Photo by Kleigh Balugo
I walk through H-Mart scavenging the shelves for snacks that remind me of home and my childhood. Trader Joe’s mochi ice cream just doesn’t cut it anymore. Across from me I see a group of white teenage girls in head to toe Brandy Melville, laughing and stuffing their baskets with instant boba, Poppin Cookin, or whatever other snack Tik-Tok told them is worth venturing out of their white girl bubble for. They continue to laugh as they walk through the aisles, pushing each other into the shelves every once in a while and making loud noises, unaware of people around them. I sneak past them to checkout, apologizing when I get too close. What a strange feeling it must be to unapologetically take up space.
In the era of fox eye makeup tutorials, anime stans, boba gentrification, and of course, yellow fever, it’s more convenient than ever to be an Asian girl in a white space. Personally, it has been incredibly difficult to navigate this new world of being fetishized in a way that starkly contrasts how I was once completely discarded and seen as undesirable by white people.
I can’t lie, it can feel empowering when people give you attention because of your race. No matter how demeaning that may sound, I spent most of my life ashamed of being Asian and now it’s suddenly “trendy” to have an Asian girlfriend, so of course this made me feel wanted in a way I never knew. I have no empathy for white girls that shame me for allowing myself to be fetishized or lusted over solely because my race. Mostly because it’s probably impossible for white girls to understand this sensation, because they have always been seen as desirable.
I didn’t really understand what it was to be fetishized until it actually happened. I started dating someone that had only ever been involved with Asian girls and I tried so desperately to convince myself that was ok and that he liked me for me, not because I was Asian. This kind of thing has detrimental effects on your self esteem. I began comparing myself to all these Asian girls he was obsessed with, envying them, only to realize that we were all just toys in his racist little game. I seeked validation from him for so long, when in reality, it wasn’t even me he was interested in, it was girls like me.
I know that being fetishized is bad and it’s racist and harmful and all those things, but sometimes it feels good, especially after you convince yourself you’re undesirable. No one ever talks about that. Is it so bad to feel wanted? I felt guilty about putting myself in a situation to be fetishized, but was it really my fault? Why should Asian women carry the guilt? All I did was exist. Being validated was a new feeling for me and I was riding that high for as long as I could. But the come-down was worse than anything I had anticipated.
I don’t even know why I wanted so badly to be desired by the very people that continue to oppress me and my community. It’s like the white supremacy seeped into my pores and made me crave white attention. I think, like most things, it stems from my childhood.
I remember when I was around 7 years old at Sunday school, a white girl next to me started teasing her other white friend, laughing that he and I should get married and move to China. He of course didn’t like being teased this way, because being romantically involved with me, even hypothetically, was a huge insult to him. I didn’t understand why kids felt the need to make dumb jokes like this and I still don’t. What’s so funny about getting married and moving to China? (I’m not even Chinese, but that’s beside the point.) Sean, his name was Sean, would be lucky to get married to me and move to China with me. I bet he goes to UC Riverside now and is regularly left on read by Asian girls.
On the contrary, I always get an icky feeling whenever white people are weird or overly-interested in the fact that I’m Asian. To me, this just speaks to the fact that they aren’t well socialized with Asians, or POC in general. There’s nothing worse than being in a room full of white people and just feeling like they are analyzing you or are hyper-aware of you. Honestly, I would rather people be outwardly racist to me than treat me like some exotic pet to poke at and obsess over.
Now, I’m sitting on the train listening to Your Best American Girl by Mitski. I’m thinking we should start a club of Asian girls who are tired of feeling guilty about being fetishized. It’s not our fault we’re so cool and pretty and people just started noticing.