“Your physical and sexual attraction is socially constructed,” says Elaine Kim, Ph.D., professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, “and it’s hard to escape from that.” If you’re Asian, the way you see yourself and the way you think about beauty, according to Kim, is very different if you went to high school in Monterey Park (a community in Los Angeles County with a large Asian population), where the kids voted most popular, the most beautiful were Asian, versus going to a high school where everyone is blonde-haired and blue-eyed.
Karen, a 32-year-old Korean American who has dated mostly white men, readily admits she’s been affected by her environment. Growing up in a predominantly white town in Southern California, the only Asian males in her life were either related to her (father, brothers, cousins) or were the men at church. “I didn’t see Asian guys in a sexual way when I was growing up,” she says. It didn’t help that the only images she saw of Asian males in the media were of cringe-inducing geeks like Long Duck Dong in the teen flick, Sixteen Candles, or the strangely asexual and decidedly unattractive David Carradine character in the television series, Kung Fu.
“I just don’t find Asian guys attractive,” Karen says. “They’re usually short and slight and don’t seem confident.”