Beautifully Complex:
Representation in Asian America

 

Photo credit – Edvun Kun

 

For Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, L’Oréal invited ADMERASIA for a discussion panel on beauty. There, our Vice President of Strategic Planning, Selina Guo, and Cultural Content Director, XiaoHwa Ng, presented the complexity of visual representation within the Asian American community. Here’s what they had to say:

 

When Simu Liu posted on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media site, about the groundbreaking film Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, “This whole movie is about celebrating Chinese culture,” many Asian Americans agreed. However, Chinese netizens responded with backlash as they felt that this comment was unnecessary and alienating towards Chinese who were a majority in their own country. Despite sharing the same identity, the experiences of the majority and minority do not share the same narratives.

Simu Liu’s Weibo post promoting Shang-Chi “This whole movie is about celebrating Chinese culture.”

UNIQUELY ASIAN AMERICAN

This dichotomy between these two populations can be seen through how we define and practice cultural pride. In Asia, cultural pride is celebrated at times of economic, political, and social progress – something they can hold up as an achievement to the rest of the world. While in the U.S., cultural pride is maintained by traditions, preserving and sharing our languages, our food, and our stories.

Asian Americans are an incredibly diverse group, made up of many different ethnicities, narratives, and experiences. 51% of Asian American millennials are U.S. born, 17% are either biracial or multiracial, and 39% of newlywed Asian Americans marry someone outside their race.

Even within the same ethnicity and generation, you will still see nuances based on when you arrived in the U.S. or if you were born here. 1st Gen usually reflects the mindset of Asia, maintaining close ties with family, speaking English as a second language, and consuming the same media from abroad. Americans born in the U.S. usually default to English, are 2nd gen with immigrant parents, or 3rd or 4th gen with no close relatives abroad.

IDENTITY&CULTURAL HERITAGE

Digging deep into our roots and often holding on to traditions, especially moments of joy that may be shared with our loved ones, is what it means to be Asian American. But it’s not simply about keeping traditions stagnant. “Not vintage values, but vintage style.” Maintain your traditions while making them your own. Asian Americans are in constant metamorphosis, and they demand to be seen and heard.

UNDERREPRESENTATION&MISREPRESENTATION

Hollywood, where 35% of media representations of Asian Americans portray at least one stereotype, Asian Americans make up less than 6% of speaking roles and only 3.4% of films have an AAPI lead or co-lead. When it comes to Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, the situation is considerably worse. 39% of the 1,300 popular Hollywood films had no AAPI characters at all but this number jumped to 94.2% when looking at Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander characters only.

 

And if you belong to a marginalized community, or find yourself a minority in your minority, the chances of seeing yourself only shrink further. Less than 1% of visuals depict transgender, non-binary or gender fluid Asian Americans. Less than 1% feature women with “larger” bodies. Less than 2% feature those with disabilities. 

Usually what we see is slim, light-skin, delicate bodies that are either exoticized as the cold Dragon Lady, the silent femme fatale, or the timid princess stereotypes. People don’t feel reflected in these images, especially Asians themselves.

BEAUTIFULLY COMPLEX

When it comes to luxury brands such as makeup and beauty industries, the dichotomy between Asian and Asian American beauty standards manifests differently. Asian Immigrants, especially from East Asian countries, prefer natural-looking makeup while American-born Asians prefer fuller makeup that enhances facial features e.g., more defined contour, eyebrows, eyeliners, etc.​

Beauty standards vary between different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, with no unifying view on the ideal skin tone, facial feature, or perceptions of cosmetic surgery. ​While East Asians tend to criticize the existing Asian portrayals in media as being stereotypical, South Asians, Southeast Asians, and biracial Asians tend to be less critical on this subject. ​In their minds, underrepresentation is a bigger problem than misrepresentation.

So how should brands answer this call to show more diversity and authenticity when it comes to visual representation? What our research shows that in these shared definitions of beauty, people value the following: authenticity, confidence, and body diversity.

 

Thankfully, for brands, strides have already been made. LIVE TINTED is a makeup brand founded by Asian-Indian American Deepica Mutyala for “every shade in-between” and focuses on underrepresented people in beauty. There’s also NEIWAI​, an Asian lingerie & loungewear brand advocating for body positivity and the mental comfort of self-love and self-expression. Hennesy X.O created an original docu-series that tells the diverse experiences of Asian American luminaries, and how food and beverage are a medium for passing along cultural heritage with families.​

So what should we be doing to properly represent our community? Recognizing Asian Americans as a highly diverse group and reflecting it in Asian American portrayals in communications. Tell authentic, relatable, and inspiring Asian American stories.​ Respect and celebrate their diverse beauty perspectives.​ Very importantly, bring the awareness into action, even if just a small step forward.

 

Selina Guo
Vice President of Strategic Planner&
ADMERASIA
selinag@admerasia.com
XiaoHwa Ng
Director of Cultural Content&
ADMERASIA
xiaohwan@admerasia.com
Racism Is Contagious by ADMERASIA – a platform that provides consolidated, impactful tools to combat the spread of hate crimes against the Asian American community. Visit https://racismiscontagious.com/ to learn more. ADMERASIA’s winning spot, INVISIBLE, shows why it is time to tell better stories about Asian Americans. Take the pledge. Visit https://threeinfive.com/ to know more.

ADMERASIA & Getty Images & Asian American Visual Storytelling

 

This Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are proud to announce that ADMERASIA has collaborated with Getty Images, a preeminent global visual content creator and marketplace, to release image galleries and guidelines aimed to educate and empower brands on their journeys to genuinely visualize the Asian American community.  

Why Addressing Misrepresentation and Underrepresentation Matters  

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S., with 22 million people crafting the story of America. Yet, this population continues to be underrepresented and misrepresented in visual media. Many ethnicities inside the Asian American demographic find themselves underrepresented. For instance, though the Filipinx population comprises 19% of Asian Americans, it is only represented in 2% of most popular visuals featuring Asian people. Visuals in media and advertising campaigns often reflect stereotypes and reinforce the “model-minority” myth.  

 

Less than 2% of Asian Americans are seen doing outdoor activities. Instead they are seen usually studying, which perpetuates the model minority myth.

 

The Cost of These Disparities and Discrepancies is High.  

Trust and loyalty in these markets have remained elusive. According to a Morning Consult survey, “Roughly 3 in 5 (62%) Asian Americans said they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ see people who look like they do in advertising materials.” That perspective is higher than Hispanic Americans (41%) and Black Americans (32%). 

The ongoing crisis of hate crimes and violent attacks targeting Asian Americans, fueled by anti-Asian sentiment, has added urgency to addressing this issue. Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks hate incidents targeting Asian American Pacific Islander populations since the beginning of the pandemic, has recorded an upward trend in incident reports, with 4,632 in 2020 and 6,273 in 2021. 

 

Only 4% of visuals show Asian Americans doing creative hobbies.

 

ADMERASIA Steps Forward. 

ADMERASIA recognizes that much of this anti-Asian sentiment is embedded in the media and advertising industry’s portrayal of Asian Americans. As two entities that strive to create lasting connections between brands and consumers, this collaboration with Getty Images works to inspire brands, agencies, and creatives to make inclusive visual choices by fueling selection of imagery which is all at once powerful, reflective, and authentic in its depictions of the entire Asian American spectrum—a demographic segment comprised of 20+ ethnicities, each with their own nuanced experiences, perspectives, behaviors, and aspirations. 

“Brands and agencies often lack guidance and education on visuals that are genuine to the communities they are aiming to portray, which negatively impacts the way in which Asian Americans are represented. Oftentimes, they do not know where to begin or what tools are available to them. We joined this collaboration to fill this void. These guidelines are a starting point for discussion, to educate and explore respectful and authentic storytelling that speaks to the truth of Asian America. ADMERASIA has decades of experience working to build these connections and further these relationships because it comes from our own deep-rooted identity.” — XiaoHwa Sydney Ng, Cultural Content Director 

 

Less than 11% visual spotlight Asian Americans seniors.

 

The Collaboration is Live!  

Getty Images has curated four image galleries and downloadable visual guidelines. 

The visual guidelines created in this collaboration will include current data reflecting the Asian American visual landscape, its juxtaposition against the reality of who Asian Americans are, and recommendations on how to build better visual inclusivity. 

Pioneering the Future by Capturing the Past 

This is just the first step in our relationship with Getty Images. Our future goal is to inspire Asian American photographers and capture Asian America through their lens. Imagine — our history recorded in real-time. 

For more information, please visit https://custom.gettyimages.com/asianamericans/p/1 or contact Selina Guo, Vice President of Strategy, ADMERASIA. 

 

Selina Guo
Director of Strategy&
ADMERASIA
selinag@admerasia.com
Racism Is Contagious by ADMERASIA – a platform that provides consolidated, impactful tools to combat the spread of hate crimes against the Asian American community. Visit https://racismiscontagious.com/ to learn more.
ADMERASIA’s winning spot, INVISIBLE, shows why it is time to tell better stories about Asian Americans. Take the pledge. Visit www.threeinfive.com to know more.

 

Slanted Eyes: Offensive or Inclusive?

Now, at the beginning of 2022, a fierce debate about ads that feature models with slanted eyes is in full swing in China and makes the international headlines. This trending topic has gained over 1 billion views and half a million comments on major Chinese social media platforms thus far. Luxury automaker Mercedes Benz, fashion house Gucci, and a renowned Chinese snack brand are the latest to get caught up in the fray. All are accused of accentuating the eye shapes of models and spreading Western stereotypes. As a result, these ads were quickly removed. 

Controversial ads from Mercedes Benz and Gucci

Controversial ads from Mercedes Benz and Gucci

Criticism towards such portrayals of Asian women is not new in China or the U.S..What makes this incident particularly interesting is the debate that has risen from it.  During the week-long social discussions on this topic (still ongoing), critics are primarily divided into two groups. 

Opponents claim that the frequent feature of slanted eyes and exaggerated makeup represents an imposed Western ideal of beauty, and they are offensive to Asians. They believe global brands, media, and fashion industries are largely controlled by Western elites with prejudiced views of Asian beauty. Global brands, media, and fashion industries are largely controlled by Western elites with prejudiced views of Asian beauty. That’s why many of today’s sought-after Asian supermodels are skewed to certain types of looks — small eyes, high cheekbones, and freckled flat faces. And these features are not representative to what beauty means for Asians.  

The four Asian models included in the 2021 Top 50 Ranking at Models.com

The four Asian models included in the 2021 Top 50 Ranking at Models.com

Meanwhile, supporters insist that the slanted eye makeup reflects aesthetic diversity and defies the unrealistic beauty standards inflamed by online influencers and filter aesthetics. If ads only feature Asian models with double-lidded and round big eyes, they are in danger of promoting another stereotype of Asian women being innocent and cute. Society needs the normalization of an inclusive beauty view that embraces diversity and an emphasis on each individual’s unique characteristics.  

 Both sides have a fair point, and together reveal the fact that the current Western depictions of Asians in brand communications and media are painfully limited and narrow. “Asians” is a term that encapsulates vastly different ethnicities, cultural practices, religious beliefs, economic status, and lifestyles. There is no single gold standard that applies to all when it comes to beauty, and the definition of beauty is constantly evolving. Asians living in Asia and the U.S. will have sharply different perceptions and interpretations of beauty, influenced by the unique cultural and historical context they live in. But there is something they have in common — a growing voice and demand for authenticity. 

As an agency that has helped numerous brands connect with Asian audiences in different regions, we think it is a progressive step to have a debate on such a massive scale — more people around the world are aware of and paying more attention to this situation. At the end of the day, the ultimate solution and expectation from people is to see more Asian talent of different skin tones, facial features, and body shapes, and richer Asian stories narrated in a relatable and inspirational manner.  

For brands to do it right, whether in North America or Asia, it is essential to partner with cultural agencies to keep a pulse on the mentality of the Asian audiences they intend to reach, understand their multidimensional needs, and respond with authentic and inclusive messages.  

Any race should not be depicted as a single image or a single type of eye shape. Consider this the first important lesson for brands moving into the reality of 2022.  

 

Selina Guo
Director of Strategy&
ADMERASIA
selinag@admerasia.com
Racism Is Contagious by ADMERASIA – a platform that provides consolidated, impactful tools to combat the spread of hate crimes against the Asian American community. Visit https://racismiscontagious.com/ to learn more.
ADMERASIA’s winning spot, INVISIBLE, shows why it is time to tell better stories about Asian Americans. Take the pledge. Visit www.threeinfive.com to know more.

 

Five Industries Poised to Win the 2021 Holiday Shopping Season & Beyond


Having lived with the pandemic for over two years, it is safe to say COVID-19 has become the key driver for most changes happening in and around our lives. The 2021 holiday season will be different in many ways, enabling a few industries to flourish more than others. Changing consumer habits, pent-up demand, and greater adoption of online shopping are driving these industries’ right to succeed. But that does not mean all brands are winning. Only a few are successfully leveraging the new normal and creating benchmarks in consumer engagement for others to follow and learn.

ADMERASIA, in partnership with G & Co., presents trends, case studies, and opportunities for five industries* that are winning the 2021 holiday shopping season and beyond. Click here to download the report.

*At-Home Entertainment, Beauty & Personal Care, Cross-Border eCommerce, Home Décor, Luxury

 

Arshi Ansari
Audience Insights Manager&
ADMERASIA
arshia@admerasia.com
Racism Is Contagious by ADMERASIA – a platform that provides consolidated, impactful tools to combat the spread of hate crimes against the Asian American community. Visit https://racismiscontagious.com/ to learn more.
ADMERASIA’s winning spot, INVISIBLE, shows why it is time to tell better stories about Asian Americans. Take the pledge. Visit www.threeinfive.com to know more.