The Glamourbaby Diaries is a film based on a writing program I created for Asian American women and women of color. It was shot and edited by Alexis Casson.
By: Ruby Veridiano
About two years ago, I came across an article on Essence Magazine written by Michelle Obama. It was a personal letter addressed to young African American women, a letter filled with compassion and guidance for the next female generation. Her words offered a road map for the journey ahead with knowledge that the world will look different for a woman of color.
Even though I am Asian-American (of Filipina descent), I eagerly read the letter because I craved those words. Aching for a mentor to help guide me towards the pursuit of my dreams, the letter left me saddened that I had never come across a letter like this for Asian American women, let alone an Asian-American female figure that I could readily identify in mainstream media.
So goes the story of my life as a first generation Filipina-American: absent of letters, recognition of my history, and a face that looked like my own. Growing up, my story was never told in movie plots or television scripts. My reflection was hardly mirrored in the magazines I devoured as a teenager, and my room was filled with magazine cutouts of celebrities that shared no resemblance to my own face or upbringing. Alas, all my life, I did not have the novelty of having a celebrity look alike.
While the search for a celebrity look alike may seem silly, the absence of one pointed to a much larger issue: when it came down to it, my version of beauty was not validated by a culture that relies on media to dictate what exists and what doesn’t. I didn’t see myself. I was invisible. And during those tender and formative years of my adolescence, I mistook invisible for being ugly. And the scary thing is, I wasn’t alone.
In the United States, Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest female suicide rates among all other ethnic groups in that age range, making suicide the leading cause of death for Asian-American women in that age group (CNN). Depression runs high among young Asian-American women, and self-esteem issues are partly the culprit. As fashion icon and Richard Avedon muse, China Machado once said in an interview with New York Magazine, “We [nonwhites] had no images. We had nothing that told us we were nice-looking. Nothing. So I didn’t think of myself as good-looking at all. It never occurred to me.” This was coming from the woman Avedon himself called “probably the most beautiful woman in the world.”
You see, Asian-American women like me come from countries where whitening creams are constant best sellers in the cosmetic industry. In Asia, skin bleaching, and in some cases, eyelid surgery (the procedure of getting eyelids sewn in to make the eyes seem wider) have become common beauty regimens. Speaking from experience, I came from a post-colonial Asian country of the Philippines, where brown women are pitted against impossible standards of beauty (remnants of a deeply embedded inheritance from the Spaniards and the Americans who colonized us). Add this history to our invisibility in American media plus the pressures to become “model minorities”, plus growing up with immigrant parents who don’t always understand our assimilation to American values, and the pressures come to a dangerous boiling point.
This is why, two years ago, upon reading Michelle Obama’s letter, I made a decision to write my own letter: A Love Letter to the Filipina. Published on my blog, it was a gift for my sisters to let them know that I believed in them, that I loved them, that I wanted them to know something I didn’t always know: that they are beautiful. Then, like Avedon, I made China Machado my muse.
Of Chinese and Portuguese descent, China became the first non-caucasian model featured on a Western publication. Her image on the 1959 issue of Harper’s Bazaar redefined who was allowed to “own” the term glamour and paved the way for models of color to represent diverse shades of beauty in the fashion industry. Through her inspiration, I created a writing empowerment program called Glamourbaby Diaries, my very own personal initiative to empower young Asian-American women and other women of color to redefine glamour to encompass themes of strength, passion, and social change.
Focusing on Asian-American history and the direct intent to share the many talented (but unknown) role models within fashion, arts, and media in our community, this was my effort to help a young Asian-American woman find and own her voice, so that she can be confident enough to know that she can one day change the world (even if only in her personal world).
The Glamourbaby Diaries incorporates media, art, and fashion, with writing exercises and social issues so that participants can gain tools that build self-confidence, inner beauty, social awareness, and leadership, inspiring them to embrace their highest potential to become agents of social change. Today, on September 19th, I am releasing the Glamourbaby Diaries film to feature the vibrant voices of the young women who took part in the program. It is my honor to share it with the world today, in hopes that it will make a girl proud of herself and her potential.
This post, and this film, is yet another love letter for my sisters. I hope you know that I see you, I believe in you, and I look forward to seeing us all grow into the powerful women we are all meant to become.
To help me continue the Glamourbaby Diaries program and mentor a new group of girls this school year, you can contribute to the Indiegogo campaign HERE.
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