This is an ongoing deeply personal project I am working on. My name is Diana King. I am a Chinese-American photographer currently based in Nashville. I’ve always felt like an outsider; I never fit into the conventional definition of beauty in Asian OR American culture.
I grew up feeling insecure and inadequate in my self-worth and identity as a Chinese-American woman. I knew I looked Asian but I didn’t feel Chinese and didn’t even feel like I looked Chinese. The most Chinese thing I knew to my core is that I love Asian food, took off my shoes inside, and obsessed over anything cute. But I’m also American. I was born and raised in California and I lived the American lifestyle. I was a latchkey kid and American pop culture permeated my upbringing. I didn’t have an Asian name and I didn’t speak Chinese so I never thought otherwise of being American.
Because I didn’t have an Asian name, didn’t speak Chinese, and didn’t fit into the Asian beauty standard, I felt rejected by my own family and the Asian community. When I tried to fit in, whether it was at school or work, especially among a group of non-Asians, they only recognized my Asian-ness and questioned why my name wasn’t more Asian sounding. No matter which side I tried to fit in, Asians and non-Asians questioned me from childhood to adulthood, “What are you???” When I started this project, I wanted to examine and explore the differences and similarities of Asian-American women’s experiences about beauty and our expectations versus society’s expectations. However, as I started interviewing the first set of women, I realized that this question of “What are you?” is the foundation of many Asian-American women’s experiences and how much their appearance is tied to their identity.
THIS PROJECT WAS FILMED IN NASHVILLE, TN IN 2020 DURING THE HEIGHT OF COVID
It was my first year living in a new city and in the South. I set up an outdoor/indoor photo studio in my garage and driveway and ten women volunteered to be a part of this project and endured 100 degree humid heat, thunderstorms, lawnmowers, and aggressive mosquitos. In this second series, we go deeper into uncomfortable questions that were many of the issues I faced growing up. These ten Asian-American women volunteered to be interviewed and photographed bare faced and makeup free. All scars, blemishes, wrinkles have not been taken away. I acknowledge this session only covers a few of the many Asian identities.
My ultimate goal for this project is to receive a grant so I can travel to different cities and interview women across the U.S to represent a full and diverse spectrum of Asian identity. I hope these women’s experiences continue to empower our community to define our beauty and our identity on our terms.