August 22, 2008

Ethnic Chameleon

Beauty and exoticism are among the most widespread Eurasian stereotypes. By definition exotic means “the charm of the unfamiliar” or “strikingly unusual”. And unfamiliar is the accurate word, as people often have difficulties identifying my genetic composition leading to strong bone structure yet smooth, even skin. I have been mistaken for Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, South American and countless other ethnicities. Particularly in the Philippines, I have experienced questioning and envious looks regarding my appearance. Mestizos are often perceived as more beautiful and the media doesn’t shy away from feeding this stereotype. Light skin, a high nose bridge and big eyes rank high on the list of favored beauty standards in Asia – and are also the features I stand out with as a Eurasian in Asia. Ironically, during my childhood in Germany I was taught the exact opposite. Suddenly my Asian features were the ones complimented; my tanned skin, my dark straight hair. My multi-ethnic looks seem to give me the powers of standing out as being exotic everywhere while still looking common enough to blend in as well; somewhat like an ethnic chameleon. Ultimately, I think people simply admire and desire what they don’t have. Eurasians just happen to build the bridge between two completely different physical appearances, hence representing an average, a compromise. The distinct look of Eurasians, a touch of something that you can’t quite grasp and yet an appearance not otherworldly enough to disturb, creates a stereotype of mystic beauty. The source of fascination, however, emerges from opposite directions depending on the culture you examine. So I suppose, it’s true when they say “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”.

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