Asian Women Photo Project
I’m Not Exotic, I’m Exhausted // The Asian Women Photo Series
Portraying Asian Women in a Different Light
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Background – About Me and This Project:
“That is how to create a single story. Show a people as one thing- as only one thing- over and over again, and that is what they become.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’m Sultana, an eighteen-year-old American-born Indonesian-Pakistani currently living in Jakarta, Indonesia, pictured below. I go to an international school and am constantly surrounded by so many different types of people. Because of this, I’ve noticed a disparity between what I know and what I see. On TV, in movies, and in books, there is a “single story” being portrayed about people like me. In media, Asian women are portrayed as submissive, meek, and small. I’m not submissive, meek, or small. Plenty of the Asian women I know are not submissive, meek, or small. Yet, we continue to be portrayed this way. I want to help change that, starting with this photo project.
Background Information – Asians In Media:
Though there has been a lot of progress in the past year or so, Asian women are virtually invisible in media. According to a study conducted by University of Southern California Annenberg’s Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative, over 40 movies of the top 100 grossing movies of 2014 did not contain an Asian character with lines, and that is not even taking gender into account. When Asian women are on screen, we are typically presented as a stereotype, like the Dragon Lady or a China Doll, if we are on screen at all. Even then, ‘Asian’ in Western media means Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, and not the 45 other countries that make up the continent. These stereotypes dehumanize us and the lack of representation renders us invisible.
Background Information – The Model Minority Myth:
As it is not spoken about very often and is typically accepted as a part of everyday life, you might be wondering what this is. The Model Minority Myth is the belief that certain minorities are ‘better’ than others, as they are believed to be smarter, more hardworking. This belief goes hand in hand with the Asian Advantage myth, the two of them erasing the struggles of the Asian communities. Both these myths do not acknowledge the diverse socioeconomic and cultural differences in Asian cultures, and can potentially alienate those who believe they do not meet this expectation.
With this project, I wanted to prove that we are more than that. We are just as diverse as any group of people. Not all of us are smart and over achieving, but some of us are, and that’s okay. Not all of our fathers run a convenience store, but some of them do, and that’s okay. I don’t want to shame people for fitting into stereotypes- I want to prove that we are more than what people think. As of right now people consider Asians a ‘safe’ minority to use as the butt of the joke. For example, just last month during the 2016 Oscars, Asian children were used as props in Chris Rock’s joke about “outrage culture”. But we are not props and we don’t deserve to be treated as such.
I want to present the GOA community with a more nuanced view of Asian women, instead of the Asian stereotypes we are all presented with. The end goal is for this to start a conversation, in both the GOA community and my own. I’ll be publishing the link of the blog on social media and encouraging those who I photographed to do the same. I wanted to also encourage this conversation about the stereotypes Asian women face, as my peers and I are going to have to deal with them our entire lives.
The Use of Pictures:
We are a society obsessed with how we present ourselves and Asian cultures are not exempt from that. In Indonesia, people are obsessed with posed pictures, selfies, and we-fies, our word for group selfies. Here, it’s hard to turn around without bumping into someone with their phone whipped out, them and their friends posing for a picture.
Even though they are dismissed as vehicles for our vanity, pictures can be used for so much. This article from Dazed is all about two South Asian and one African-American women utilizing the power of selfies and photos to combat colorism. In Asian cultures especially, colorism runs rampant. If you are dark skinned, you are looked down upon. While the sales of products like whitening cream are declining, paleness is still sought after. So by encouraging dark skinned women to embrace the color of their skin while also using pictures to do so, these women are helping to get rid of both stigmas. I decided to take a page out of their book and use portraits in my project.
The photos below are only a snapshot of some of the incredible women around me. Like I said above, I live in Jakarta and I go to an international school, so I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people from all over the world. Despite this, I specifically tried to capture not only people who go to my school and who are my age, but who also work at my school, who I know outside of school, and even my mother’s friends. Though there is already so much diversity at my school alone, I wanted to provide as large a picture I could. The captions are all answers to a question I asked them, either about their passions, their goals, the past experiences, or what they currently do.
I’ve personally always struggled with the expectations set for Asian women, but I’ve found that many of the women in my life defy these stereotypes and we’re better off for it. Here are fourteen women from my community that do just that. I hope you enjoy.
Finally, I had one subject that did not wish to be photographed but allowed me to interview her. Here is her answer:
Fanny – Indonesian – Community Liaison (Service Learning) // “My passion is actually working with students and my role [at school] also gives me the opportunity to give back to my own community. I do this because I love helping people and just love seeing those smiling faces. That’s when I know that I am actually doing good for someone and making a difference in someone’s life.”
For me, this project has allowed me to connect with the women around me in a way I would not have thought to otherwise. This project also served as a reminder to me that all these people are incredibly strong, unique, and interesting, and that we are all more than what we see in the media. I hope I have been able to open eyes and start a conversation through these photos.
Finally, before you go, please take a few moments to fill out this final survey.
Thank you for reading.
Chu, Arthur. “Hollywood’s Asian Punching Bags.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 1 Mar. 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
Kale, Sirin. “Meet the Women Using Selfies to Combat Colourism.” Dazed. Dazed Digital, 11 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
King, Ritchie. “The Uncomfortable Racial Preferences Revealed by Online Dating.” Quartz.com. Quartz, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2016.
Lim, Bernadette. ““Model Minority” Seems Like a Compliment, but It Does Great Harm.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
Nguyen, Sahra Vang. “The Truth About “The Asian Advantage” and “Model Minority Myth”” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
Smith, Stacy L., Dr, Marc Choueiti, Katherine Pieper, Dr, Traci Gillig, Carmen Lee, Dr, and Dylan DeLuca. Inequality in 700 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race, & LGBT Status from 2007 to 2014. Thesis. USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, 2014. Los Angeles: U of Southern California, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.