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vogue china dedicates issue to china

vogue italia china june 2015 issue covers

I’m sure it’s newsworthy that this is the first time since summer of 1988 that Steven Meisel did not shoot Vogue Italia’s cover (instead, the magazine’s editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani is quick to note that these covers were shot by “the four most important photographers of the new generation”). I get it. Twenty-seven years is a long time.

But what of the four covers dedicated to China? It’s a rarity that Asian faces grace any (for lack of a better descriptor) “Western” magazine—much less the cover of such a prominent one—so to feature six Chinese models is a moment that begs for acknowledgement. These are faces that, for once, are familiar; I recognize those features, I identify with them. We are visible. We are recognized. We can be beautiful. We exist.

What I do have a problem with, is this statement:

“Having traveled to China several times over the years, she remarked on the shifts in tastes, confirming Chinese customers have become more sophisticated. ‘It’s interesting to see how Chinese women view fashion and how they turn to Western fashion. That said, they are very proud of being Chinese. I was very surprised to see how sensual they are. We must let them have time to grow and understand [fashion]. The new generations are discovering everything now…'” (WWD)

It’s hard for me to put what I’m feeling into words; it’s hard to rationalize things I know to be true, things I feel when I see or read these things, into language that you—you, those who are not me or like me—can grasp. (I’m not used to non-“PC” talk; nor am I used to acknowledging being Othered, to voicing this inherent alienation.) The sense of entitlement: You don’t know who they are. You don’t know who we are. A few trips to (where? for how long? with whom?) do not give you the right you to pass judgement on an entire group. Yes, credit the “west” to all that is good. Who—and what—were Chinese women beforehand? Not sophisticated? What is sophistication? Whiteness? You are surprised at their sensuality; we are human. Women. We experience; therefore we are beings.

These backhanded compliments are nothing but a disguise for racial prejudice and ignorance, each of which perpetuate stereotypes under false sense of acceptance or “understanding.” In allowing us—the Others—a small victory of “becoming  more sophisticated” or “sensual,” there’s a reinforcement of separation. You are not one of us; we better than you.

I’m reminded of the off-handed things people would say. When I was young they hurt, and now, I’ve become numb to them. “You’re pretty/hot/… for an Asian.” “What are you? Wow, I’ve never met an Asian like you.” Et cetera. For years I’ve convinced myself that people only mean well. I told myself I’d look for the good in people, in the things they said. Only that wasn’t the case; it wasn’t so pure. My mantra was to be numb to it all. Look the other way..

To put things in more graspable context: it’s no different than telling a trans woman she’s beautiful “for a man,” “for a transgender.” Caitlyn Jenner is the perfect example given news of her Vanity Fair cover. “[She] has better boobs than I do!” tweeted a certain celebrity. As if anyone is supposed to be better because he/she was born into it. What’s a trans woman supposed to look like? Or, in this case, what is she not supposed to look like (but now does)?

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{images via; source via}