I’m Asian American. I also have four teenage nieces who are Asian American. While I’m much older than them, I remember feeling insecure about my looks when I was their age. It's hard for young girls to be comfortable with their looks in the first place but it’s even more challenging when there is a scarcity of Asian females represented in Western media (and art). When they are present, they are often depicted in unflattering stereotypes: the nerd, the submissive and quiet immigrant, the dragon lady, or the sexy vixen.
This series consists of portraits of Asian American girls between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. I’ve asked these teens to choose their own clothes, shoes, accessories, hairstyle and makeup. Other than asking them not to smile, I do not pose or direct the girls. They decide how they want to stand or sit and what to do with their body. Essentially, I have asked the girls to determine how they want to appear in front of the camera.
The project is intended to showcase today’s Asian American female youth. Looking at the photographs, it’s nearly impossible to tell who is an academic achiever, an aspiring model, a failing student, or a gifted musician. Each teen is unique and can’t be easily typecast. But they also share commonalities with their peers who aren’t Asian. These are both typical and extraordinary American teenagers.
My daughter just turned six. Pretty soon, she’ll be facing the same challenges that my nieces face. She’s already trying to make sense of her appearance as it relates to most storybook and movie characters. Although I don’t expect my work to change popular culture, at least I can introduce her to images that show there are a lot more Asian American females “types” than what is currently depicted in the media. Ultimately, it’ll be up to her to choose how to see and define herself.