Anything But Ordinary

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When I launched my new website in 2013, I lingered on the amount of visitors and the number of “likes” that I received on Facebook. I felt vulnerable doing this, but I yearned to know that my new project mattered. Yet, if I was really being honest with myself, I know that I wanted to alleviate my feelings of inadequacy and fears of being seen as simply “ordinary.”
Why do I have such reservations of seeming ordinary? It is because in my teens and early twenties, I was discipled by my church and pastors to live life boldly and impact the world for Christ. This is why I served children in the inter-city of Chicago, traveled to the border of North Korea, and gave away shoes and clothes to those who needed it. I even worked as the Children’s Minister for three-years and eventually went to seminary school. Now, my days are spent in the suburbs, driving a mini-van, and raising two kids whose lives are on a set schedule. For me, the monotonous lifestyle is challenging because it requires me to go deep inside and be mindful about how to be kind to my children, husband, and even people at the grocery store. During my training to be a radical Christian, I was never told about living an ordinary lifestyle or how it should be done.

Christian women are always being told about their place in society and in the home. I love my young children and being married, but I often have days of feeling underappreciated or that I am not doing enough with my life. On those days, I have been known to numb the pain with chocolate even though it only pacifies the feelings for a temporary amount of time. When I was feeling that my ordinary life was not good enough or that I was not doing enough, I had to force myself to be aware of those hurtful lies and change my thinking about my season in life. I realized there was nothing wrong with being known as ordinary or doing ordinary things. According to Luther, “ordinary works, done in faith and from faith, are more precious than heaven and earth.” Ordinary does not equate to “not being good enough.” In the Bible, God chose the ordinary and imperfect people to do amazing things for Him. Moses lacked the confidence to speak when he had to confront Pharaoh and deliver the people from slavery. David was just an ordinary shepherd boy who was chosen to be the future king. Despite flaws or seeming common, God can see the high worth of individuals. The number of Facebook or Twitter followers should not measure what a person can do or their value. God says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

I miss the days of being radical for Christ, but my priorities altered because I have young children in the home. Though I do not always enjoy the mundane work of laundry or cooking, my eyes have been opened by my wonderful church community, and by the women in Redbud Writers Guild, whose lives have been dedicated to serving others through prayer, mentoring, and encouragement. Their faithfulness has made a difference in my life and has also taught me the real meaning of koinonia.

As Helen Lee reminds me in The Missional Mom, “I can be a purposeful mother, one who not only loves her kids but who wants to make a difference in the world.” I know this is my season of being a mother to young children, so I embrace it and all the challenges that come with raising a family. Though I feel it is ordinary at times, I want to look back at this period and know that I tried my best to make it a well-lived Christian life. I have made mistakes with my words or reacted when I should have comforted, but in the midst of my flaws as a mom, my children know they are my priority and I love them. I still hope that someday, there will be a time when I can ignite the fire or be part of a revolution, but for now I will bask in the comfort of my middle-class mini-van and enjoy the weekly play dates. Yes, my life is a bit ordinary, but I serve an extraordinary God and He makes living good.

Trying to be a Living Doll

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barbie

Anime Barbie

Have you heard about the beauty trend to look like a doll? It is so fast-growing among girls and young women that it has been given the name “Barbie Flu.” To take part in this popular trend, a girl needs to use big contact lens and thick make-up to enlarge the eyes, have eyelash extensions, and some plastic surgery to transform into a “living doll” with the body dimensions of 34-18-34. If you need a tutorial on how to do this, you can go to YouTube and get mini-lessons from Dakota Rose or Venus Palermo.

A real-life Barbie? Teenager Dakota Rose, who styles herself as a living doll, has become an internet hit for her online demonstrations on how to recreate her look

A real-life Barbie? Teenager Dakota Rose, who styles herself as a living doll, has become an internet hit for her online demonstrations on how to recreate her look

Asia was the first to take part in this trend since many girls wanted to look like anime cartoons. Yet, is it okay for girls aspire to look like plastic dolls that have tiny waistlines and big breasts? This world obsession to be more Barbie-like by dramatically altering one’s appearance is harmful because it is another beauty standard that females cannot and should not have to attain.

What is really unsettling is that Barbie and dolls are unreal objects, but girls everywhere are trying to become these things and become more artificial. How is something unreal, coming into our society and becoming the new standard of beauty? I think that instead of sending the message that girls need to change and look more perfect, the internet, parents, and society needs to work harder to encourage real body images and lifestyles that are healthy. Being Barbie may seem fantastic, but it is plastic.

What’s a FOB?

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FOBThough I was born in Chicago, Illinois, Asian people would call me a “FOB” (Fresh Off the Boat) because I enjoyed watching Korean dramas, listening to Korean music, and enjoyed eating Asian food. The term “FOB” is a term that only Asians use to refer to someone who may speak English with an accent, speaks in an Asian dialect with peers, dresses in an ethnic manner, and follows ethnic traditions. Though the term was given to me in a joking manner, it meant that the person thought I was not following American culture, had awkward social habits, and  was comically ignorant in fashion.

The term “FOB,” categorizes an Asian person and distances him/her from others, so they are judged, and it brings up negative racial images that are anti-immigrant.  If someone who is non-Asian calls an Asian person that term, it would be considered racist.

When I was called a “FOB,” it made me feel a sense of shame, embarrassment, and discomfort toward those who were labeling me. Yet, to me, it was better to be called a “FOB” than someone who was “whitewashed.” A “whitewashed” person was thought to be ashamed of his/her race and ethnicity. This type of person will try to fit into American culture because they want to be accepted and be popular. Hence, “FOBs” are geeks in society, but the “whitewashed” person is considered “cool” and accepted by non-Asians. A “whitewashed” person does things to be accepted and feels pride in being someone who is “whitewashed” because he/she feels that non-Asians see the person as part of the group.

Though a “whitewashed” person feels pride in being assimilated and distancing himself from his ethnic group, some Asian peers see the actions as shameful because that person can never fully assimilate into American culture. In addition, someone who is “whitewashed” is considered a ‘wannabe” who has sold out to the white world.

Terms like these are problematic because it causes racial oppression within an ethnic group that reproduces inequality among that group. Even though the “whitewashed” person believes it means assimilation and acceptance into the American society, and feels a sense of progress over peers who are “FOBs” or more traditional peers, this issue is something that signifies resistance and internalized oppression for Asians. It is internalized oppression because it questions whether it is possible for an Asian person to be seen as just “American?”  For aren’t Asians and Americans always going to be separate and distinct?

Throughout history, exclusion and marginalization has affected racial groups. Asians have been given disparaging labels to distinguish them as foreigners.  Although the term “FOB” is given to Asians by other Asians, and is suppose to be taken in a lighthearted manner, it in actuality continues the marginalization of Asians. Personally, I have been called this term often and always felt like a victim because I knew it was not a compliment. So the next time that you or someone wants to use this word, I hope that you will stop and think about the effects of  what it means.  To use the words of “FOB” or “whitewashing” is to continue the subordination of Asians in America.

Untwisting the Past

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Freckles

“If she didn’t have so many freckles on her face, she would be so much prettier.” These are the words that were said to me daily. I should have been use to the sting, but it always felt like a new cut that let me know how I did not measure up. My mom was born with a complexion that was the color of white pearls. She didn’t need to tell me that she did not like my skin color, she showed it through her side remarks and constant efforts to purify my skin through different toners, face masks, and creams.

As a person of color, my story is a common one. The practice of extending or withholding favor based on a person’s skin tone is called colorism (Millner). It can usually be found within a cultural or social group where skin color is divided into dark-skinned and light-skinned. The negative attitudes are not from outside groups, but from grandparents and parents who show favor toward the light skinned children; same race men who ignore the dark-skinned women; commercial and print ads that use pale skinned models to push how light skin equates beauty, success, and love.

So how do we change attitudes about skin color? When I was facing this issue with my daughter who was called, “ugly” because of her dark skin, I had to take a hard look at my opinions on the topic, and then I had to reorganize my attitude since it was clouded by my mother’s voice and that of my culture. This led me to find books, dolls, female role models, and enter my daughter into the world of professional modeling. I did this because I wanted to use these things to have open conversations about color, and for her to understand that people come in different shades, but our worth is the same.

It is hard to have so many negative messages affect my daughter. But ultimately, I want my daughter to understand what I didn’t when I was her age, she is beautiful and smart because she is “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God (Psalm 139:14).

Don’t let others label you. Too often when you are tagged, it can stick for long time. It is easy to believe what others perceive, but those things are often based on assumptions. Don’t let people limit who God made you to be.

When it Comes to Gender, Boys Still Rule and Girls Drool

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My dad was lead body guard for President Park Chung Hee, earned a degree in Architecture, and could have made a decent life for himself in Korea. Yet, he came to America in 1971 with fifty dollars in his pocket, and ate only one bowl of rice a day. To save money, he lived in the basement storage room of the martial arts school and he said it reeked of sewer, body odor, and human feces. It also had gigantic rats that covered the ground and nipped at his body when he would take naps between his jobs teaching martial arts, working as a janitor, and laboring at the local factory. He did all this, so his future family could have a good life in America.

I have never seen my father cry, but last week when I was making him dinner, he broke down and sobbed uncontrollably while talking about the plight of my brother’s health. My whole family is having a hard time with the recent news of my brother, but my parents are taking it the worst…especially my dad.

As he wept, he kept expressing his sorrow about the family legacy ending. When his sister who lives in Korea, found out about my brother’s sickness, she called my dad and they both wailed about the inevitable family line that was going to die. They had so much hope in my brother because of his gender and were both inconsolable.

 

According to the 2011 Gallup poll, if Americans could have only one child, they would prefer that it be a boy rather than a girl, by a 40% to 28% margin, with the rest having no preference or no opinion on the matter. These attitudes are remarkably similar to the Gallup results in 1941, when Americans preferred a boy to a girl by a 38% to 24% margin.

The attitudes of American men drive the overall preference for a boy; in the current poll, conducted June 2011, men favor a boy over a girl by a 49% to 22% margin. American women do not have a proportionate preference for girls. Instead, women show essentially no preference either way: 31% say they would prefer a boy and 33% would prefer a girl.

Son preference is a global issue that has existed throughout history. In some societies today, son preference is so strong and sex-selective practices so common that, at the population level, the number of boys being born is much greater than the number of girls. This can be seen in South and East Asian countries like India, China, Hong Kong, and South Korea, also in Soviet Bloc countries like Armenia and Serbia.

India and China prefer sons because they are considered more valuable in the social and economical sense since inheritance and land rights are given to male heirs, and they contribute more to a family’s income through their job. Women are viewed as less valuable because they usually leave the family after marriage and require a large dowry.

The preference for boys over girls turns into a disaster when repeated across a society. Unnatural Selection takes an alarming look at the consequences of countries full of men: sex trafficking in Albania, mail-order brides in Vietnam, crime in “bachelor towns” in rural China. Also, a population that does not have enough nurses and teachers.

In the 21st century, females are equal and are suited for leadership roles that lead to innovation and economic growth. They excel in education and can help in workforce; 56% of college graduates are women in America and the percent is similar in China and India. In addition, because women have a more compassionate leadership style, are better at communication, and can cultivate collaboration that leads to innovation, they make high-quality leaders in the work place. In a recent study by psychologists at MIT and Carnegie Mellon, people were divided into teams and asked to complete intelligence tasks together. The IQ scores of participants had little affect on performance, but the number of women on a team, however, affected it a great deal and showed that the more women, the better.

Though many cultures still prefer males, it cannot be denied that girls are a strong investment. In Half the Sky, Sheryl WuDunn who coauthored the book with her husband Nicholas Kristoff says, “An important future indicator for a developing economy is its treatment of women…it is the best way to fight poverty and extremism.” If a country treats girls as equal and gives them opportunities to develop their talents, it has more brainpower to fill the needs of the country. Even World Bank agrees because when development dollars were invested in projects for girls and women, there was a 90% return. When dollars were spent for males, there was only a 30% return.

Growing up in an Asian home, I knew that my brother was given more attention because of his gender. They said that he was their retirement and invested more in his education, and gave him constant affirmation. I was reared to find a good husband with a decent income, so I could live comfortably and be a good mother. The saddest thing about  individuals wanting sons over daughters is that it gives women the belief that they have little significance in the world. It did for me.

Girls have value and should be celebrated, supported, and encouraged by fathers and brothers who realize their unlimited potential; uncles and guy friends who value them. Daughters should feel they have voices that will be heard and possess the power to change the world. Since Jesus gave up His life to die on the cross, it should be a reminder how valuable each person is and this includes females!

On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my family, but especially my daughter who I get to see grow  each day. As she matures, I pray that she will:

  • Be free to live beyond the restraints imposed by others. Free to be the girl, lady, and woman that she was created to be—the one who God made her to be. She was made for a purpose. Her life was not an accident, but she was made intentionally.
  • Allow Christ to set her standard for living. Not culture, peers, or a cute guy at school. The opinions of others are the determining factor for doing things.
  • Remember that she will disappoint people over and over. That is okay.
  • Know that her life should not be spent gaining the approval of others.
  • Never forget that her life was paid for through the death of Christ.

 

 

Letter to my daughter:

Dear B,

Don’t live life behind someone else. Your value is not based on someone’s accomplishments. You are valuable because you are loved, so live a life worthy of it. Also, don’t take second best because you are scared that something better will not come along. Never sell yourself short. Be willing to take risks, if God is leading your heart in that direction.

May you always know your value and perfect imperfections, and may it always make you cling closer to Him. Live your life and live it boldly because you were made with a purpose.

 

Love,

Mom

Beauty Means Sun Protection

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The notion of beauty is held highly in culture because it demonstrates status, social acceptance, and suitability as a mate. In Asia, women believe lighter skin is a sign a beauty. To the point, they will cover their body on hot days by wearing a sweater, use an umbrella or hat to protect their face, and even wear a sun mask when swimming.

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Skin Lightening: Fair Ideals for Women?

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In Asia and Africa, advertisements for skin lightening products are prevalent as pornography is in America. They are everywhere. In Asia, these advertisements feature Asian women with glowing skin, jet-black hair, and delicate, almond-shaped eyes. There is a clear message in these ads: You can be a perfect Asian woman by using our beauty products. You need this because you are not enough. Your eyes are not big enough, your nose is not pointy enough, and your skin is not light enough.

A month ago, I was watching an Asian cable channel and saw an advertisement for face soap. It gave the idea that the soap could wash away the ‘stigma’ of having dark skin and one could become more beautiful, have men fall in love with them, and be successful socioeconomically with the lighter skin color that appears.  Margaret Hunter wrote about this in “If You’re Light You’re Alright: Light Skin Color as Social Capital for Women of Color.” She observed that most literature on skin color hierarchies point to the ideology of white prestige and how having a lighter skin color is like “social capital” for women of color since it gives preference to light skinned women, so they have more opportunities to be successful in the areas of personal income, education, and spousal status.

So, how far will these advertisements go? In India, there was a commercial for skin lightening cream—not for the face—the vagina. The commercial showed a husband ignoring his wife, until she washed with vagina wash. The makers of the bleaching product believed it was “Indian women’s hope in a tube.”

Eleanor Roosevelt was once quoted as saying “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” but with multinational companies reaping the benefits of the skin-lightening phenomena, the likelihood of self-acceptance slips further away and enforces racism, sexism, and other forms of injustices to make them seem like a natural part of life for women.