I remember when I was very young, I thought I was white. My friends were white and all the people in our neighborhood were white. Even though the people around me often called me Asian or from the older white men my family knew oriental
I thought that –
My mother had a mirror in the upstairs bathroom, which was frustratingly small. It was round and at a height where my reflection on my low stature broke off slightly below my chin. I often had to stand on tiptoe to get a feel for how my full hair and face actually looked, but after a while it did not bother me anymore.
When I grew up, I avoided mirrors when I did not need them. It was never intended to see my face, only by mistake, as my gaze flickered on the reflective surface and caught a glimpse of me.
If you had asked me what I saw in this mirror that made me so uneasy at such a young age, I would simply have said: I look like a foreigner.
Back in the 1990s, a time before YouTube videos focused on the finer points of On Point Liner, cutting wrinkles, and perfecting one's own contour. If your mother, aunt, siblings, or friends were not made-up, you either had to experiment on your own or rely on magazines to lead you to aesthetic enlightenment.
Classical magazines such as Seventeen and The cosmopolitan (19459013) girl at that time – albeit retrospectively ridiculously absurd – gave advice on which colors would suit you best. (19659004) Were you warm or cool toned? Should you wear silver or gold jewelry? Which eyeshadow colors are best for your hair color and eye color? Which lipsticks were kiss-proof and which mascaras were wine-proof?
I remember becoming more and more interested in the idea of beauty and the possibility of making small changes in order to be aesthetically pleasing. It was not necessary to get attention from girls or boys. I think I just wanted to understand what my "best" features really were.
It took me a moment to realize that the eye shape on the page was different than my own, that the make-up improvement was meant for less blindfolded eyes than mine.
I was a late bloomer when it came to doing a lot for my face, but I learned pretty quickly that what was touted as the fundamental aspects of beauty would take some more work for me. For example, trying to match a root tone to my biracial skin tone was a nightmare for several years.
I actually had my first experiences with skin color biases in an art class during middle school.
The Final Project The course was to paint a portrait of yourself, and for a few days I struggled to find the right tone. One of my closest friends in class was Ashkenazi Jewish descent. She too struggled to find the right color for her skin. After chaotic attempts between the two of us, we asked the art teacher for help.
We watched her try to mix the right colors for each of us, and we got more and more annoying the farther the colors were removed from what we actually looked like.
Finally, my friend and I exchanged a look, hastily accepted the color that the teacher had mixed for us, and made the portraits. To this day, we both laugh at how wrong the colors were, how strangely pink my skin tone had become, and how difficult it was for the teacher to mix a different skin tone than pale white.
I was in my early teens, when I realized that my face did not fit the models I saw in the American magazines.
I found a make-up tutorial in one of the spreads where I showed readers how to get a natural, visually pleasing look. I remember pulling out the one-eye palette, a simple Clinique quad I bought from my mother and following the guide conscientiously.
I put one color in the fold, a shimmering color on the entire lid, and the darkest color carefully blurred along my eyelash line, keeping my eyes half closed to prevent powder from entering them. When I reached the last step, I opened my eyes and blinked carefully to examine my work.
To my surprise, apart from a part of the dark shadow that was smeared near my eyelashes, my eyes looked almost naked. I checked the diagram once more confused and looked between the frightened face in the tiny bathroom mirror of my mother and the perfectly executed eye on the shiny side.
It took me a moment to realize that the eye shape on the page was different than on my page, and that the look was meant for less blind eyes than mine. After that, I stopped following tutorials for American magazines.
I was born in Osaka and traveled back and forth between the United States and Japan most of my life.
One of my favorite pastimes in Japan was to go to a bookstore with my grandfather, who was also an avid reader and fostered my love of literature. On one of these trips, I hiked into the magazine section and picked up the first glossy print I noticed.
I flipped through the spread of girls whose eyes looked like mine and whose faces were more like mine than anything I've seen in the magazines in the United States. I was immediately excited.
Concerned that my grandfather would laugh at how girly many of these magazines were, I put down the copy that initially grabbed my attention, and reached for one that seemed most reasonable and muted – CLASSY a magazine that included classic, simple outfit diaries and fashion tips, as well as hair and make-up tips.
My grandfather looked at the smiling, suit-dressed woman on the cover and said: Is not that a bit old for you? "Before I shrugged and put it with the stack of books we bought.
CLASSY was definitely too old for me at that time. It was aimed at professional women in their twenties and at the age of fourteen or fifteen. I did not need any tips on how to go from a business environment to a casual date, or which outfits are best for presentations. But it opened the door to media that reflected my traits.
The pages of CLASSY showed me for the first time mixed models like Anne Umemiya, Jessica Michibata, and others, in stark contrast to the inadequate portrayal of people like me, people untouched in the magazines stayed back in the United States.
I'm still excited when I see a model that looks like me.
From there, every time I went to Japan, I tried to schedule my visit so that I could pick up two issues of the magazine. If I chose the right time, I could catch the last issue of a month and pick it up at the airport the next month on the way back to the US.
I also asked my mother to bring me a copy of the magazine from her travels and to ask each relative to bring me the latest CLASSY with each visit.
I have resorted to begging because, as in many Japanese fashion and beauty magazines, each issue of CLASSY was incredibly heavy and the space in the suitcases precious. Wearing a CLASSY meant that family members would run the risk of paying a fee for overweight luggage.
But as much as I attribute my current appreciation for and conceptualization of beauty to these Japanese magazines, it is a lie to say that they represent the ultimate answer to my own identity.
In these rooms the same biracial background that let me read as Asian or Oriental in the United States was read in Japan as White . The focus was again on the other half of my person.
Especially in the modeling and entertainment industries, half Japanese women are assimilable because of their "exotic" appearance, which means they have familiar facial features, but close to White, a "safe" and culturally acceptable type of strangeness contributes to theirs Attraction at.
As someone who is white and Japanese, I adapt this colorist form – but only when I reach a certain age. As a kid in Japan I was told that I was a foreigner and I should go back to where I come from. When I was in my early twenties, I was held up in the shops by female employees, who excitedly asked if I was a model.
I have had many conversations with other half-Japanese people who have had similar experiences with me: ridicule, bullying and joking when we are kids, then when we grow up and resemble the models on the page – similar to the feeling that we also look "exotic" or "foreign" – we are accepted.
We are still as different as we are as children, but the difference has suddenly become desirable.
However, these experiences do not discredit the privilege of being half Japanese and half white, nor is it nearly the kind of racism and colorism that people of darker skin color experience in Japanese culture.
There are other half-Japanese people with different backgrounds who do not experience this sudden shift in acceptance at all. For many mixed Japanese, especially women, our acceptance in Japan still depends on whether or not we are consumable as media fantasies. Like most halves, we have to have a certain shape.
But at the time, I did not think about the greater socio-historical significance that it meant for a half-Japanese woman to be accepted in conversation. I was just happy to see someone like me while I was still facing subtle ridiculousness about the same "strangeness".
Reina Triendl, a half Austrian and half Japanese model, actress and TV personality, is another celebrity whose face I've seen in magazines as a teenager and who recently appeared as a commentator in popular Japanese reality Television broadcast Terrace House occurred.
Although she was born in Austria, she has been living and working in Japan since graduation and when I see her on the screen, she reads me as a Japanese.
Yet there are moments in Terrace House where their difference is brought up – often in a way that is not necessarily appropriate. For example, another commentator named You will make a comment that Triendl makes, saying, "It's because her father is Austrian." Laugh.
As someone accustomed to pointing out my difference in seemingly unnecessary moments, even in innocent ways, I was always upset about such comments.
It was never Triendl's Japanese mother who was educated; It was the part of her that made her different, the part of her that was not Japanese, that was the reason for the joke.
But the lack of representation in my youth is still going on.
As I grew older, I realized that I would always occupy an amorphous middle space with both the US and Japan.
So much of my education was shaped by the language and worldview of my Japanese mother. And since I've adopted my mother's family name after my parents' divorce, I'll always have a hard time just calling myself American.
But I also realized that I was always marked by my differences in Japan – no matter how good my Japanese was, no matter what Japanese media or literature I consumed, no matter how many bonds I had to the culture itself. I would be in Japanese society still be defined by the part of me that was not Japanese.
In the end, it was my acceptance of this eternal borderline that caused me to accept the face that I saw when I looked in the mirror.
Instead of trying to fit into a Western or Japanese form, both equally impossible in their own way, I had to accept the face that would stay with me forever. Instead of waiting for an increase in biracial models on the page.
I took control of my identity and learned to work with the face I had come to terms with. Today I choose beauty tips from Western and Japanese sources and put them together so that they do not fit my functions.
The landscape of media and diversity has changed since the 1990s and 2000s. when I grew up. There is now a greater pressure on representation and media diversity, whether through films, television or even advertising campaigns.
I am glad that there are more faces in advertising campaigns, even though the more cynical side of me wakes a brand's desire for more profit. I know that as a child I benefited from seeing more people who looked like me.
But the lack of representation in my youth still lasts.
To this day I believe that I look like an alien, that my face is not quite right. No matter how many times family members, friends, or my partner try to tell me otherwise, I can not shake the feeling of seeing something anomalous in the mirror.
And I still read CLASSY if I get the chance. On a recent trip with my mother to New York City, we even decided to stop in a Kinokunyia so I could pick up the latest copy.
I started out as an unusually young reader and am now technically at the older end of the average age of their readership. Although my enjoyment is tempered by a more realistic understanding of the media I consume, every time I see a model that looks like I feel a touch of excitement.
Julia Shiota is a freelance writer whose work focuses on issues of identity through culture and literature. Find them on Twitter or on juliashiota.com