Warning: If you don't fit “the beauty standard” you will most likely be offended by this post…but the beauty standard is unrealistic so don’t take it personal... very few people fit the standard ;)
People do judge a book by its cover
Growing up, I used to be teased for my crooked teeth, by family, friends, and strangers. In fact, I just took new pictures for this blog and my own sister said "Oh you look great, now you just need to get Invisalign! (yup my own sister, am I offend, not really). But before I go any further, to my non-American readers if you don’t have perfect straight white teeth and live in the US, as an adult or as a child, people will judge you, people will think you're less intelligent, your ‘poverty easily shows’ because you clearly didn’t invest in braces or could not afford to go to the dentist, have limited dating options, you won’t be seen as professional because the first thing people look at is, your smile, so people that don’t have perfect white teeth…in the US are discriminated against. On the other hand, from my experience and observation living and traveling outside the US, a Hollywood smile is NOT the standard of beauty, orthodontics is still out of reach for many people, so my teeth are quite nice and not a barrier to my ambitions or beauty (in none of my past relationships my partners had a problem with my smile, in fact they loved it, but then again they weren’t American)
Okay, back to the story, so I begged my parents to get me braces so I could fit in with other kids in my school and my community. However, my parents couldn’t afford to get me braces (they are expensive!), so I just had to ‘toughen up’ and work with what I had (at least I was skinny, which I also got teased for, but that was out of jealousy), and one day just looked at myself in the mirror and accepted that my teeth were crooked, and I would not let that define me. I stopped caring what people thought and my confidence increased immensely (confidence is the most beautiful thing!). No longer did I shy away from smiling and laughing, instead I focused on things I could control, like my studies, wardrobe, physical fitness and health (I’m still obsessed about the cleanliness of my teeth, floss religiously, and go to the dentist every six months to get a cleaning) that would enable me build a business.
The “Blair brand” simplicity and sophistication
I used to be very “fashionable” with a nice wardrobe of beautiful dresses, dozen of high heels, and accessories to match. During my studies at university I started to invest in a professional wardrobe and network so I could land a job after graduation. I bought Jones New York suits, Anne Klein skirts, White House Black Market dresses, and beautiful dresses and skirts from Karen Millen (the skirt in the picture) so I could look “the part.” When I asked my colleagues at my part-time job to help set up interviews for a summer internship in Washington D.C. , I was ready and dressed to impress. And I did, but was unimpressed with how saturated D.C. was with interns too willing to work for free with no guarantees for a job. With my creativity and limited resources (it’s very expensive to live in DC, though I would be living with my aunt) I wouldn’t be able to compete or build a personal brand.
So I decided to take a hard look at myself and my future. Do my clothes really have any value? Yes I do have a degree, but it’s a tool and it’s up to me to use it to build a future and financial well-being for myself. Also, I need to work in a place that allows my creativity, imagination, rebellious attitude to be appreciated, (I thought about moving to San Francisco, New York, or Boston). And with that, I decided I will start my own business, have a simple wardrobe (in fact wearing similar clothes everyday allows you to focus more on what’s important, and your creativity to flow, like Steve Jobs), and live a minimalist life with few pieces of valuable assets (like my computer and my phone which I primarily do my business). I decided to live by one identity, Blair, my middle name, because that's the more creative, passionate, and lively person which my community and family knew, whereas the world only knew Angela, very boring, over-ambitious, and emotionally distant (no I don’t have split personality, just all my life only people in my family and community called me Blair, and everyone outside called me Angela). And most importantly, I decided to continue to invest in myself while living in a place where I could learn to be an entrepreneur, so I moved to Israel (aforementioned cities were too expensive). And from my experience and studies I moved to Asia to teach English while building my business.
Now, after about 2 years (October will make exactly 2 years), I have to invest in my wardrobe, but this time I will be more ‘chic’ and simple, think pencil skirt, tailored shirt, and light makeup. Because here, as a woman and entrepreneur a minimalist and athletic look doesn’t exactly work, the athletic look is “in” because now people want to be fit and healthy, but in the business space, I have to dress up (I’m a creative, I thought my personality would outshine my minimalist look, that doesn’t exactly work here).
Beauty and image standards: The West vs. The East
So if you read my post "If your going to start a business in a foreign land..marry a local", what I’m about to write will go a step further (and please correct me if you think I’m wrong). In the “West” the standard of beauty, by standard what is advertised by mainstream media, what women strive to look like, and what makes a women attractive, (I’ll focus on women because most societies women are judge or valued by their looks and youth), the standard for women are slim/fit (or curvy which is relatively new), medium length and voluminous hair (blonde, brunette), light eyes (blue, green, grey, hazel), pretty smile (straight pearly white teeth), small oval shaped head, small but plump lips, narrow waist (26-28 inches), medium size chest (about C cup) and tall (not model tall but about 5’6’’). Despite the average size of the American women being 16-18, what the media and fashion brands (I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, and Victoria’s Secret), advertise is women that are a size 2. Oh before I forget, women have to be young because youth is the most important factor of being attractive (so superficial and sexist, I know!). Why is this the standard in the West, well aside from the beauty of a woman, her image reflects her age, marriageability, net worth (again, beautiful people over a lifetime make more money than non-attractive people), and of course reproducing attractive children (good genes, like perfect teeth, good vision, health, etc).
In the “East” by which I mean Asia (where I travelled so SE Asia, China, and Japan) the standards of beauty are different (I am writing from my experience and observation, so again, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). For women SKIN, white, pale, youthful, flawless skin is VERY important (hence the billion-dollar skin whitening industry here and some job ads specifically ask for employees with white skin!), thin (most people in this region of the world are naturally thin so if your bigger than a size 8 your overweight) with long straight hair (black, brown, highlights), big eyes (double eye-lid), small oval head, petite (though many women like to wear high heels), small chest (nothing over a size C), long narrow nose, and small lips. Does this describe the average women here? Not exactly, but looking at billboards, TV commercials, and fashion magazine, one would think that all the all Asian women (again SE Asian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.) have these physical features. So why is this the standard out here, why is white skin so valuable? Well, because wealth equates to white skin, “hi-society” (hi-so’s is what we call them here in Thailand), “face,” family reputation (this part of the world is a ‘group culture’ so when two people get married, it’s two families coming together, not just 2 individuals, so people are quite particular about who they marry). Class and hierarchy is still very prevalent in these societies so to be beautiful there is opportunity for landing a good job (many industries like hotels and restaurants only have good looking people working, ugly people work in the back or on the street, in the West, this would be discrimination, here it’s the reality, beauty sells!) I mean think about it, you travel to an “exotic country” would you rather be served a meal by a beautiful, slim woman with a friendly face, or a meal by an unattractive, over-weight woman? (I know, so harsh and sexist!). So, given the standards of beauty and possibility of landing a good job, women here wear makeup, maintain long hair, stay slim (young and old, single or married, it really depends on your social class), go to the spa, clinics (there are so many beauty and skin clinics!) and get surgery, because they know if they somehow fit into these standards they will marry (still valued highly in Asia) into a good family, get a good job, and make their family proud and have good “face” by producing beautiful children (no one wants an ugly daughter, or ugly grandchildren! I know, so terrible to say!). Overall beauty in the East is opportunity, social mobility, and maintaining ‘face.’
So does my athletic and simple look work here in Bangkok? Yes and no, I’m slim, have medium length hair, and the athletic look but it’s not good enough anymore as I’m seeking to move my business in a new direction. So, I will invest in a more chic yet simple wardrobe to build my personal brand and business into the future.
Not only will I be rebranding my personal image but also rebranding and re-designing the image, packaging, and formula of Healthy Hair Asia. For over a year, I’ve sold homemade and fresh products, but my customers wanted a nicer scent (something I never thought about, the product works well) and all organic products. So that is exactly what I will be doing! I found some USD approved organic farms in Thailand that I will be working with, eco-friendly cosmetic packaging, an aromatherapist to help me develop a scent for my products, and still talking with my investor (still too early to say anything right now) and will relaunch my brand in the new year. A lot of work ahead but it’s very exciting!
Thank you for reading, hope I didn’t offend you, and stay tuned for next week!