Change My Race: Growing up Asian in Australia

Change My Race Preview Picture SBS TV

Change My Race by Anna Choy was a most provocative look into the "growing trend of de-racialisation cosmetic surgery in Australia", as well as an exploration of Australian culture and how it erodes Asian (or other) culture and ties.

The program follows a few women going through cosmetic processes, either through personal choice or through parental pressure. I felt there were some interesting quotes and stories to be gained from the story, for example those that felt Australian while visiting their family overseas, and yet felt overwhelmingly Asian when in Australia.

Interestingly, my problem is not theirs, but actually a lack of feeling Australian despite being raised in Australia, because I don't see Australian values as really aligning to my own. When I was younger, I was quite proud of being Australian, but as I entered high school, suddenly I shed that pride and started to have more pride in my Asian side.

This makes sense. The program's many academics take care to emphasise your environment affects the way you see yourself. A quote from the program: "You look at the girl in the mirror and say 'that's not me'!", as a result of having friends that are predominantly Anglo Saxon. Being white is considered the default position, and central to the human experience in most media.

My friends in primary school were predominantly Anglo Saxon, but as a result of going to a selective school, my friends in high school were mainly Asian until closer to the latter years of high school where the group combined with others to include an even mix of different races. Strangely, I never really noticed any perceived 'Asianess', but I don't have a strong sense of self.

Interestingly, the academic who gave the above example (quoted) also mentioned that on the other hand, as an Asian growing up in Asia, you would not be 'Asian', you're just human. I would be interested in Ruben's take on this as an Anglo Saxon who grew up in Asia (I'm jealous, by the way).

I can see that Anna is having trouble with the conflicting Australian and Asian values of beauty and opportunity, in some senses. The Australian side, particularly a more contemporary approach, is that your confidence and how much you like your appearance is what matters in a climate of insecurity and self awareness of which I am victim. However the Asian side places emphasis on your appearance opening doors for you in the future, giving you the 'maximum opportunity' — however we wish it not to be so, appearance counts for a lot. While this long-term approach is admirable, it is also destructive.

Although I don't feel myself as Australia, I'm not immune either to the effects of being born and raised in Australia. A flat nose, short and muscular (?) thighs, a square jaw and a receding chin which are all features quite common and normal for Asians are all features I don't particularly like about myself. It is only fortunate that I have natural double eyelids. I'd never considered this effect of growing up in Australia to be the effect of this dissatisfaction per se.

Interestingly, I also consider black hair as boring, and would colour it a more 'interesting' colour if it did not look unnatural with my 'Asian' features and be immediately recognised as dyed.

It's sad that, as the show says, we have to look a certain way to feel valid as a person. As the show opens:

"To be human is to be white. To be black or Asian, is a variation of being a human."