Yellow Fever: Asian women killing the game and inspiring me
Hope the headline doesn’t offend you.
But have you caught it? I feel like it’s been a small, nagging flame within me that has turned into a full-blown fire. And with International Women’s Day coming up, I felt it was finally time to write this down.
I’m not talking about actual yellow fever and no, I’m not talking about the Urban Dictionary definition either. I am talking about a different spin on Yellow Fever, flipping the derogatory on its head and turning it into Asian Female Pride. Yellow, brown, tan, whatever it’s a wave – have you felt it?
Growing up, I never thought too much about the colour of my skin, my ethnicity or how others perceived me. Yes, I would get annoyed when people assumed me to be one ethnicity when I wasn’t. I was and continue to be asked where are you from? Born and raised Canadian, by parents originally from the Philippines – No, where are you really from? But as I started to advance in the workplace I have become much more attuned to being a woman of colour, sometimes the only one, or one of a couple in a meeting. As a teen I could hardly count on one hand any women in mainstream media that I consumed who looked or talked like me, my mom, sister and cousins. I specifically remember seeing a highlight of Kimora Lee Simmons on the runway once and being stunned and inspired to see a mixed Asian woman in fashion and entrepreneurship.
Times have changed.
I remember coming across a post on Instagram, be the woman you needed as a girl. Am I the type of woman I needed at 10, 13, 16? I can honestly say yes. I am flawed, I have insecurities, and I have a deep fear of not fulfilling my full potential, but I think little Rosalyn would be proud of the semi-grownup she’s turned out to be. And it’s not without inspiration from those very close to home (mama, of course) and those making their presence, skills and talents fervently recognized and respected.
You’ve probably heard of, or are already familiar with the names below, but here’s how they’ve personally inspired and sparked Yellow Fever in me.
Mia Kang – The model, Muay Thai fighter and body activist making Street Size a recognized identity on and off the runway. She is highly educated, throws serious elbows and uses her platform to encourage women to go after their goals no matter what they look like. Not to mention, she serves some serious style and jewel-ed up looks on her Insta feed. As a student of the fight game and someone who’s dealt with an eating disorder, I especially love how genuine she is about her mental and emotional health, that despite all the glitter and gold you see on the ‘gram, everyone is always working on themselves.
Awkwafina - The breakout star from Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8 and her viral YouTube song/video, My Vag. I saw her on SNL last year and she spoke about her own Yellow Fever moment, watching Lucy Liu host the show (the first Asian-American woman to do so) when she was a teen. Awkwafina, by the way is the second Asian American woman to host SNL in almost 20 years. I’ve listened to her albums and while Awkwafina is certainly funny, she has an incredibly mean pen game – she is so clever with her words, her flow, delivery, she has a style all her own. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary Bad Rap – go watch it.
Ruby Ibarra – Speaking of a mean pen game and strong flow, I happened to come across Ruby Ibarra’s music video, Us on Instagram. The Filipino-American rapper and spoken word artist goes deep into the identity of Filipino-American immigrants and citizens. She raps with a ferocity and strength that makes you listen and watch. Big, big things are going to come from this young woman, and I can’t wait to see when she quickly climbs the ranks of the female rap game.
CL – My first exposure to Asian female rappers came from CL. When I first learned about her she was the lead singer/rapper of the now disbanded K-pop group 2ne1. In an industry where most female K-pop stars are cute, demure and super feminine, CL was rebellious, in your face, cocky (see I am the best) and when she did a cover and video collaboration with Method Man, yeah I didn’t need anymore than that. She’s said to be one of designer Jeremy Scott’s muses and also sits FROW at international fashion shows. She truly expresses that a woman is multi-faceted, tomboy and feminine, a leader and collaborator. Oh, and she speaks four languages.
Eva Chen – The director of Fashion Partnerships at Instagram and self-proclaimed fruit influencer was the youngest editor in chief of Lucky magazine. Eva brings her 1M followers behind the scenes of her life at the Instagram offices, as well as her home life with husband and two kids. She’s also the author of two children’s books. It looks like she does it all and is it ever a motivation and lesson in hard work.
Michelle Lee – Editor in Chief of Allure magazine and queen of misting. If Michelle reviews and approves a product, I’m on it. I love her tutorials, her support for Asian and other women of colour in media and her raw honesty about body image, postpartum depression and just being a working mom. Michelle and Eva are my journalism/editorial/career goals.
Shay Mitchell – The ever lovely Canadian I once had the great luck to interview back when I was working for 24 hours. 100% down to earth, 100% go-getter. I love seeing her transition outside of her role as Emily on Pretty Little Liars to her wanderlust-worthy YouTube Channel and now travel accessory line Beis. Talk about making work out of your passions - oh, and she loves Tim Hortons.
Ali Wong – I cried the first time I saw her first Netflix Special Baby Cobra, my cheeks hurt from laughing. I related so much to her stand-up. I love that she totally shut down the image of a soft, quiet, demure Asian woman on stage, that she talks about how everyone told her she could not carry on her career or her tour while pregnant – having done it now twice. There’s no stopping this hilarious, talented and smart mama. Hope I can catch her next tour!
Aleali May - The definition of style influencer. I have her Jordan 1 Court Lux in my collection (the 1’s are my my all-time fave sneaker silhouette ever) and I hold them dear as I missed out on Aleali’s first collab with Jordan in 2017 (Jordan 1 X Aleali May Shadow). That’s when I first learned about the stylist, image consultant and model. It took me until my late 20s to feel comfortable enough to rock sneakers with skirts and pretty much whatever I liked, but Aleali has always been authentic to her signature style of street wear and high fashion which comes from her LA roots, her family and different musicians and artists. I love that her authenticity is what propelled her work and recognition, and I admit that I fan-girl’d pretty hard when she left heart emojis on one of my posts of her kicks. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Constance Wu - She wore yellow to the Oscars. Why? She said in an Instagram post the colour made her happy. Yas girl, same here, been loving and rocking yellow before it was on trend - and yes, I’ve had people comment on my love for yellow as it relates to the racist terms associated with it. Anyway, Constance has been a long-time advocate for Asian representation in Hollywood and in media. She is not afraid to speak (or tweet) her mind and I am here for it.
Chloe Flower – The internet blew up after the composer and classical pianist performed with Cardi B at the Grammys. I have Shay Mitchell to thank for introducing us followers to her best friend a few months before the Grammys. Chloe is the pianist my parents (and I’m sure thousands of other Asian parents) hoped their child would be when dutifully signing them up for lessons as kids. She’s also involved with several charities and a big advocate for music as education.
These women are just a few examples of the type of female Asian role models I needed and other women my age and similar background may have needed as young girls and teens.
They are paving the way for their daughters, our future daughters and all young Asian women. Breaking down cultural stereotypes and typecast roles put on Asian women, especially in western societies.
Yellow Fever is the pride and strength of being an Asian woman making a mark with your own gifts and talents whatever they might be. Now, more than ever before, it’s here to stay and better yet, it’s going to grow.