Sparks Magazine Issue No. 10 | University of Central Florida

Page 1





big appetite, little time


what makes a man

12 it’s not a match 14 double standards 16 Running on empty

photo, cover/JUSTIN CHU


natural mask


on the of[fence]


sacred strands





dear reader, You can imagine how much this magazine means to me. Not only is it my first issue as editor, it’s also an important milestone for Sparks itself: our 10th issue. My fellow editors and I wanted a photo-centric theme that would highlight Asian American beauty and fashion, while still telling meaningful stories. As Asian Americans, we make decisions about our physical appearance in a unique cultural and social context. The theme for this issue, Embody, is about that exact experience: our beliefs and history manifesting themselves in the way we look. Whether it’s the decision to grow out one’s body hair despite social pressure to shave, or to get Filipino Batok instead of a tattoo from a mechanical needle, Asian Americans have a multitude of ways that their physical appearances embody their personal beliefs. Sparks has grown a lot in the five years and ten issues since its founding, but our goal remains the same: to be a voice for our community. To me, that means telling stories in a way that helps us connect to each other. I hope that we’ve accomplished that in these pages and that we can do so for another ten issues.

yours truly, Allison Miehl Executive Editor

E-board staff Thalia Su Managing Editor • Rikki Ocampos Programming Director • Minerva Moreno Design Editor • Gabe Cortese Photography Editor Jenny Le Writer • Justin Chu Photographer • Kevin Doan Photographer • Lauren Lee Designer • Maria Luisa Abon Designer • Gabriella Alqueza Writer • Cara San Diego Designer Beck Pitman Programming Assistant • Brittany Chen Writer


Cresonia Hsieh Editor-in-Chief • Antara Sinha Managing Editor • Rachel Lo Creative Director • Elena Chow Design Editor • Royce Abela Photography Editor • Anisha Dutt Content Editor • Xiaoxi Zheng Promotions Director • Bomyee Woo Promotions Director • Sally Greider Programming Director • John Agustin Finance Director • Rachel Fisher Secretary • Kevin Huynh Art Director • Nicole Dan Online Coordinator • Aimee Wasserman Assistant Programming Director • Alyssa Ramos Writer • Ronan Galvez Photographer • Ashleigh Poole Photographer • Othelia Jumapao Writer • Rachel He Photographer • Ashley Williams Photographer• Alexandra Ng Writer • Howard Lin Writer • Yasmin Naji Photographer • Shreya Labh Designer • Cindy Wong Designer • Esther Olasoji Designer [Not pictured: Anisha Sinha Writer • Jennifer Wai Designer • Rakell Merci Writer]





Nathan Figueroa finds a community in competitive eating by rakell merci


he timer is set, the challenge is ready, and there’s only one thought running through Nathan Figueroa’s mind: Leave no crumb behind. Eating challenges aren’t unfamiliar to the 28-year-old. He’s eaten a 10-ounce burger, a carton of fries and a seven-layer cake for the Kitchen Sink Challenge at Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel. He’s also scarfed down the Quadruple Bypass Burger which is comprised of four half-pound beef patties and eight slices of American cheese at Las Vegas’ Heart Attack Grill. “I’ve always had a pretty big appetite,” said the half Asian American and half Puerto Rican jokingly. Though competitive eating isn’t a full-time job, Figueroa said he uploads the eating challenges on his YouTube channel “natefiggs” 6 • EMBODY

when he has time. “I don’t do this every day,” Figueroa said. “I do this once or maybe twice a week, depending on what the contest is.” Though the cost of traveling can rack up, Figueroa exercises his sport by completing challenges at home or at local competitions. “The cool thing about it - about this - I’ve met some really awesome people. I’ve met Matt Stonie, Miki Sudo… really cool people,” he said. Matt “Megatoad” Stonie is the current Major League Eating (MLE) champion, and Miki Sudo is the top female champion. MLE gathers the top competitive eaters to race to eat as much as they can under a set time limit. A goal for most competitive eaters is to join the big leagues and compete

against the best eaters of the world. Four of the top 10 eaters: Matt Stonie, Miki Sudo, Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas and “The Lovely” Juliet Lee are also Asian American.

“I understand what you are saying, “Figueroa said. “There’s something about Asian [American] eating…. Miki has a crazy capacity. It’s kind of weird. I didn’t even think about till now,” Figueroa said.

Despite the prevalence of Asian Americans in the MLE, Figueroa said that he doesn’t think his culture or ethnicity has anything to do with it.

According to him, fitness is a must for competitive eaters.

“Here’s the thing, I don’t have a high metabolism,” Figueroa said.“The reason why I don’t blow up like a balloon is because I work it off. I literally have to work my ass off to keep my weight maintained without me adding extra pounds to my body.” Figueroa believes his culture doesn’t play a role in his competitive eating abilities, but he was intrigued by the theory.

“If you look at most competitive eaters - if you see the best competitive eaters in the world, you’ll see that they’re in shape or at least not overweight.” According to University of Florida food and science professor Laura Acosta, there are some serious risks associated with competitive eating. “Obviously, the first one would be weight gain, if done on a regular basis,” Acosta said. “There have been some incidents where people vomited, and there have been rare

cases of people choking to death.”

Figueroa doesn’t deny this risk.

According to her, training for a competitive eating challenge could stop the digestive system’s ability to contract.

“It’s obviously not a healthy thing, especially if you are doing it on a consistent basis,” he said. “The way I picture it, I give my body a break from challenge to challenge, contest to contest, so I am okay. I haven’t had any crazy side effects from it.”

“You could end up with gastroparesis, where the food just sits in the stomach and doesn’t move along,” Acosta said. “That is absolutely a long-term risk.” But she said that the frequency of competitive eating makes a difference.

UF psychology professor Neil Rowland said that, like other competitive sports, competitive eating has more than just physical struggles.

“If somebody does this once, [there’s a] much less likely chance these long-term risks will happen compared to someone who does this as a sport or trains for it,” Acosta said.

“Like running a race, at some point, their muscles are going to be screaming at them,” the professor said. “But they push themselves to keep going, keep going, be faster than the next person.”

Figueroa said that this struggle is familiar to him. “The brain has a good way in telling you it’s disgusting,“ he said. “And it becomes a struggle to complete [the challenge].” But the obstacles haven’t stopped him from uploading new eating challenges every week on his YouTube channel. “I actually do enjoy the food challenges. The only food I don’t really like is pickles,” he said, laughing. For him, the sport is all about the journey.

day,” he said. Figueroa said that he would like to enter a MLE competition with the best eaters, like Stonie and Sudo. “I love the people who compete,” he said. “And I would have not met these amazing people if I wasn’t doing this weird adventure.” His reason for this “weird adventure” is simple, but significant. “The minority of people don’t eat like competitive eaters, and I like being different than other people. It’s fun,” he said. “Be different.”

“I have no idea [the outcome], but I am just playing it by ear, day by all photos/COURTESY OF NATHAN FIGUEROA

have “ Itoliterally work my ass off to keep my weight maintained without me adding extra pounds to my body.”



makes a man How different men deal with one definition of masculinity

By Brittany Chen


ince the beginnings of diversified media, Asian males have often been portrayed as meek and feeble second characters who are unable to find love and, instead, remain in the backdrop as wallflowers, according to Ashley Qiang, a writer for Slant. This representation has led many to question the true masculinity of the Asian male population. “I feel like if you don’t have the big muscles or you’re not tall, it’s almost feminine in a way. It’s looked down upon,” University of Central Florida health sciences pre-clinical Ben Gorion said. One factor that plays a part in the notion of Asian males as being weak is that most Asians do not prioritize fitness, or sometimes it is a lack of financial resources that prevents them from being more fit. “In Taiwan...there’s no gym. If there was a gym, you’d have to be rich to join. And nobody really saw a need to be fit or to exercise because their focus was on other things,” UCF computer engineering freshman Tzy Hsu said.

Some also attribute genetics and differences in cultural diets to the stereotype of Asian men. Whereas Asians tend to eat smaller portions of meat and drink more teas, which help provide the nutrients and enzymatic agents needed to aid in digestion, their western counterparts consume higher ratios of protein and less foods that aid in digestion, according to the Huffington Post article “10 Things You Need to Know About the Asian Diet.” Because of this, Asians tend to be smaller in size compared to their American counterparts. The biggest reasons behind the generalization of Asians as unmanly are the stereotypes that plague its population. According to Gorion, some of these stereotypes include being the nerdy kid in class and focusing only on studies. “In school I didn’t want to be that guy, so sometimes I wouldn’t answer some questions,” Gorion said. “I would say a stupid answer to make everyone laugh because I didn’t want to be labeled as [the nerdy Asian kid].” A study done by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management showed that when males of Asian descent do not adhere to racial stereotypes, such as being

“ I think [society’s idea of manliness] is an issue

because right off the bat when you meet someone they’ll make an assumption about you”

non-dominant, they are “unwelcome and unwanted by their co-workers.” The study also revealed that those who worked with a dominant Asian co-worker and a dominant white co-worker preferred to work with the white co-worker. This study showed that Asians who do not uphold the Asian stereotypes are less likely to succeed in the workplace. “I really think the model minority really has effects on how we should be,” UCF web design and graphic design junior Jean Grayson said. There is also the idea of white masculinity that hinders Asians from being able to portray themselves as manly. “People don’t understand where we come from as Asians. They don’t understand the culture, and base everything off what they think. That’s why I think we see so many of the same general Asian characters on TV,” Jimmie Lim, a Paul Mitchell the School student studying cosmetology and barbering, said. With a small population and shorter statures, Asians are not common entities seen on most advertisements in America. Instead, white models are displayed to sell products. With a scarcity of representation of what most would call “manly men,” particularly of the Asian variety, Idris and Tony, a Brooklyn-based photography duo, were inspired to create the idea of The persuASIAN Project, an outlet to depict Asian men in ways media would not. "We wanted to show that you don't have to be a white person to be revered in this culture," Idris Rheubottom said in an interview with Micc. "Any culture that's not the majority here is seen as inferior, so it's cool to hear people [now] talking about which guy is good-looking, not just which Asian guy." Attempts at eliminating the Asian male stereotype in media have been ill-received for the most part, such as in “Selfie,” an ABC original sitcom starring John Cho as the main lead. With only 13 episodes, “Selfie” was cancelled before it could finish its first season, according to NBC News. Over the years, there have been more Asian males placed as characters who do not

further perpetuate the negative stereotypes of Asian males, such as the Godfrey Gao in “Mortal Instruments” and Ki Hong Lee in “The Maze Runner.” “Slowly but surely there’s more actors on TV that are Asian, like the guy from ‘Maze Runner’ and Daniel Wu in the new AMC show [‘Badlands’]. Slowly it’s progressing but it’s not as many as there could be,” Grayson said. It’s not only the muscle that makes the man, but also the personal attributes that most would consider manly. “Masculinity to society is buff, strong male leads. It [should be] about characteristics. Like [being] a strong leader and not only physically strong,” Lim said. “A lot of people judge by what they see. Everyone has their own redeeming qualities.” Some attribute the issue of Asian stereotypes to society and its ideals, but with every cloud there is a silver lining. “I think [society’s idea of manliness] is an issue because right off the bat when you meet someone they’ll make an assumption about you,” Grayson said. “But it makes me want to differ from the general Asian stereotype.” Though some can find a way to turn media’s negative representation into positive self-improvement, media and society still have a lot to work on in terms of Asian representation and eliminating negative stereotypes. “I think media is definitely progressing,” Hsu said. “People from different cultures are mingling more, so it’s definitely getting Asians more out there.” But when it really comes down to it, it’s all about perspective and self-confidence. “Just be who you are. There’s no better version of you than you,” Lim said.

It’s Not a Match Experiencing stereotypes, rejection and discrimination on dating apps by Howard lin


wipe left, swipe right.

Tinder, like many popular dating apps, has allowed people to simply swipe away the possibility of romance. Using the app, people swipe through photos of single people in their area with brief descriptions about them. If they like the picture they see, they swipe right to indicate that they are interested and if not, left. If both sides swipe right, the two are matched and can message each other. But does everybody on Tinder get an equal chance? Some are saying no, citing research that points to differences that Asian Americans have in their online dating experiences. Keith Melendez, a 22-year-old health sciences major at the University of Central Florida, has been using Tinder on and off for the past year and contends that Asian American men are not as successful as people of other ethnicities on dating websites because Asians are perceived as soft and less masculine. “Asian people aren’t really the most sought after when it comes to relationships,” Melendez said. Melendez isn’t alone in this feeling -- there’s research to back this up. In a Columbia University speed dating study, Asian males received lower ratings of attractiveness than men of other ethnicities. According to the study, women were 60 percent less

12 • embody

likely to respond positively to Asian men than members of their own ethnicity. Even Asian women preferred white men to Asian men. Meenakshi Palaniappan, a 24-year-old doctoral candidate in psychology, said she agrees that discrimination is alive and well on dating apps. She relates this issue to society’s perspective on how women want men to look and present themselves in a certain way. Starting at a very young age, people grow up learning what they should find attractive, and Asian men do not fall under that category, according to Palaniappan. “Asian American men might not fit the tall, dark and handsome ideal that we hold as a society,” Palaniappan said. “If you look at toys or cartoons, you see the types of men that are considered attractive and the men that are not considered attractive.” Apparently the issue of Asian American men being less desired than men of other races isn’t just a heterosexual one either. A study from OkCupid found that 43 percent of gay white men prefer to date their own race. Additionally, on the dating platform Grindr, people put phrases like “no rice” or “no curry” in their bios to discourage Asian Americans from contacting them. Asian women experience a different kind of discrimination. In a study from “FirstMet,” an online dating website previously


known as “Are You Interested,” Asian women were the most likely to be messaged by all races of men except by Asian men. But, Asian women were least likely to respond to Asian men as well. Priyal Patel, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Florida, uses Tinder and Dil Mil, a South Asian matchmaking app. The anthropology major said most people on the apps have been friendly, but there have been three or four instances where someone made comments about her ethnicity. “They’ve been like, ‘Oh, do you like curry?’ and they try to make a joke about me being Indian,” Patel said. “It’s like, you could have been a normal person and just said ‘hi’ instead of trying to have been funny about me being Indian.” Pooja Chandrasekhar, a 20-year-old junior at UF, has had similar experiences on Tinder and Dil Mil. The psychology major said she has had mixed reactions on both apps. In one instance on Tinder, someone called

her “pretty for a brown girl.” “You know, that’s not a compliment,” Chandrasekhar said.

people “ Asian aren’t really the most sought after when it comes to relationships.”

In another instance, on Dil Mil, someone asked her if she smelled like curry. However, she’s not sure if the person was being sincere or joking. Palaniappan explained that Asian women may be more desirable because they fit the guidelines of what men want in a partner with the added benefit of seeming “exotic,” she said.

attention on dating websites, much of that attention is racist and offensive. Men tend to message Asian women, target their race, and shower them with unwelcome racial slurs, comments and questions ready to jump on the “yellow fever” train. Some Asian women have found a solution in the form of creating their very own, exclusive dating application. Siren, a dating app created in 2015 put women in control, giving them the freedom to pick who is able to see their photo or who can message them. The app lets the women set their own pace and be in charge of their destiny. According to Palaniappan, media plays a huge role in all of this. “They aren’t seen as very exciting, risktaking men,” Palaniappan said. “That impacts how they do on dating websites.” “It’s important for there to be more awareness and education about these implicit attitudes that we all hold toward every kind of race,” said Palaniappan.

Although they appear to get plenty of embody • 13


“ 14 • EMBODY

In American media there is a very different understanding of who is Indian and what Indians look like.”

South Asians face different standards in Indian and American media


by anisha sinha

espite being part of an elite group of A-list celebrities, Indian Americans Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari and Nina Davuluri have more in common than just their profession. “The Mindy Project” actress, “Master of None” actor and former Miss America respectively, have achieved success that they may not have been able earn in if they worked in their ancestral homeland. According to Cornell University sociology professor Paromita Sanyal, this may be for a variety of reasons, including skin color and India’s colonial and religious history. According to the professor, the British planted the root for a desire for light skin, but India’s religious history of the caste system perpetuated the light-skin-versus-dark-skin divide. “Caste culture (helped contribute to the fairness obsession) for a long time because intercaste marriages prevented the mixing of people through marriage,” she said. Sanyal explained that this is why different caste groups may have certain physical traits. “It’s hard to speculate where this obsession comes from, but we know that it is something that is getting strengthened rather than weakened due to the demand [for fair-skinned actors] by corporate [Indian] culture,” Sanyal said. Sanyal pointed out that most American South Asian stars such as Aziz Ansari started as stand-up comedians and didn’t follow the usual path to stardom that many American and Bollywood celebrities follow, like acting in TV commercials. She also said that Hollywood and Bollywood have to

appeal to very different audiences. In American media, there is a very different “understanding of who is Indian and what Indians look like.” According to Sanyal, American South Asian stars are cast to look more like the generalized perception of how America believes South Asians should look. “That way, anyone watching the show (or movie) can immediately tell that the character being portrayed is an Indian,” she said. Around the world, movie industries are becoming increasingly Westernized, in everything from clothing styles to musical styles. The Bollywood movie industry, in particular, is made up of largely light-skinned actors and actresses who follow more and more Westernized looks. Even deeper than looks, some think the personalities that make these Asian American celebrities popular in American media wouldn’t do the same in Indian media. Anjuli Jones, 18, a physics and biomedical engineering major from Florida State University, follows “The Mindy Project” religiously and finds Kaling’s personality different from what would be seen in Indian media. “She [Mindy Kaling] seems to be the kind of person who is really outspoken, which is not very common,” Jones said. Sanyal pointed out that beauty is something that people perceive to be held by a few, and those people stand out. So, to stand out, you have to look different - such as having tan skin. “India has very vibrant regional film markets (whereas the United States does not),” she said, “And the 200 years of colonial rule may (have) contributed to the consolidation of the fairness obsession.”




A student’s complicated relationship with food and family

by othelia jumapao


ou’re fat.”

her every move.

“You’re disgusting.”

But at college, Trang finally got that freedom when she moved into a single dorm. For the college freshman, that meant restricting her diet. But eventually, her disordered eating began to ravage her body and her mind.

Insults like these used to litter *Trang’s University of Miami dorm on sticky notes posted on her wall -- a space most students reserved for movie posters, family photos and inspiring quotes. “I know it’s psychotic,” the microbiology and immunology sophomore said. Trang, a Vietnamese American, said that because of her family’s judgment, she never felt like she could act independently at home because her family would judge


According to her boyfriend Sravan Narapureddy, 21, Trang placed stringent limitations on her diet and often demeaned her body in her mind. The University of Florida business management first-year graduate student said his girlfriend would often eat only an orange for the day and

would complain that she was fat. Despite the fact that she lost nine pounds that semester and suffered from hair loss and amenorrhea (not having a regular period), Narapureddy said Trang would even think people were lying when they commented on how thin she was. According to Genevieve Camp, a mental health counselor at the UF Health Eating Disorders Program at Springhill Health Center, Trang’s overlapping mental and physical issues with her eating condition aren’t unusual. Camp said the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

* = Indicates a pseudonym

believes there appears to be a certain thin ideal amongst Asian American patients that often includes addressing body image and frequent weighing. “I think there is obviously a cultural influence,” Stuart said. Despite the issues at home, Trang said the real breaking point was when she found out that her former boyfriend was cheating on her. Trang said she believes that he cheated because she didn’t have the body he wanted. “It triggered a downward spiral of my self-esteem,” Trang said. “After that, I became—I don’t want to say depressed. And I feel like the reason I don’t want to say ‘depressed’ is also kind of from our culture that doesn’t recognize mental illness.”


(DSM) even made a catch-all term for people with eating disorders: Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). People typically develop anxiety or depression before eating disorders, and that in these instances, eating abnormalities can serve as a coping mechanism to help numb someone from feeling emotional pain, Camp said.

“Lots and lots of people have eating disorders,” she said. “If you can’t eat, [it] doesn’t mean you’re a failure.” The food restrictions finally

came to a halt when a fellow floormate came into her dorm while she was away and noticed the derogatory notes scattered on her wall. Trang’s resident assistant was alerted immediately,

But according to Trang, her insecurities did not begin her freshman year of college but stemmed from incidents that happened at home and in a bad break up with her first boyfriend (not Narapureddy). At 6 years old, Trang said she remembered her mother repeatedly throwing up in an attempt to lose weight after pregnancy and her husband’s remarks on her body. Trang said her father also would sometimes comment on her own weight and call her pudgy as a child.

It triggered a downward spiral of my self-esteem.” and the incident was reported to the housing office shortly after. In the following weeks, she began her steps to recovery: Trang got preventive counseling and treatment with a licensed physician. She also finally came clean to her parents about her eating issues.

UF Counseling and Wellness Center licensed psychologist Jennifer Stuart said that she

Eating Disorder Hope founder and licensed professional counselor Jacquelyn Ekern said that it’s important for treatment providers like nutritionists and physicians to treat Asian American eating disorder victims with sensitivity because of the lack of recognition for mental illnesses in Asian culture. Ekern suggests bringing the parents with the victim of eating disorders to have a discussion mediated by a professional. Although Trang agrees with Ekern’s advice, Trang does not follow the advice herself. However, she does recommend it to others struggling. “For anybody who has an eating disorder—regardless of what their parents say—they do love you and maybe they just don’t understand you,” Trang said. Efforts were made to contact Trang’s sister and parents; however, Trang did not allow this communication to be facilitated.


photo/KEVIN DOANtory


Korean beauty products heading U.S mainstream


by jenny le 015 was, without a doubt, the year of Korean beauty products. From The New York Times to style site Refinery29, there have been numerous articles raving about the rise of Korean beauty trends. According to Refinery29, the overseas sales for Korean beauty products have grown 73 percent in 2015. In 2013, retail stores like Sephora and Urban Outfitters started to catch onto this beauty trend. For the past three years, the two stores have been stocking and restocking their shelves with products from brands like Dr. Jart, AmorePacific, Belif, and TonyMoly. “We always see our Tonymoly fly out our door,” Courtney Rice, Manager of Women’s Accessories and Beauty Department at Urban Outfitters, said. “We always have customers asking about it.” Regarding the Korean beauty products’ popularity in the U.S., Rice said that “for the Tonymoly products, the way that they make their products is very convenient and the packaging is adorable.” According to the BBC article, “The Key Ingredients of South Korea’s Skincare Success,” Korean women have long been obsessed with skincare, spending twice as much of their income on the products

compared to their American counterparts. Korean skin care products often appeal to users with their focus on protecting the skin from harmful UV rays with Sun Protection Factor (SPF), and moisturizing and replenishing the skin using natural ingredients. Cindy Hall, a 17-year-old Korean American from Merritt Island, FL, said that she likes Korean beauty products because there are “a lot of brands that only use healthy, non-toxic ingredients that are really good for your skin.”

ucts] better because they don’t feel as heavy as the American ones,” she said. “Korean [beauty] is all about the youthful look.” There is also the question of whether it is mostly Korean Americans consuming the Korean beauty products at the major retail stores. According to Rice, the customers looking for Korean beauty products at Urban Outfitters represent diversity in both ethnicity and gender. “It is not even really a specific group of customers. It is everyone,” Rice said.

With beautiful and natural-looking skin as the top priority, Korean makeup products establish goals completely different from their American counterparts.

The phenomenon of Korean beauty products hitting the mainstream in the U.S. could indicate a major shift in preference among many makeup users.

According to “Beauty Around the World--Comparing American Products and Perceptions,” an article from Bustle, a site that covers beauty news, Korean makeup brands go for the dewy, no makeup look, whereas American makeup brands aim for heavy contour and matte style.

Thach said that some of her non-Asian friends have started liking the products too. “They like the scent and how light it felt,” she said. “It’s different and unique [compared] to what they are used to.”

Christina Thach, a senior majoring in business administration at the University of Central Florida, noticed this main difference when she used the Korean beauty products. “I personally like them [Korean prod-

If beauty sites like Harper’s Bazaar and Allure are any indication, Korean beauty products are not set to die down in 2016. “I think the Korean beauty trend will last a long time especially because the products focus on the natural look,” Hall said. “They bring out the beauty that you yourself possess.”


on the of(fence) Korean American Cindy Oh breaks barriers in collegiate fencing by alexandra ng


he sabres clash against one another with the sound of metal on metal as opponents advance toward one another. Carefully anticipating the other’s next move, the fencers move with agility and confidence, thrusting and parrying with each step. The attacker lunges and her blade makes contact with her rival’s chest. Touché. For Northwestern University political science junior Cindy Oh, this is home. As a first-generation Korean American student, Oh knew she had to fulfill her parents’ dream of attending a top-tier university. Keeping up with academics was a given, but it wasn’t until sixth grade that she discovered a talent that would set her apart. When Oh was 12 years old, her mother discovered the sport of fencing through a classmate’s parent. Originally wanting to play basketball, young Oh had no interest in attending fencing classes. However, her mother wanted her to get involved in a less popular sport to make her stand out among other applicants. After attending class and


practicing footwork with other students, Oh realized that she had an affinity for the sport and developed a passion for it. “It was such a welcoming environment, and the people who were my age in the class helped me have fun with it,” Oh said. “As I stuck with it, my love for the sport and anything that came with it kept growing and is growing to this day.” Oh practiced about two to four hours each day on average. Although her parents wanted her to put school before fencing, Oh felt that athletics taught her skills such as responsibility and time management that future employers would look for. Despite falling in love with fencing and how it strengthened her mind and body, Oh noticed that there weren’t many other Asian Americans in the sport when she first started. However, as time went on, she noticed an increase in the number of successful Asian American fencers, which she believed was due to the push to get into better colleges and the fact that the sport was becoming

more popular in Asian countries. “All the top-tier schools, the Ivy Leagues, have fencing teams, so that has a major impact,” Oh said. “For a lot of parents, they see their home countries doing it too, so seeing your people excel at it incentivizes you to do it as well.” Before the sport became popular, Oh especially noticed the lack of Asian American athletes when she attended international competitions in countries such as England, Austria and Germany, where tournaments were larger and more intense. She observed that there weren’t many Asians competing, and of the ones that were competing, most were on the United States team. “To [be] able to represent the U.S. is incredible, but to be one of the few Asians and good enough to do well at competition makes me feel a lot of pride to be representing the Asian community,” Oh said. Despite being an Asian American student at Northwestern University, Oh doesn’t feel very familiar with the Asian community

Northwestern University competitive fencer Cindy Oh (right), 21, competes in a fencing match.

There’s a need for change, and if there’s a time to do it, it’s now.”

at her school because she feels she is part of an athletic bubble. It surprises students when they see Oh walking down the street speaking fluent Korean and wearing athletic clothes, because there is an unspoken stigma that Asians and sports don’t go together. Prevalent in all platforms of media, there is always an emphasis on Asian mental prowess rather than physical agility and strength, according to Oh. “I hate the tiger mom or the nerdy Asian stereotypes, so I want to prove that I can be booksmart, but successful athletically, as well,” Oh said. “Even at school, we don’t have that many Asian student athletes, so to eliminate that unspoken Asian stigma motivates me to do well.” As Oh heads into her last year of undergraduate school, she feels that she may not have time to continue honing her passion for fencing regularly in the future. She once dreamed of competing in the Olympics, but gradually realized that she


would have to give up that dream due to the level of time and commitment it would take and the fact that she would have to take a year off of school. Despite having to forego this aspiration, Oh does not regret her decision. She is content competing with her school team and pursuing political science. Even though Oh may not be aiming for the Olympics anymore, she encourages Asian Americans in the future to defy society’s expectations and limitations based on race. “There’s a lot of room for improvement of diversity in sports for minorities, especially for Asian Americans to step in, improve and to have a voice,” Oh said. “It’s important to be involved and to bring down the stereotypes, because there are a lot of opportunities available to break the stigma. There’s a need for change, and if there’s a time to do it, it’s now.” EMBODY • 21

SACRED STRANDS Celebration and beauty of body hair by gabriella alqueza The conversation of women’s body hair has long been hidden behind shirt sleeves, collared T-shirts and jeans. In the book “Becoming Women: The Embodied Self in Image Culture,” the conversation of body hair extends to South Asian women in the United States. “A majority of South Asian women identified body hair as a problem trait,” author Carla Rice writes. Body hair according to the book is considered an “anomaly, undesirability, and blurring of boundaries between the sexes.” Though hair on women may carry a negative image, there are women who are trying to change that perception. Women like Ayqa Khan, Suraiya Ali and Harnaam Kaur are bringing light to the conversation of body hair. With social media as their primary outlet, each woman has given a voice to the beauty of their own bodies. Ayqa Khan is a Brooklyn based PakistaniAmerican illustrator and photographer who uses her art to take a stand against hair removal. Her illustrations showcase richly colored backgrounds with South Asian women as the centerpiece with their natural body hair emphasized. On her Tumblr blog she writes, “There are many issues that society is fighting for in regards to women, and at this point in my life, I am choosing to focus on creating a space of acceptance.” Suraiya Ali gained unexpected interest from the media when she posted a picture on her Twitter account that drew attention to the hair on her stomach and thighs. Though she did receive negative backlash for her image, there was a wave of body positive comments that thanked Ali for being confident enough to post a picture highlighting the hair on her body. Harnaam Kaur is a model who has photo/JUSTIN CHU

polycystic ovary syndrome. According to, this causes her to have excessive hair growth. Kaur embraces her looks and in an interview with Rock N Roll Bride, she said, “I used to keep my beard for religious reasons, but now I keep my hair to show the world a different, confident, diverse and strong image of a woman.” Though for most people, body hair isn’t something to be left alone. It’s something most women want gone. “In middle school, the boys would tease me about having a mustache or more facial hair than they did,” University of Central Florida psychology senior Selina Urul said. “It made me more self-conscious.” Urul talked about the pressure of having to take off her body hair. “Generation after generation, women are presented with this idea that they have to shave while men aren’t pressured as much,” she said. She said that this pressure comes from the idea that women should be sleek, pretty, dainty and fragile. Women don’t want to be seen as masculine, she continued. Sarah Siraj, president of the National Organization for Women at UCF, deals with the same issues but has grown to embrace the idea that women shouldn’t feel forced into shaving. “Being a part of NOW made me feel more comfortable in my own skin,” she said, “Body hair is natural and it’s not for someone else to decide what to do with it.” She talked about the false advertisements in the media, saying that it made her angry seeing razor commercials with women who had already shaved. “They didn’t show what it looked like before,” she said. “They didn’t show what the woman’s body looked like with hair.” Siraj also talked about how the pressure of a

woman taking off her body hair comes from “the male gaze.” She said that “clean-shaven women are much more appealing than a hairy woman’s body. I grew up thinking that guys will like you if you don’t have noticeable hair.” These two women aren’t putting down the idea of body hair, but promoting the idea that it is a woman’s decision when it comes to what she wants to do with it. For some women, like Harnaam Kaur, there is more meaning behind keeping one’s body hair. “Sikhs believe in keeping their body in its most natural state possible—this includes hair,” Harshpreet Kaur, a University of Florida graduate student studying information systems and operations management, said. “There is really no reason to cut or trim hair because our hair finds a way of rejuvenating itself,” Kaur said. “Additionally, we believe that hair is a gift from God and our uncut hair gives us a unique identity.” Growing up in a Westernized culture has caused Kaur to struggle with balancing society’s views and her religious views of beauty. “There is a more western aspect of me that finds clean legs and arms more attractive,” she said, “but there is also the more traditional part that propels me to not get too engrossed in physical appearance and to remember that our body is temporary.” Kaur said that Sikhism allows her to rise above the materialistic things in life and allows her to focus on the spiritual aspect, instead. “We, as a society, need to learn to look past these things and focus on what really matters, which is character and humility,” Kaur said. “This awareness is especially important for women who practice Sikhism because many times, out of pressure of society, they will feel isolated and demoralized, which no one should ever feel.”

embody • 23


Eventually things clicked and it was just a matter of constantly experimenting with how to wear the hijab.”

Balancing religion and fashion as a hijabi woman

by NICOLE DAN “If you Google ‘Muslim woman,’ there is a pretty distinct image that comes up,” said Rana Abdelhamid, a 22-year-old student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “It’s of a woman that’s wearing a niqab that’s completely black, which is very uniform and not representative of the diversity and heterogeneity of Muslim women,” she said, referring to the veil that entirely covers the woman’s face, popular in some predominantly Arab countries such as Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Seeing a lack in media representation for Muslim women and the prevalent misconceptions of women who wear hijabs, Abdelhamid created the Facebook page ‘Hijabis of New York” to highlight the stories of hijabis, in a style similar to the popular Facebook page, “Humans of New York”.


Abdelhamid started “Hijabis of New York” to humanize Muslim women, who are

particularly susceptible to hate crimes. “There is research that shows that 80 percent of hate crimes that happen against Muslims, happen against Muslim women,” Abdelhamid said. “Hijabi women are a subset of Muslim women who may be more vulnerable to attack because of the visibility of their faith identity.” While Abdelhamid acknowledges that this project cannot completely solve the problem, she hopes to make a difference. Through “Hijabis of New York,” she has learned about the diversity of experience among Muslim women, and found that some of the violence hijabis experience comes from within the community. In her trips to Spain and the U.K., Abdelhamid found similar narratives. “I went into this thinking that this would be a platform to raise awareness for other people, for non-Muslims, and for men and non-veiled people who maybe might better understand the experiences of veiled women,” Abdelhamid said. “But what ended up happening was a lot of the engagement

that we had was from Muslim veiled women themselves.” Abdelhamid, a hijabi herself, wears it for religious purposes but also as a form of selfexpression. “If I’m feeling edgy, I wear a turban,” Abdelhamid said. Getting her style inspiration through social media, Abdelhamid said she feels empowered by the newly thriving hijabi fashion industry, which has elevated the number of outlets about Muslim fashion.


“I definitely had my awkward hijabi days,” said Mariam Sleiman, a 24-year-old who works in publishing. The Lebanese American sees finding the perfect hijab style like finding the perfect haircut. “Eventually things clicked and it was just a matter of constantly experimenting with EMBODY • 25

how to wear the hijab.” For Bushra Rashid, a University of Florida sociology senior and health disparities minor, experimenting meant watching YouTube videos to try to see what works for her face shape. “When I first started out, I did what the basic hijab style is,” Rashid said, which involves using a square that is folded in half and pinned by the neck. “But my face is really round,” Rashid said, “so I looked like a big tomato. That was not ok.” Coming to college allowed her to experiment in a way she couldn’t in the more conservative community she grew up in. “I don’t want to say it’s an accessory, because that’s diminishing its value, but there are a good amount of scarves in my drawer.” Rashid has about 40 scarves in her drawer, and she can wear them with anything in her closet. Among Muslims and non-Muslims, there is a lot of judgement on what the perfect way to wear hijab is.


“Everyone’s allowed to wear what they want to wear. It’s their freedom to do it,” Rashid said. “You want to show people that wearing hijab isn’t restrictive, and that you are happy wearing the hijab.”

that was flattering for her face was a struggle because Rashid did not have many people to ask how to wear it.

However for Rashid, wearing her hijab is more than just an accessory.

“Everything in your life, if you do it with your heart, you can feel like it’s easy for you,” she said.


“It’s so that I can realize my own devotion to God,” she said. “It’s not just to show others that I’m a follower of Islam.” Rashid starting wearing the hijab after her parents got divorced, a major change in her life. Many of her relatives did not approve of her wearing the hijab, out of fear that she would be subject to Islamophobia and discrimination. She first made the decision to wear the hijab in middle school, but stopped after about a month due to physical bullying. “There was so much Islamophobia, even then,” Rashid said. She started permanently wearing the hijab on the first day of 10th grade. Learning how to keep the hijab in place and finding a style

But for Malaysian American Wan Ainal Yaqin, 36, learning to wear a hijab was not as difficult.

Yaquin started wearing the hijab at 13 years old. By that time she was used to wearing hijab for prayer and had seen many women put it on, which she said made it easier for her. “It’s your responsibility to yourself, responsibility to your religion, responsibility to your parents,” Yaquin said. For Sleiman, wearing a hijab is a careful balance between displaying one’s faith and maintaining its sanctity. Sleiman said she is offended by those who appropriate the hijab, because the hijab is a religious and political symbol and wearing it as a non Muslim devalues it.

“Completely divorcing it of its religious meaning would be an injustice,” Sleiman said.


“I was sort of really able to find a way to mix the best of both to engage really thoughtfully with both sides of my culture, whether it was being American or being Muslim and Arab,” Sleiman said.

As a Palestinian American, in Walmart, people will come up to Shraiteh to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others will ask where she is from, even though she has lived in the U.S. her entire life.

Growing up, Sleiman did not see her culture as at odds with society, but she now sees the hijab as a loaded religious and political symbol.

But for Tesneem Shraiteh, a 22-year-old fourth-year linguistics major at UF, the hijab’s political symbol has often lead to unpleasant and unsolicited questioning.

“The fact that I’m wearing hijab doesn’t mean that I’m just an open book for you to learn from,” she said.


Ways to wear

a Hijab

Wrap to the side & accessorize

Frame the face & add a head chain

Create intricate designs like flowers within the wrap

Wrap as a turban with a top knot photos/HIJABIWORLD.COM, STYLECENTER.INFO

Blood Lines

A look into a lost culture that is more than skin deep by alyssa ramos


ow could I refuse my dying father?” asked Lane Wilcken softly.

After Wilcken’s father, Willis Lane Wilcken, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, doctors suggested marking his skin so they could track the radiation that would soon be used to fight the aggressive disease. Wilcken’s father didn’t want a stranger marking his skin, so Wilcken found a stick, shaped a hole inside and plucked a thorn from his mother’s lemon tree.

While his brother stretched their father’s skin, Wilcken used Indian ink and the Filipino tattoo method of tapping to paint his first tattoo on his dad.

writer of the book “Filipino Tattoos Ancient to Modern,” Wilcken has spent 25 years studying this tradition of “batok,” the name of the traditional Filipino tattooing method.

At the time, Wilcken had no intention of becoming a tattoo practitioner and the tattoo he drew was not a traditional one either, but by tattooing his father, Wilcken carried on a Filipino tradition.

According to Wilcken, the practice is deeply ritualistic.


After a client researches his ancestry, the tattoo practitioner helps them choose a design and placement of the tattoo in accordance with the client’s religious practices.

As a Nevada-based tattoo practitioner and

Then, he follows the detailed, traditional all photos/RACHEL HE

process: There is a food sacrifice where blood is drained to ward off evil spirits and Wilcken speaks ancient prayers. But before the food sacrifice is put away, the client is asked to speak something from their heart, and the food offering is burnt or buried. The actual design is done by a tapping method, in which a piece of lemon thorns or boar tusks are carved to fit into the end of a stick. A hammer is lightly tapped against the stick to poke into the skin. Filipinos were originally dubbed “los pintados,” or “the painted people,” by the Spanish. Today, Filipinos are far from painted.

THE LOST CULTURE Because of society’s association between crime and tattoos and the tendency for Filipinos to migrate to other countries for work and education, the traditional art of Filipino tattooing is endangered, according to Wilcken. “The tendency of those who migrated away is to assimilate into the predominant culture of wherever they are living,” he said. “So we lose language, and we lose the practices, which usually happens with the first generation.” According to Wilcken, this lost culture is what drives his passion for spreading

cultural awareness through his tattoo work. He contends that the common thread that pulls modern-day Filipino Americans to get traditional tattoos is a search for identity and belonging. “The tattoo isn’t about you, most of the tattoos are about being part of something bigger than yourself,” Wilcken said.


Felicia Perez, a psychology teacher at Diablo Valley College in California, embarked on a journey into her Filipino roots after her father’s death. She said she always felt that her ancestors wanted her to take on a tattoo, but an email from

The tattoo isn’t about you, most of the tattoos are about being part of something bigger than yourself.”

Wilcken was the push she needed to finally do it. For Perez, her tattoos are visual reminders of that connection. “Tattoos ground me,” Perez said. “When I look in the mirror, I’m like, ‘Yes, this is who I am.’ It’s a reminder I’m from an indigenous culture that has a lot of gifts to give to the world.” According to Wilcken, by receiving a tattoo, an individual is establishing an open relationship with their ancestors for protection and wisdom. The artist said that this feeling is similar to one of instinctively taking another route home and later finding out the original route was clogged with traffic. “Those designs represent the ancestor spirit and their communication with the person,” Wilcken said. Perez also said that her tattoos not only link her to to her ancestors, but mark who she is as a person and the obstacles she’s overcome. “It’s like sharing the same space in time,” Perez said. “Things are changing all the time and reconfiguring itself, but it also still feels anchored in the past.” For other recipients, the Filipino history of earning tattoos is more important. Lauren Funiestas, a 32-year-old health coach, waited five years after meeting Wilcken to get a tattoo. She waited until she finished her graduate studies and started her career so her tattoos could represent something she earned. Funiestas said that her tattoo decision was an act of following her ancestor’s footsteps. Funiestas, who has 11 tattoos, said that the traditional ones were less painful but the process was imbued with a lot of emotional meaning. “There was more care,” Funiestas said. “Lane sat down and talked to me and explained every line, what it meant and why it was there. It meant a lot to me that my ancestors were coming in this tattoo. I felt like I was being honored and not like a cattle coming in a tattoo shop and coming out.”

PAST & FUTURE At 21 years old, Jasmine Mendoza, a student at San Francisco State University, received her first Filipino tattoo. The communications studies student understands both the media and the younger generation’s role in making traditional tattooing more known to Filipino Americans. Filipino Americans should do their research. The biggest challenge is educating Filipino Americans about their own culture, according to Mendoza. “I feel like having this media attention is the first step but it also stems deeper than that especially for this generation, especially for us raised in America when we don’t even hear about our history. let alone our history in America, so it’s an education thing,” Mendoza said. At its core Batok focuses on family, a cultural value that remains relevant to this day. Wilcken emphasizes that respecting the ancestors who are alive are as equally important as respecting those who have passed. “It’s the pinnacle of our past culture,” Wilcken said. Many know Filipinos for their hospitality, basing a strong support system in their family. Traditional tattoos seem to bring those values full circle. The title of Mababatok, or tattoo practitioner, is usually given by a village, but Wilcken has been able find a community where he has made his mark. Now, clients like Lauren Funiestas, Felicia Perez and Jasmine Mendoza refer to him with the same title as those before him: Mababatok. Like the tattoos that were given to Filipinos in centuries past, Lane Wilcken is immortalizing and honoring his ancestors through his work and giving that gift to others. “The designs themselves are repetitive for a reason,” Wilcken said. “It shows the continuity of the family line. We are just part of a link in a chain of ancestors and descendants going back through time and forward in time, that we’re part of a whole.”



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