Considering how the media portrays the ideal man, it's only natural for men to feel inferior to what is considered "perfect." For Asian men who grew up rarely seeing themselves represented, these insecurities are especially heightened. So four Asian men decided to step outside their comfort zones as a roundtable of media experts analyzed how Asian men are depicted in pop culture:
Asian men in entertainment are typically not cast as characters known for being sexually attractive. Instead, their characters reinforce common tropes that make Asian men appear nerdy, weak, and undesirable.
A panel of media experts decided to look into the role the media plays in shaping how Asian men are perceived.
From left to right:
Eugene Lee Yang: BuzzFeed development partner, video producer, and actor
Jeff Yang: Author, journalist, and co-host of podcast They Call Us Bruce
Parvesh Cheena: Actor, has appeared on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
David Dang: Celebrity hairstylist, hair trichologist, and red-carpet host
What better way to challenge how Asian men are typically portrayed than by showing that not only can Asian men be sexy — they can be VERY sexy.
First up, Nathan would be re-creating a sultry David Beckham Armani ad!
Nathan: Growing up, I never liked my face because it's not symmetrical. We all are ascribing to these Western ideals of beauty and so, like, I still have a lot of insecurities about it. David Beckham is the epitome of this European embodiment of masculinity. I think what I'm nervous about with this photo is am I going to be hot enough to represent Asian-American masculinity in this photo.
Second, Andres would be re-creating the infamous Justin Bieber ad!
Andres: I was in high school and the jokes start flying around and the buddies start getting the girlfriends. And even though I'm a man, I don't fit the prescribed notion of what is sexy. I didn't realize how different I was because I was an Asian-American. Even for Justin Bieber, this person who is so celebrated, even he isn't perfect.
Justin would be re-creating this classic Marky Mark ad!
Justin: I wasn't the skinniest kid. Attractiveness is how chiseled is your chest, how nice are your abs. Like my mom would say, "You should be skinnier! You should be slender!" And I was like, I'm sorry I'm not 155 pounds, but what's the big deal?
And last but not least, Neel had to channel his inner Fifty Shades of Grey and would be re-creating a Jamie Dornan ad!
Neel: I was born and raised in Iowa, so there was that dynamic of being kind of the only South Asian kid. It does suck that attractiveness is something that is so valued. Like the everyday Asian-American man doesn't get that much love or respect. I just think about every relationship I've ever been in has ended on some vague term of like, "You're great, but there's just something missing." And so I wonder if it's like that last little facet of pure attractiveness.
Meanwhile, Eugene brought up how "average Joes" of other races can be seen as attractive, but Asian men are viewed differently.
Eugene: The average Asian-American male isn't really spoken to, but what's interesting is that I feel like the average male in other cultures, specifically with, let's say, white American culture, is constantly spoken to. The idea of being an "average Joe" is almost a badge of honor.
Jeff: You even see more diversity of size and shape and so forth among African-American and Hispanic actors, at least in comedies. If you are an Asian lead, you almost have to be super hot.
Then it was time for the guys to strip down and model!
Jeff and Parvesh mentioned how there ARE Asian men who are considered traditionally hot, but that doesn't change how people view Asian men as a whole.
Jeff: Yes, we have unicorns! There are genetically gifted people of every ethnicity — there's no question about that. But it doesn't adjust the larger reality that we live in a culture in which the basic standards — not the ones we can aspire to, not the ones that if we gym-ratted all of our lives, and we're born with the right parents — like the basic standards of what an Asian guy looks like probably falls short in different ways.
Parvesh: We know we can easily go to, like, a modeling agency and get the people who are equally ripped as any other ethnicity and they'd be perfect for this. But what we're seeing is these four guys who are of just normal people. And we don't see that in regular underwear ads.
A week later, the photos were ready to be revealed.
Living up to a photoshopped version of Justin Bieber can be really intimidating, but Andres SLAYED it in his re-creation!
Andres: Justin Bieber is oozing with confidence and I'm supposed to strive to emulate that, and that's so much pressure. I can see all my imperfections, and this body is not picture-perfect. You got to be able to be comfortable in your own skin — to express who you are.
Justin may not be Mark Wahlberg, but he definitely captured his confidence!
Justin: Is all that chest hair me? It turned out a lot better than I expected. I'm sure Marky Mark has body insecurities, and regardless or not of how short, how fat, how skinny you are, the most real thing you can do is to love yourself, love your body, and forget about everyone else.
David Beckham might have some competition because Nathan's smolder game is on fire!
Nathan: I never liked pictures of myself — and I like this picture. I feel empowered in this. I don't feel less than in this picture. I know that I'll never be like this David Beckham masculinity, but I think seeing this picture lets me own a piece of my own masculinity. There's so many definitions of what being attractive is, and Asian men definitely fit in those definitions.
Move over, Jamie, because Neel might be the new Mr. Grey around here!
Neel: [Jamie] just fits that exact structure of like the attractive specimen. And naturally, when I see my own body, it just doesn't check these same boxes. My eyes are just drawn first to blemishes. When I see these side by side, I don't really see much of a similarity. That's not to say that [the picture on the right] isn't as attractive. Ultimately, it's all really contextual on what is attractive.