Fueled by today’s expansive social media platforms, a surge of East Asian culture has begun to enter the western world and take it by storm. This unprecedented assimilation of cultural phenomena such as anime, K-Pop, and other forms of Asian entertainment into the global mainstream has helped East Asian art and lifestyle develop a dedicated international following, specifically in the West.
Yet the newfound Euro-American obsession with East Asian culture comes with a great cost. As the international perception of Asia becomes more diluted with redundant stereotypes based on kawaii and idol culture, western audiences have started cherry-picking only the ‘acceptable’ and trendy facets of Asian culture to absorb. What they neglect is the reality of Asia, and most importantly, the true humanity of the cultures that they claim to adore. This then begs the question: to what extent do these western “trends” begin to overstep their appreciation of the Asian identity?
In the modern era, wherever or whatever the mainstream decides to latch onto, influencers and creators will persistently follow. They often join these ‘trends’ to appeal to a larger audience demographic. As East Asian culture increasingly manifests itself in western media through food, beauty and cosmetics, and the entertainment industry, a desire for fame leads many to chase after an ‘Asian aesthetic’ and piggyback on its growing reputation. Take the Fox-eye trend in make-up, for example. In an attempt to replicate the slanted eye shape that Asians tend to be genetically gifted with, non-Asians on Tik Tok and Instagram used eyeliner, face tape, and even plastic surgery to achieve the commonly stereotyped East Asian feature.
Such social media trends entirely reduce the complexity of East Asian cultures and appearances to nothing but a pedestal to popularity. Seeing the way that some quickly switch to trying to claim the feature that Asians were so horrendously mocked for in the first place truly shows how the appreciation given to Asian beauty now turns into insensitivity and appropriation. Having Asian features seems to accumulate praise and appreciation unless applied to actual people of the East Asian community. East Asian creators lament this behavior, using the TikTok audio, featuring the Japanese character Maya from the comedy TV show “PEN15” saying “Why is being [Asian] special on her, but bad on me?”. What’s more is how turning East-Asia into a trend allows social media to generalize the entirety of the Asian population, despite its inherent diversity. Further entrenching this East Asian stereotype into the western collective consciousness forces a neglect of other features from South, Southeast, and Middle East Asia and robs the region of the holistic representation that it deserves.
East Asian cuisine has also faced no shortage of attacks either. Our cultural dishes greatly contrast the food that westerners are used to, and the unfamiliarity of the cuisines has convinced many that East Asian cuisine is disgusting and weird. Online critiques of East Asian food by non-Asians will always involve at least one person overtly showing disgust after trying the dish or a degrading remark of the quality of Asian ingredients. In some instances, people will even go out of their way to incorrectly prepare a dish and proceed to insult the taste and origins of it. TikTok user @lishrecipes reviews Japanese omurice, and comments that “all this runniness and nastiness comes out. I just don’t see how anyone could eat it that way…you won’t be seeing that here.” However recently, the consumption of East Asian food has been encouraged with Mukbangs, online audiovisual broadcasts where creators will eat copious quantities of food. As well as the additional exposure of Bubble Tea, also known as Boba to Western media, East Asian cuisine continued to grow in popularity. Comments about how some East Asian food smelled bad and the looks of disgust towards certain dishes gradually began to disappear. Instead, a craze for East Asian food quickly took over. But this did not happen for the entirety of East Asian cuisine, many of the lesser-known dishes were, and still are, regarded with the exact same denigration.
The evident lack of education when “appreciating” a culture infuriates many as it makes them feel that the Euroamerican craze over East Asian culture is appropriating parts of their identity. A proper appreciation of any culture cannot be done without sufficient education on the subject. Additionally, those with a restrictive obsession over East Asian culture, the infamous Koreaboos or Weeaboos, have long been disliked by East Asians as a result of their insensitivity towards the aspects of East Asian culture not included in their obsessive fixations. They love only the aesthetics and the idea of Eastern Asia, yet fail to respect or sometimes even regard the aspects that may not be as glorified or desired by popular culture. Culture and identity should not be a pick-and-choose, and much less diminished into a simple trend that influencers participate in as an attempt to achieve fame.
As victims of cultural insensitivity and appropriation, many East Asians feel cornered by what their culture has been reduced into and represented in the Western media. Despite the several different ethnicities included in the East Asian community, only three countries are typically acknowledged—though also usually misrepresented—by the western media: China, Japan, and South Korea. Even with those labels, China is still heavily antagonized by the U.S. due to politics, while South Korean and Japanese cultures are under constant fetishization by western media. As if fetishization and antagonization were not bad enough, the remaining countries in East Asia, such as Mongolia and North Korea are merely forgotten. More often than not, they are treated as insignificant, and their cultures as undesirable. This unbalanced depiction of East Asian countries has caused an extreme hierarchy and imbalance, waging insecurity, jealousy, and belittling between different ethnicities.
Through western media, East Asian culture has been distorted to only show and depict the aspects that are glorified and fetishized, completely reducing the culture of millions of people into just several trends which fail to respect and capture the true variety and significance of East Asian culture, creating an inaccurate and incomplete depiction of East Asia. Those who take part in these “trends” have played it under the title of “cultural appreciation” when truthfully, it is insensitive and appropriative. The culture, heritage, and history of East Asia are extremely complex subjects and they should not be generalized into one single aspect to define them. Furthermore, East Asia is not the only victim. Several other cultures, such as African American culture are also subject to a similar insensitivity. Thus, in order to prevent any form of appropriation, sufficient education and raising awareness is the crucial first step.
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