“There are many issues with the Asian beauty standards, especially since it revolves around comparing the image of another person versus yourself. But once people are more open to love any and all body types and features, they become more comfortable in their skin and tend to stop admiring someone else’s,” Toyama said.