Beauty standards imposed by social norms have always been the pillar of insecurity in every culture. Even though it feels like the tides are changing with more and more social media influencers jumping on the wagon to celebrate diversity and inclusivity, you can’t help but feel that the stereotype of physical appearance, especially for women is still very much a part of how we define beauty. Judging women by how they look, rather than by what they’ve accomplished is unfortunately still, a very much pressing issue, especially in Asia. Such unrealistic beauty ideals can be quite dangerous leaving an everlasting impact on a woman’s mental health, not to mention shattering her confidence.
Norelle Weng, an English tutor, who was born and raised in Taiwan, used to do modeling part-time and was one of those women who for a brief second let these impossible beauty ideals define her as a woman. When being told that no matter how her makeup is done, she would never look “sweet” enough because of her single eyelids (which apparently is a thing in Asia), her world shattered into million pieces and she began thinking that because of her looks, there was nothing good about her. Being constantly criticized made her believe like she wasn’t worthy, until she began experimenting with camera and began realizing that fixed beauty doesn’t exist. What exists is your own definition and perception of it and that was a solid foundation upon which she started building her charisma and confidence. So, for the latest edition of Cool Faces of Bastet Noir, she shares more on how she survived the criticism stirred by Asia’s absurd beauty norms by making her own and how she evolved and grew to become the assertive, self-reliant and incredibly fierce woman she is today.
Who is Norelle Weng?
Norelle Weng is a being of strong sensibility to aesthetics, cultures and emotions. Language learning, cultural study, art, clothing design have greatly inspired her. They are, in her opinion, irreplaceable just as each voyage in her life. Norelle Weng is a under the influence of the west and the east. Born and growing up in Taiwan, she has inherited some decent Asian characteristics such as diligence and a strategic mind. Her great passion for English also opened a door to the western world. Her liberty-loving soul blooms and flourishes ever since her contact with the individuality in the west.
The best part about my job
I am an English tutor. I would say I enjoy great freedom and flexibility, because of which I could devote as much time and effort to my passions: clothing design, language learning and traveling.
The worst part about my job
The worst part about my job is its lack of challenges. As I grow older, I find myself, surprisingly, getting extra motivated and inspired by challenges in life. That’s one main reason why I can’t stop learning and taking on challenges, not within the domain of my job but in life.
Self care practices that keep you motivated
Every morning after grooming, I listen to a bit of jazz sung by my favorite singer Angelina Jordan and afterwards, I read a page or two in French, either silent reading or reading out loud. For me, by doing so, I’m fully inspired and ready for a day of challenges.
Oftentimes, Asians have different beauty standards than the Western world. What do you think is the beauty standard in Asia like and how has it influenced you?
In Asia nowadays, beauty standard for women is, unfortunately, invariably “rigid”. Fair skin tone, double-eyelids, a narrow face without high cheekbones, to name just a few. Apparently, I don’t fit into almost any of these standards except for my slim figure. This used to be my concern, gnawing me throughout my high school and college years. It’s up until the time when I started doing more serious shooting with cameras that I realized, beauty itself shouldn’t be restricted by standards. At that very moment, I was officially liberated from the expectations of the society and my anxiety of not being able to conform to them. Until now, I would say how the society, western or eastern, perceives beauty still has had a profound impacts on me as a woman. I once felt traumatized, yet I rebuilt and reshaped my confidence and identity out of the ashes, which taught me two critical life lessons: the ability to perceive this world in my own unique perspective and the will to survive the social norms.
Favorite women empowerment speech
Emma Watson’s HeForShe 2014 campaign speech. There are numerous women empowerment speeches, yet this one given by Emma Watson, in my opinion, has shed light on not just women but men. That is, the empowerment of women shouldn’t solely rely on the participation of women, but the awakening of men as well.
Advice you’d give to your younger self
Patience is gold. Your qualities will be recognized in the right time of your life. Before that, sow relentlessly instead of just thinking about reaping.
Biggest failure in life and what you’ve learned from it.
My biggest failure in life is a decision of mine to do modeling despite knowing how unrealistic beauty standard is here in Asia. From the beginning to the end of my short modeling career, spanning around two years, I barely got any job. When I did get a job, it’s never because of my appearance, but for my English ability, which only a small amount of modeling job required back in those days. Though I didn’t get admitted, each job experience stands horribly vividly in my memory. My single eyelids got me the tutting of the makeup artists; my high cheekbones got me the denial of the clients who pointed out that I wouldn’t look “sweet” enough no matter how my makeup was done. My confidence was smashed into pieces. Mentally I was very unhealthy as I didn’t even believe any good characteristics would exist in me as a person. I regard this experience as the biggest “failure” in my life, for I didn’t make the right judgment in the first place and that I even became one of those who rubbed the salt on my mental wound, worsening my self denial.
Society expectations of what external beauty should look like can be extremely damaging to the mental health of those who above all else seek to fit in. The impossible demands of having to resemble a picture perfect image of high cheekbones, thick eyebrows, luscious lips and even single eyelids are absurd and should only be referenced as relics of an outdated definition of beauty. Because the only definition of beauty that matters is the one that reflects how you feel about yourself, how you accept your flaws and learn how to own them. If we cared a bit less about what society thinks of us and a bit more of what we think of ourselves, the world will be a much better place. We need to change these norms by killing the desire, that’s constantly forced on us by the beauty industry to look like someone else and replace it with accepting the things we cannot change. That’s precisely why we need people like Norelle who are constantly evolving and redefining beauty under their own terms.
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