Now See me
These portraits of Asian American female youth are intended to give this underrepresented and stereotyped subset of the population agency in their representation. As an Asian American female, I have been frustrated with how we are oversimplified onscreen, online and in print so I collaborated with these teenagers in determining how they want to be seen in front of the camera. I asked them to select their own clothes, shoes, accessories, hairstyle and makeup. Other than asking them not to smile, I did not pose or direct them. They decided how they wanted to stand and what to do with their body.
I am focusing on teenagers because girls this age are just beginning to define themselves and choose whom they identify with. They may lean towards the majority culture, counter-culture or somewhere in between. How they see themselves is not just through selfies but, by and large, how others see them and their kind through social and traditional media.
But in the course of this project, I discovered something unexpected. The more girls I photographed, the less I saw them as Asian Americans. After awhile, their attempts to appear rebellious, indifferent, and inscrutable as well as their moments of unguarded vulnerability reminded me of my teenage self, friends from my own youth and the other female teenagers I meet today.
I realized that these photographs cannot specifically and exclusively represent Asian American female youth because, although they may share the same racial identity, these teenagers are also like their non-Asian cohorts. In order for viewers to look past the stereotypes, they need to see beyond the girls’ race or “otherness.” My hope is that viewers eventually see these Asian American girls for who they are – unique individuals but also representatives of a broader female teenage youth culture in America today. They are distinct but also much like their cohorts, regardless of race.