thrifted glasses $3 | Philippine market purchased dress $3 | ny & co belt $10 | Aldo shoes $100 | assorted bracelets Wet Seal bracelet $12
This look is a nod to Grease’s Sandra D. You know, if she showed some leg and weighed 20 more pounds. Grease is not only the ultimate high school musical, it is the high school dream. I mean poodle skirts, calve high pencil pants, rompers, and lets not forget “Greasers”. Grease is a style fan’s heaven. My high school experience was far from this “heaven”, not even in the vicinity of High School Musical. There were no poodle skirts, Greasers, not even a Danny Zuko, just a whole lot of bad hair, bad clothes, and a million phases of identity crisis.
A run in with someone from the vague and distant past that I call my adolescent and teen years prompted me to reflect upon my primary school experiences. A few weeks ago I attended an event for a college that was not my own. It was there that I ran into this individual from that vague and distant past. Right when I walked into the door this person recognized me and greeted me with an awkward “Hello” and wave. Blind as a bat and not equipped with my Burberry prescription glasses it took me a second before I could make out who this person was. After putting my eyes on I was able to make out this blast from my past. My immediate reaction was, “Oh God, Hi” paired with a wave that was just as awkward as theirs. I then proceeded to purchase my ticket to the event and converse with ticket seller as though this person to remain un-named (hint: if you keep reading this post, the person is not the obvious choice) was no longer present. Now, my reaction and behavior was just on the edge of rude and a little mean. It is just that there are some people in this world you wish to forget your existence and you their existence for no particular reason. Maybe this preference for forgetting is all my own, but why is this? What is this urge to erase bits of the past? Motivated to answer this question, I decided it was a must to mentally and physically look back at the pieces I wanted to erase, my adolescent and teen years at school.
A few days after this encounter, I put on that dress (The the dress is actually a skirt. The orange top layer is the skirt and underneath is the skirt of an actual dress for volume at the bottom . The belt is placed in the middle for shape.), put my hair in a bun meets mohawk, and took a visit to two of my three primary schools. The first stop was my elementary school at which the above photos were taken. Standing in the Hallways that housed my student “Hall of Fame” photos, I remembered the place I was primed and conditioned to be the preen supreme timid, shy, compliant, academically achieving Asian American little girl. True to the stereotype I never questioned this way of being until I reached middle school where I was nothing but a hot mess, stress on the mess.
My middle school experience was very much like the film “Thirteen” starring Evan Rachel Wood without the actual sex and making out with girls. My first year in middle school I met my own “Evie”. We will call her Roxie. She was electric. Though she was the first girl in our class with a fully developed body, this was not what drew you in. Like I said she was electric, what I believed to be a dynamically left of center personality is what set her apart from being just your “average Asian”. This personality is also what made it a necessity to know her.
During our after school phone conversations, back when people actually used a land line we talked about making out with boys which she had somehow seemed to have already done before turning the tender age of 13, she explained why “69” wasn’t simply a number, she shared her sexy dreams about AJ from the Backstreet Boys (You know him. The one that wore cowboy hats and mesh tops. Yeah that guy. ), and enlightened me on what it meant to be a bisexual. This was all while I blasted 98 Degrees’ “Because Of You” in the background, that is until Ms. Roxie introduced me to one of her favorite numbers “I Can Tell” by the 504 Boyz. For those of you who just can’t tell what this song is, here is a little lyrical content for you:
“Put me on the counter in the kitchen
Now baby pour my body with some ice cream
Lick me from head to toe
Bending me over
69'll be the next thing”
Yeah, definitely not boy band/ Spice Girl material and that was the modest part of the song. Was she my BFF or my idol? I do not know, but the kid was more fierce than your Britney and Christina combined.
Still, despite our “edgy tween fun” all good things must come to an end. Like a girl switching from a training bra to black lace, Roxie grew out of our friendship as she found her own puberty idol. Camille was a transfer student from Rhode Island. She might as well have been from space. With what my school district served up as education no one knew what was East, West, North, or South of the equator let alone this country. This taste of a place unknown (well, to a small city middle schooler at least) added to Camille’s intrigue, but that was not the only thing. In a school that was 50% African American, 45% Asian American, and 5% other, Camille was classified “other” as one of 4 other Caucasian students in the school. Her physical rarity was only a small piece of what had drawn student’s interest. Clad in black and blood red mini dresses, long black trenches and capes depending on the day, and knee high black buckle leather platform boots the girl had heads turning. Thinking about it now, the girl probably did not know it then, but she was keeping it fashion at 13. Good for her. Anyway, if you did not guess by the description of her attire Camille was a Goth and not only that, she was a Wiccan. Now, the Goth look is a personal choice and what a Wiccan is, I am still not clear on today; however, everything about Camille screamed boldly alternative which is what drew the “misfits” of the school to her. This meant anyone classified as “other” for either societal or self imposed reasons as well as anyone who challenged the norm. This included my former BFF to be Roxie. Soon enough Roxie was sporting mesh tops and black pleather pants. Someone had pointed the Gothic wand at her. The internal child in my mind was saying “Hey, I wanna play too!” So, I wandered in the forest of the enchanted Goths in search of my friend, but I soon realized that path was not my own. There is only so much black a person can wear. There is also so much angst and brooding a kid can exude. Needless to say, I got the hell out of that forest. The only thing I got out of this whole Goth craze was a lot of really bad petty childhood emotional poetry and some regretful photographs of me looking horrendous.
The beginning of 8th grade saw Roxie relocating to a city a million miles away and me struggling to find my own identity without my own personal working model. The push off into self identity is not an easy one. Why? Well, kids are cruel. I found myself falling face first most of the time. For each fall there was some kid deprived of either love or oxygen at birth sitting in the wings with the perfect punch line. Tears and bad boy band music were my solace. Each day played out like an episode of Degrassi. Unfortunately, I was not everyone’s favorite popular diva, more Manny Santos without the thong to my breasts.
Despite the atrociousness that was my middle school experience miraculously I made it to high school. Unlike Miss Sandra D. whom I am channeling in these photos, there was no Danny Zuko, just a short relationship I had and ended for superficial reasons. Poor guy. Much of my high school period was a constant struggle toward affirmation of my “brownness” and self.
For a teenager, the media can play as a “How To…” guide for what is the “norm” and what is acceptable. When I was growing up there was no Charice Pengpenco. There was no physical representation for people that look like me. This is partly why I bought into the stereotypes of the individuals that painted the canvas that is the media. These individuals were and still are primarily “White” and “Black”. ( I choose to use quotations in reference to “White” and “Black” individuals because the words have become labels based on stereotypes of someone else’s vision of who these individuals should be as oppose to who they truly are.)
In the beginning of high school I bought into what can be considered a “White” stereotype, “dumb blond”. This was during the time MTV’s “The Newlyweds” had somehow captivated the nation and Jessica Simpson captured our hearts with the infamous line, “Is this chicken or fish?” As embarrassing as this is to say, she was my idol for five minutes. I mean she was pretty, had a beefy husband, and well she was on TV. I know, there was not much criteria for being my idol back then. I wanted to be like her. This entailed playing dumb much of the time. I thought it was cute, but it was not. It was more exhausting than anything. I wanted to embody her, but who is she to embody? It is not like she is Liza Minelli and I’m a celebrity impersonator at some dive bar in Vegas. Also, I am brown so anything I could have done to try and achieve Jessica Simpson’s bobble head status would be blatantly unnatural.
During the phase in which Miss “Chicken or Fish” was my screen saver, I would often get criticism from fellow Filipinos. I was either referenced as “Whitewashed” or told I did not act “Filipino”. My teen method of combating this attack on my “brownness” was to simply do what everyone else was doing. This again involved buying into a stereotype. In my high school and in life African Americans were and are most commonly referenced as “ghetto”. This stereotype somehow associated itself with being Filipino/Asian. This was clear walking through my high school campus as my fellow brown brothers found themselves imitating the superficial characteristics attached to an individual that is labeled “ghetto”.
Other than being African American society often attributes being loud, being tough or thug-ish, and listening to hip hop or rap to being “ghetto”. Listening to hip hop or rap also happens to coincide with one of the most important characteristics in the “ghetto” handbook, appearance. Appearance also happened to be first on the checklist to “ghetto” embodiment. Boys of the Filipino/Asian persuasion looked the part they were playing as the bopped around my high school campus in baggy pants, over sized tees, and grills in their mouth as the faint sound of 50 Cent’s “Wangsta” magically followed them as they tried to keep their pants on with their knees.
To keep up with the boys the ladies adopted their own look to match the stereotype. My interpretation of this look included Chucks with the high top folded down, over sized hoop earrings, and of course 99 cent black eyeliner that I used solely to line my bottom inner eyelid for some reason. The chucks may be able to pass as a decent piece of attire. However, the $3 hoop earrings always managed to turn a rusted brown and the eyeliner always smudged leaving me looking more disheveled than “ghetto”. What topped the entire Asian “ghetto girl” look off was the signature side swoop bang that looked like it was Shellac-ed on your head. To this day, girls with a bang hard enough to be part of a Kevlar vest , give me the urge to want to scream, “HAIR IS SUPPOSE TO MOVE, GIRL!” Thankfully, today my hair does move.
Being loud was one of the stereotype’s characteristics that I did not have to worry too much about. For the most part I have always been naturally vocal. Listening to hip hop or rap on the other hand was a characteristic that proved to be a little difficult to stay true to. I am in love with and am inspired by every type of music. I mean I grew up during the birth of gangster rap, imitated vocal nuances from R&B/Hip Hop girl groups (remember SWV, Xscape, and En Vogue?), and I idolized the 90’s mini divas (remember Aaliyah, Brandy, and Monica?). This however, meant nothing because early in my high school years I was listening to Avril Lavigne, Jessica Simpson, and Christina Aguilera. Listening to these pop dolls however, associated itself with “acting white”. This was especially the case if you listened to Avril Lavigne as she was a pop/rock singer, and anything associated to “rock” somehow associates itself to “being white”.
The final characteristic to conquer was “being tough”. Honey, at 5’2 and 125 pound I was far from threatening and nowhere near staring in the latest Youtube girl fight video. My attempt at being anywhere close to tough was changing the way I spoke. It was very Julia Stiles “Save the Last Dance” meets Christina Aguilera in the days she was trying to be all “Dirrty”. There was also a lot of cursing and use of the word “hella”. I guess you can call all this “talking the talk”. This part of the stereotype is what set me straight. From observation of my Asian/Filipino peers part of "talking the talk" seemed to be making use of the word “nigga” in every other sentence. This I could not do. There is just something about an Asian boy saying “I’m gonna beat that nigga up” while looking like Dragonball Z with overly gelled spiked hair that just screams “Ignorant”.
Aside from these kids looking ridiculous while the word spit from their overly styled head, it was just too loaded of a word for me to use. No matter how you flip it the word was used for over a century to vilify a people. As someone of color, I knew the implications and ramifications of using the word even at 15. The constant parade of negative stereotypes of another race being imitated by individuals who were of color themselves did not sit well with me. I was done.
My ethnic revelation gave me an assurance of self that enabled me to simply be who I am with no reservations throughout the rest of high. Thank goodness for that act of boldness. Without having done so I do not think I would have made it out of high school and out of the horrendous outfits that attached themselves to my the earlier years.
So, why is it that some of us namely myself prefer to erase bits, specifically people from our pasts?
During the initial event that got me to look back at who I used to be there was a moment in the second it took me to recognize this person from my past waving at me. It was in that second I forgot the “self” I am now and remembered the mess I was back then. That is the problem. What is so wrong about remembering the mess we were?
I have been up, down, and all around trying to feel secure with whoever the heck it is I am. I have made outrageous choices on the journey to attaining that security. I have allowed outside forces to influence my definition of self, allowed myself to be a follower, and Lord knows the horrendous pieces I have allowed into my wardrobe. Come on when were Soda platform loafers ever okay?
All poor choices aside, I would have rather been a hot mess then, than to have never evolved out of the shell of a person my environment was molding me to be. If I had not experienced the situations, circumstances, and people of my past then I would not know what I know today. I know who it is I am.
Maybe it is easier to forget the very existence of people from our past because they remember us at our worst. They remember us when we did not like ourselves. They remember us when we did not even know who “self” was yet. It has taken me 22 years to be affirmed in who I am and to be able to assert who that is to the world. I am Big, Bold, Brown, and damn beautiful. So, instead of bobbing and weaving every time you have a run in with pieces of your undesirable past, hold your head up high and try a “Hello”. You are not who you used to be, but who you used to be has helped shape who you are today. Hey, my school girl days may have ended without a “You’re the one that I Want” kind of ending, but at least I know what I want and who I am now. That is all that really matters.
thrifted glasses $3 | Philippine market purchased dress $3 | ny & co belt $10 | Aldo shoes $100 | assorted bracelets Wet Seal bracelet $12
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