This interview is an excerpt of Jordana and I’s podcast episode. I met her while working at L’Oreal, and instantly fell in love with her candor and willingness to speak the truth on Asian beauty and its representation in the beauty world. Jordana is now killing it at her amazing job, serving as the strategist for global social and digital at Laura Mercier. This summer, I caught up with Jo before she took off to Cali, a brief stint at the oh-so-amazing BeautyCon. Now, back in NYC like the savvy globetrotter she is, Jordana is at a new level and eager to keep pushing to better representation in our beauty bubble of a world. Read and learn about Jordana’s insight on Asian beauty standards, being told she wasn’t a “real brown girl” and her point of view on women of color and our support for one another.
I think that you have a very special POV when it comes to beauty and the social media market in regards to women of color.
I think that comes from the fact that we both probably grew up feeling like we were not represented in the beauty world. Even though I’m fair skinned, I’m a Chinese woman, Chinese-American woman, and I could never find shades that matched my skin tone because girl, I am yellow AF. I have a hard time finding the right undertones, so I think that we bonded over the fact that we know what we didn’t see when we were younger and we wanted to change that.
Representation gets so tricky especially on Instagram because even though you’ll have representation, there’s a specific type of representation for every culture. So like for the Black community, I always see light-skinned/mixed girls praised. From an Asian perspective, do you feel that way too?
It’s hard. The beauty standard in the Asian community is super thin, super wafer-thin, and there’s a lot of colorism still in Asian communities. My mother is fairly tan and she’s struggled with that. She’s mentioned before that she wants her skin to look lighter. That was something that I always “had”; I was always on the lighter side. There are different beauty standards within Asian cultures, too. Like some may want a woman with a smaller face and a bridge on her nose and bigger eyes. And that was something I never had. I have a rounder face and a button nose. I just didn’t have the things that were considered beautiful. The biggest thing for me growing up was the weight issue and never being able to be that skinny Asian girl. That’s a big thing that I know a lot of Asian women struggle with.
In the Black community, the pressure is to be curvy but have specific proportions.
It’s completely opposite in the Asian culture, they want you to have no boobs, no butt and just be stick straight and have long legs – the tiniest toothpick legs. And it’s so weird. I love my mom and my mom is like my best friend so I know she never meant badly with anything, but when I was younger she would point out girls and be like ‘look at the girl over there, she has such long legs, she’s so skinny’. And in my head I know she wasn’t saying anything about me, but I felt like she didn’t think I was pretty because I didn’t look anything like that girl.
It’s just triggering for someone to make a comment about a part of you that you never thought was wrong. Like I never thought there was anything wrong with my complexion until I got teased. I don’t think you grow up feeling like that, you’re taught insecurity.
Actually, I just thought of this but like how you were saying in the Black community the standard of beauty is in the light skinned/mixed girl. That actually happens a lot in the Asian community as well. If you look at the girls who are models in the Philippines and models in Japan, they’re all mixed girls. They’re fair and they have features that are much more Eurocentric than Asian features. Those are the models and celebrities in Asian countries. If you think about the Philippines, all the people that are celebrities and models are mixed and very, very fair.
Did your parents ever say anything to you about not looking traditional or about you coloring your hair?
I asked my parents if they were OK with me coloring my hair before I did it. This is a whole other conversation but there’s a certain set of guilt that comes with growing up with Asian immigrant parents. I care about what they think and I don’t ever want to disrespect them so I asked them. My mom was ok with it and was like ‘Yeah, hair grows, you can cut it’. But I can’t ever get piercings on my face; I can’t ever get tattoos because those are hard no’s for my parents. I’ve expressed myself and my aesthetic still within confines that they would still be ok with. I would never disrespect my parents. They’ve done so much for me.
Switching to social media for a moment, we have gorgeous YouTubers like Nikki Tutorials. How do you think her being curvy has affected how some Asian girls might embrace themselves?
I’m not sure because I feel like in Asian cultures it runs really deep. When I think about the Asian women that are popular in the beauty industry even now, I feel like they have a certain look. They all sort of have a bridge to their nose and they do kind of have bigger eyes and slimmer faces. It’s still the same standard of beauty but what’s interesting is that maybe there’s a more welcoming of alternative looks like colored hair and tattoos which wouldn’t normally happen in a more traditional Asian culture. I think that’s more embraced in the Asian-American popular culture now.
I do think there’s still a ways to go especially with body image in the Asian community but still, most beauty influencers in the Asian community are still very thin. I think about Kim Thai and she’s a very curvy girl and she flaunts it and she rocks it and I think that that’s amazing and it’s something that’s not seen enough in the Asian community. But the majority of the women that are popular in the blogger and beauty Asian community are very thin.
You once told me a Black woman said you weren’t really a woman of color. Do you feel the multicultural conversation leaves out Asian women?
That was kind of tough to hear. I have always considered myself a woman of color. I think you are a person color if you are not white. That’s the definition of it and there are so many spectrums of it. I did think it was kind of hurtful to hear that she didn’t think I was a woman of color. I think that’s something that’s pretty prevalent in the person of color community, but I think it falls in this myth of the “model minority”. It’s sort of like [people place] Asians and white people in the same group. There’s a sort of “other-ing” that comes with being Asian. A lot of minorities will not accept you because they think you’re a “model minority”, like “Oh you make just as much money as white people or you are just as entitled and privileged as white people.”
And then white people don’t accept us as one of them either because we’re Asian or have slanted eyes and yellow skin. I agree that within the women of color community there is a lot of focus on Black and Latino women, and I think as a person of color I can’t say that I take offense to it because any progression for the person of color community benefits all of us. But I think there isn’t enough understanding of the Asian community of this struggle that we’re all going through.
Like in the case of appropriation, there’s a huge spotlight on the appropriation of black culture – huge. If you see a white girl in braids everyone’s ready. But appropriation of Asian culture? No one sees it and no one cares and it happens all the time. Like Nicki came out with the song Chung Li and she has buns in her hair.
I think there’s a big misunderstanding of Asian culture and not realizing Asian people also have struggles and Asian people are also being appropriated. Asian [men and women] are also misrepresented in all media and standards of beauty. It’s hard because I want to be someone who stands for Asian beauty and culture but I think it’s hard because there’s a lot of tension within the person of color community, at times. It’s like “oh my struggle is more important than yours.” It’s hard because I want to stand up for my culture but I also don’t want to disrespect Black women or Latino women. It’s a hard balance but I think we’re making strides.
Like I said earlier, I think any stride for any woman of color is a stride for all of us. I will say, there aren’t a lot of Asian people that consider themselves “people of color”, honestly. They exist and it’s really unfortunate.
At the end of the day… I stand for all disenfranchised people. I think that as an Asian woman, I grew up with a lot of privilege. I think there are Asian people that don’t have privileges that I have. I’ve had my struggles and my issues with racism. I cannot walk down the street without someone saying ‘konichiwa’ to me. At least once a day. It sucks and I get upset…I just want to use my platform as someone who does have a bit of privilege to stand for people that may not have it.