To Be Beautiful Is To Be Enough by Boris But
During an internship at a PR agency in Hong Kong almost a decade ago, I recall casting models for an up-and-coming fashion brand. The brand didn’t need to explicitly ask for white male models, it was simply presumed. The male models who came to our casting call hailed from the United States, England, Italy, France, Australia – with people of color blatantly missing. In contrast, the female models were a much more multiethnic collective.
There was something said here by mainstream fashion brands between the lines about Asian masculinity. Something lacking in the genome of the Asian male that, even in a predominantly Asian city, the Western gaze deemed him insufficient, null, and labelled him “does not sell”.
There was a corrosive phenomenon in effect. The fashion brands were saying, loud and clear, “give us your money and you could try to look as good as these white men.” If models approximated an aspired mode of beauty, then there was an irreconcilable chasm between the Asian man and who he could aspire to look like.
The Asian man twists and turns through history, barely scraping by, and is deemed, judiciously, to be never enough. Not enough facial hair. Not enough height. Not enough down there. He is at best, second-in-command – lacking that special X factor that makes him a valiant leader (or at least the pigment that makes him look like one). And just the same, he is made to feel inadequate about his skin, told that he has tried his best but is never enough, is never enough, is never truly enough.
I recall months later, how the chosen model props himself against a massive billboard that stretches across a skyscraper, overlooking the busiest part of Hong Kong. He gazes down seductively to sell an Italian perfume. The Italian model rises from the Mediterranean Sea with his chestnut hair still wet. Gazing up at him, I was reflexively reminded of an Adonis.
Adonis? I wish I had better blueprints of beauty. But I wanted to find the vocabulary to describe an alternate form of male beauty. I could not despise an Italian perfume – even one whose scent gloated in its power, wealth, and Mediterranean allure; a scent that reminded me of what I was not, what I needed to become, what I could not become.
I could not despise a thing.
It reminded me that so much of what I aspired to possess was simply borrowed – you can borrow the rolling blue of Tuscan landscapes, but it would never belong to you. Without the words to proclaim who I am, I was at danger of becoming foreign even to myself.
Beauty is powerful. It confers power to those that have it, and strips those without it naked, reduced to only shades of color, brown and yellow, atomized into vague body parts. The greatest misnomer about beauty is that it is often conflated with vanity and selfishness, there is a nasty pomp when you pronounce those syllables. But physical beauty is simply being proud of what you look like; fully in possession of how you are perceived.
I’ve always wished there was more of an aesthetic space for us to flourish, flamboyantly ourselves, without necessitating the Western gaze scrutinizing our features for differences, and framing them as appendages of exoticism. That a perfume wouldn’t be cheapened by the look of a Chinese model.
When my dear friend, Jasmine told me about her vision for Cantosoul, something inside me turned. I wanted it. It was the primordial in me calling, desiring a layer atop me that answered to no othering eyes and appeased me and how I wanted to look like. Cantosoul was, at least in my eyes, providing a sensibility beyond the Western gaze that was self-defined, beautiful in its own right. Wearing a Cantosoul jacket didn’t necessarily make me more attractive or more beautiful. After all, it was just an article of clothing. But it was a sequined suggestion of who I was. It allowed me to announce my Otherness when my voice felt shaky. The Cantosoul jacket was an assertion of who I wanted to be, without the stables of white Canadian society admonishing me for being different.
I am different and I am equal.
I want to be beautiful. I want to feel sufficient. And tomorrow, dressed how I’ve always wanted to dress – I will.
Boris But is a music tech entrepreneur who grew up in Hong Kong and currently lives in Montreal. He is the Co-Founder of Mixonset which lets you party safely at home with your own personal DJ by playing the right part of the right song. The Mixonset app is available for Spotify Premium users on iOS devices.