It’s no secret: representation in media matters.
Growing up, I clung to any Asian characters I watched on TV or film because there were so few of them. I think back to grade school and how I would declare to friends that my favorite Disney character was Mulan.
“Of course you would,” they said. “Because she’s Asian, right?”
The answer is obvious to me: Of course. Mulan was one of the only characters I grew up with that even remotely resembled me. I don’t identify as Chinese, but because she was one of the few representations of Asian identities I saw growing up, I found solace in her vague representation of myself.
Although the landscape for Asian American representation in media is better than it was even 10 years ago, it still leaves much to be desired. Fortunately, we have celebrities like Aziz Ansari and Constance Wu hitting the mainstream with their demands and efforts toward better representation, but I still can’t fully say that I’ve felt representation on film or TV as a Filipinx American woman.
Intersectional representation across all mediums are important, but access to diverse narratives is closer than we think. One form of tech that breaks down the gateways of traditional media industries is social media. Who I decide to follow on my social media feed is completely in my hands. I don’t have to be at the mercy of a media executive to get access to work from people of color. I can find it by myself.
What I’ve appreciated most about Instagram beyond its social and visual capabilities is how it evens the playing field, especially for people of color. Social media is fruitful landscape for POC in a broad spectrum of industries. From #BlackGirlMagic to #MovementMondays, people of color are using social media platforms to shine, empower and find commonplace.
I’m personally a sucker for Instagram. I first signed up for Instagram in 2012 and have been a committed user through its days of painfully saturated filters and squared-off images. There are about 400 million unique daily active Instagram users if that tells you anything about the platform’s diverse array of voices.
Although I initially used Instagram to connect with friends and family, I later grew to follow people outside my inner circles. I discovered that a lot of creative figures used Instagram to expand their personal brand. Subsequently, I started following artists, fashion bloggers, models, photographers, and other unique influencers. The more I actively discovered these Instagrammers, the more I also came upon Instagrammers who were like me: Asian American, Filipinx American woman, artist, writer, or creative professional.
For people with marginalized identities, seeing others that parallel their experiences builds solidarity, self-affirmation and positive body image. I used to hate some of my physical features and saw myself as the “other”. I thought my nose was too big or my skin wasn’t white enough. I often wished my hair was straighter and lighter. Ultimately I wanted to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards I believed were the golden standard.
But the more women I followed that looked like me, the more wholeheartedly I embraced my entire being. I loved how these women were unapologetically themselves in this unique visual medium. They were able to express themselves through their distinct styles, whether through clothing, art or mixed media.
My body is my heritage.
I love my skin color, my nose, and my hair. Ultimately, following a social media feed that was saturated with women similar to me reinforced my journey of identity formation and appreciation.
I’m tired of seeing white people all day, every day. I love that social media platforms like Instagram are shaking up the status quo and are giving people of color spaces to express themselves and share their work.
There are inevitable barriers of entry for people of color in traditional media industries, but social media is revolutionizing how people of color find representation when other industries have failed them. We have to continue to support POC on these platforms so they can continue to do the badass work that they do.