I don’t usually write this kind of post. No two lives are the same, and my aim is not to make generalities. This is my experience of the world growing up in North America.
I am not an immigrant, but my parents are. They met on a blind date in Canada, fell in love here, had me, and then later my brother. Today I live 10 blocks from the hospital I was born in. I am not bi-racial. Both my parents are from the Philippines, but from provinces that speak different dialects, one of which I can understand, the other I can’t.
I was born with a common Spanish name. There are more than 2 million other people (if I trust Google) with the same name. Sometimes I get weird looks from people that wonder why this Chinese looking woman has such a name, but that’s another story, one about colonization and conquest. I don’t know the whole story. I do know that one of my great grandfathers did not want to pass on his name, out of fear, and beyond that, all the records were lost in war. I’ll probably never know the whole story. The history of the world is bloody and confusing. That’s why I don’t look Filipino, though both my parents are.
When I was growing up, I grew up on all the same books as every other kid here. Cinderella, Snow White, Beatrix Potter, then later Charlotte’s Web and The Chronicles of Narnia. My most prized possession was a book of fairy tales. I liked the stories with knights and dragons. I reread the story of Aladdin and his lamp, and Gulliver’s travels, and Robin Hood, and the seven labors of Hercules over and over again. Those were my favorites.
Eventually I read a wonderful book “The Singing Stone” by O.R. Melling, and I fell head over heels in love with Fantasy. It was a story about a girl dropped into mythological Celtic history, where she discovered who her parents were, and her past. I love the book, I still have it on my shelf now.
The only disappointment? Celtic history had nothing to do with me. I wished it did. I wished I was an orphan, and that my parents were really kings and queens (Sorry mom and dad hehe).
At the very least, I wanted to find some mythology I could call my own, so I asked my mom what kind of stories she grew up. My Mom’s reply was that the maids used to tell her stories about princesses and princes. All those other stories, mostly lost. Colonization you see… it goes back a long ways.
So I kept reading just the same as everyone else. Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, the Babysitters Club, at the same time as I discovered epic fantasy, and devouring David Eddings, and Robert Jordan, Dragonlance, then Tolkien.
Things changed, of course, when I was in high school. I loved these imagined worlds. I used to idly daydream about being transported to those magical worlds, but that the next best thing would be to work on a movie set, get dressed up in costume, just as an extra, and wander around (LOTR? I still think that would have been awesome).
But that was when I started noticing things I’d taken for granted. I realized that most of the women that the men pined after in the stories were either buxom red heads, cool blonds, or girl next door brunettes. In the odd occasion that there was a raven haired girl involved, her skin was always pale and perfect, or at most, a Mediterranean olive.
As a teen I started wishing I was blond, paler (I also wished I was a duck when I was 5), and that I could at least dream of the hero pining after someone like me, but I could not. I couldn’t even be an extra on the set if I wanted to. LOTR? I’d probably only fit in wearing orc makeup. These worlds did not allow for anyone like me to exist.
So the first time a boy told me I was beautiful, I didn’t believe him. I just thought he was desperate.
The heroes only wanted the blonds, the brunettes, the pale skinned princesses. How could I be beautiful?
I still sometimes daydream, but more often than not, I get to the the part where I imagine I’m an extra on a movie set, and my daydreams crumble away. How’s that for taking the fantasy out of fantasy?
I just hope this makes you writers stop and think. You may think that you’re writing your novels just for entertainment, and yes! I hope you are! but consciously nor not, you’re teaching the world about what you value and what you call beautiful. What you leave out shows just as much as what you leave in.
Words have power. The stories we tell matter. Books matter. Your writing matters.
I’m not bitter, or even sad. I’m happier and more confident than I’ve ever been in my life, but some days I still wonder if I am beautiful.