Quan Nguyen | Finding a standard for Asian beauty


Guest Column | If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, where does this leave Asian-American men?




How did Asian males become the least sexy species in America?

Last Tuesday, Daily Pennsylvanian columnist JY Lee raised an important question. Through a florid and albeit digressive way, he made the case for Asian-American men to step up our A-game and show the world why we are — to borrow a popular Korean song title — fantastic baby!

As a student studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea, I found his message intensely relatable. Let me say this again: I’m in Seoul, Asia’s plastic surgery capital, where looks matter in both social and professional settings.

While women from Seoul are incredibly fashionable, I half admire and half find amusing the great lengths Korean men go to take care of themselves.

According to ABC News, Korean men account for nearly 21 percent of global sales of men’s cosmetics. Wherever I go in Seoul, it’s easy to identify these so-called “flower men.” They are handsome, tall and always dressed to perfection. They sport the latest trends and the occasional man purse.

Consequently, there are a plethora of cosmetic shops catering to male clients on the streets of Seoul.

You can only imagine how confounding and alienating this experience has been for someone like me — an average height Vietnamese-American male born in Thailand.

While my biological and physical makeup (no pun intended) will never match that of your typical Korean pretty boy, my experiences in Seoul have colored my understanding of Asian beauty and what this means for men.

Lee calls for more positive representations of Asian-American men in media and pop culture in order for Asians to be seen as “beautiful.”

However, he fails to distinguish between different standards of beauty or suggest a standard for Asian Americans to be viewed under.

Should Asian men be compared against a Eurocentric brand of masculine beauty espoused by chiseled male models in cologne ads (my favorite is Nacho — yes that’s his name — from Polo Ralph Lauren)? Or, should we be going for the perpetually shirtless Abercrombie look?

And what if neither works out? Should we look to the Asian gangsta, Yakuza badass or our well-dressed Korean brethren? To a certain extent, I’m kidding, but here’s where things get hazy.

How can you answer the very question at the beginning of this column without considering what defines Asian males as “sexy” or “beautiful”?

Let’s be real here: within every race or ethnicity, there will always be people who are more or less beautiful than others. Harsh, I know, but it’s the same with animals, fruits and vegetables. Don’t tell me you never passed up a weirdly shaped orange at the grocery store in favor of the “nicer-looking” one beside it.

Obviously, beauty is subjective. But we shouldn’t ignore how cultural differences and expectations shape our understanding of it.

Which brings us back to the heart of the matter: how can we make Asian men more appealing through the media?

Lee suggests that Asian-American men should forgo stereotypical career paths — such as law, accounting, medicine and engineering (or the L.A.M.E. route as I call it) — in favor of the arts.

I wholeheartedly agree. This is definitely a way to bring on an Asian renaissance. It is (and will be) refreshing to see more Asian faces on television in a diverse set of capacities. Just last week, I discovered a Korean-American indie band called “Monsters Calling Home.” They show that it is possible for an American audience to appreciate Asian-American “beauty” (not to mention talent).

However, if you are an Asian male with no desire to pursue the arts and feel somewhat alienated or even offended my suggestions because your true passion does indeed lie in engineering or science — that’s fine.

But when you’re working that brain Asian-style, remember: you’re sexy too.

Quan Nguyen, a former video producer for the Daily Pennsylvanian, is a College junior from Orlando, Florida. His email address is quanng@sas.upenn.edu. Follow him @QuanQuanNguyen and through is video blog, taequando.com

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