Less than a week before we depart for our once in a lifetime family holiday to Korea (where I was born and adopted from) and Japan for the first time, I have been soaking up just about anything Korea related – news, TV documentaries, anecdotes from friends etc. It’s like I’ve got some crazy radar for it all of a sudden.
Of course, I was excited to find out that the show Sunday Night was going to feature Dami Im* (Australia’s 2013 Korean-Australian X Factor winner) revisiting her home country. It was so great to see footage of places I might see. The hustle and bustle of Seoul and Dami’s take on the Korean culture. Not to mention the ominous DMZ (demilitarised zone) between South Korea and North Korea. A place I still can’t decide on whether I have the guts to visit.
It is here that I must make a big confession. This ‘alternative’ music lover (who secretly thinks she’s too cool for a lot of pop music) has a ginormous girl crush on Dami. Since she stepped onto the stage for her first X Factor audition (a show I love to hate), I have been in awe of her and so so excited. Each time I see her face on the TV screen or in my social media feeds, I feel so happy inside. Like giddy, almost.
Because she is just what I needed when I was a little girl. Growing up, a Korean face in a Western world filled with the ‘white’ ideal of beauty, I often felt inferior. I didn’t see Asian faces in the Western pop culture world. Except the occasional Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels and other bit parts. Yeah, I knew Asian girls could be ‘pretty’ but just not as pretty as white girls. The more ‘white’ an Asian girl looked, the more she seemed to be accepted…and well, I just looked totally Asian.
I encountered both casual and overt racism throughout my childhood and while it never broke my spirit, it did considerably dent my self image. The teen me would never have dreamed that one day a Korean Australian could one day be voted for by so many Australians that they might win the title of a nationally televised singing competition. She appeared each week on that stage wearing amazing costuming and couture fashion. Styled and so so pretty. Most of all, her talent spoke for her.
She hasn’t had the surgery to achieve more “Western” eyes. She wears her hair shorter like me. Her lipstick gets stuck on her teeth. She’s a little gummy when she grins (hehe hope she wouldn’t mind me saying that). Just like me.
I have only just turned 30 and so much has changed even since I was a little girl. Dami would never have seemed like a possibility back then. Maybe there were people I’ve forgotten or didn’t notice at the time (apologies to anyone who did try to pave the way) but they never made an impact on me for whatever reasons at the time.
I would see the occasional guest star on Aussie shows, but the token Asian story lines were always dismal and then the actor/actress would just fade into obscurity in the blink of an eye.
Now I see beautiful Asian faces reading the news. I see American shows like Hawaii Five O (filled with attractive and ridiculously ageless Korean American faces) and Elementary (I do love me some Lucy Liu). I see Eurasian faces all over the place. Not only does that mean my parents’ generation did a lot of interracial bonking (haha ew) but it signals a cultural change. I feel SO SO happy for my Little Mister that while he grows up, he will see so many mixed race faces in the media that he may never doubt (like really truly) that he is awesome. That what he looks like or where his parents are from does not make him any less attractive or accepted by mainstream Australia (the ones who aren’t ignorant bigots – every society has them).
See, I grew up with lots of friends. I knew that the majority of people are not racist idiots. I just didn’t think people fully believed that I could be as attractive as a white girl. We were all brainwashed by what we saw in the media and the realms of pop culture. I felt that very few boys found that I compared to my attractive white friends. I would compensate by putting my walls up and staying in the friend zone.
So…Dami is a pretty big deal to me. She is also the first Asian Australian to win such a competition here (hope I’ve got my facts right). She is making history.
I loved what her and Dannii Minogue (her mentor and now friend) said about how to stand out from a population of around 50 million people in Korea. Go to Australia and win X-Factor, Dami laughed. It made me realise just how much I’d prefer to stand out here than to blend in over there. I have no chance of singing on X Factor (I sound like a strangled cat), but I know I get my chances to shine in life and that people tend to take notice, when I have an interesting back story (however many curses that blessing can sometimes bring) and a slightly different face (although – as I’ve mentioned that may all be changing). What a positive spin on it. Something to remember when being different gets me down a little.
So yes. Dami turns me into an embarrassingly emotional fan girl. And this is why. So don’t judge me. OK?
*Apologies if this link expires (it includes footage of the interview)