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.”


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.


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.


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.


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&
XiaoHwa Ng
Director of Cultural Content&
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 to learn more. ADMERASIA’s winning spot, INVISIBLE, shows why it is time to tell better stories about Asian Americans. Take the pledge. Visit to know more.

Time to Change the Asian Narrative
on Mental Health.

Photo credit – Breaking the Stigma: Cindy Hsu Interview, CBS2


On July 13, Cindy Hsu, Emmy Award-winning anchor and reporter from CBS2, shared her mental health struggle and how her cultural background did not make it easy to acknowledge the issue in the first place. “In Asian families, you don’t talk about things like this. You keep it inside and soldier on,” she said.

In hindsight, her story was only the beginning of something bigger that would unfold in the days to come — the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The courage displayed by Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles by talking about their struggles with mental health sent shockwaves across the world, stirred the media, and kick-started the debate of the decade on mental health in sports. “To have mental health be talked about more in sports is really nice because, at the end of the day, we are humans before athletes,” Biles said.

Osaka, in addition, also reflected upon the more prominent issues plaguing American society today. “Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested,” she said. The emotional exhaustion from such challenging topics can paralyze even the best.

Their fight is real, and their pain reflects the reality of many Americans who have been silently dealing with mental health challenges for far too long. Add race and ethnicity to the conversation, and the issue becomes even more complex—a case in point being the Asian American community. 

Decades of prejudice, discrimination, and racism against Asian Americans were forced out into the open during the pandemic. The community continues to grapple with severe mental health pressures created by growing xenophobic attacks, especially among seniors, and the disproportionate loss of businesses and jobs. There is also the question of identity, how Asians are treated as perpetual foreigners despite 43% being born in the U.S. The rising political discords fuel the general perception that Asians are taking away “American” jobs, growing influence, and power at the expense of non-Asians while reinforcing the Yellow Peril rhetoric at a systemic level.

An environment like this fosters a complex emotional and highly vulnerable state of mind, triggering loneliness, fear, insomnia, depression, displaced anger, identity crises, and more. As if circumstances were not severe enough, what makes matters worse is the deep-rooted cultural stigma that makes dealing with mental health extremely difficult among Asian Americans. In Asian culture, admitting there is a problem and needing professional help can be perceived as a shameful act or a sign of weakness. Asians are, therefore, least likely to report mental health issues and are three times less likely to seek mental health help than Caucasians, according to the National Latino and Asian American Study.

So, what should you do if you are grappling with mental health issues? Seeking professional help to navigate your issues is recommended. The benefit of a medical expert is that they are upheld to privacy standards. This is an especially important consideration for the Asian community as they have received unfair blame, bias, and hatred for the pandemic. As a community, we cannot let the stigma associated with seeking medical help overpower the importance of our own life and well-being. But if seeking professional help is not where you want to start with, then there are other steps you can take to begin the healing process. 


Social Self-Care

Seeking a safe environment that encourages you to talk about your challenges is the first step to healing. For Asians, the role of community is highly regarded. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with those you trust or those going through a similar journey may provide a different viewpoint to your issues or simply act as a mirror for you to see things from an outside-in perspective. A trusted group could be your friends or family or even anonymous.

Physical Self-Care

A healthy body becomes a source of energy that can positively impact your mental well-being. Asians over-index in highly skilled white-collar jobs, especially in STEMs. These jobs are high pressured and time-intensive, making it easy to overlook or deprioritize physical self-care. How you’re fueling your body, how much sleep you’re getting, how much physical activity you are doing, if you are taking medication as prescribed, and managing health are all part of good physical self-care.

Emotional Self-Care

A routine that may include skincare, exercise, meditation, exploration, or anything therapeutic in nature can bring a sense of calmness and clarity back in life. Asian women need emotional self-care now more than ever. Their days are filled with chores, taking care of a multi-generational family, managing home and work while dealing with COVID-related concerns. Beauty and skincare have assumed a critical role. For many Asian women, beauty routines are elevated to rituals, a chance for “me-time” and time to destress. These routines are essential in keeping up the spirit and improving self-awareness.


Destigmatizing mental health issues is no easy task; however, beginning the conversation is a great start. When companies decide to join the conversation, it can be the difference between a positive or negative impact on the brand.

Join now, at the dawn of Asian Mental Health Awareness, and be welcomed as active listeners who support the Asian American community. Or wait in complacent observation until it trends across your feed. Asian America prefers the former.


Arshi Ansari
Strategic Planner&
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 to learn more.[R]EVOLUTION by ADMERASIA – a platform that connects brands with Asian American innovators and gamechangers rewriting the rules for social advocacy, content creation and entertainment. Visit to know more.