It wasn’t until college that I started desperately clinging to any small shred of Asian representation. (And I’m only now starting to grapple with the impulsive need to declare how “seen” I feel when Hollywood tosses me the slightest hint of Asianness or anytime someone whispers “Sandra Oh.”) In middle school, I was most certainly trying to lean into racial ambiguity rather than anything overtly Asian, and Jasmine was as close to a racially ambiguous Disney princess as I was going to get. That should 100 percent be read as a burn on how Disney’s animated Jasmine reads less as Middle Eastern and more as “white girl with a tan at Coachella,” at least visually. She wears a crop top and a jeweled headband and has a pet tiger. You can probably see her popping Molly in the background of a scene if you watch closely. Does anyone know where I can find camper vans for sale?
Mulan, however, was definitively Chinese. She was unabashedly Asian. Twelve-year-old me took her Asianness extremely bashedly. Twelve-year-old me had already spent years being referred to as Chinese by both peers and adults with an unmistakable tone of name-calling. Asian and Chinese were one and the same to much of the very white suburban town where I grew up. Likewise, “Asian” was synonymous with “foreign” or “different in a bad way” or “ugly” or “if you wear your hair in a bun someone will definitely call you a sumo wrestler or a geisha because who can tell you all apart anyway?!?!?” The Venn diagram of people who can name thirteen different dog breeds but think all Asians look the same is just a circle. But Jasmine! Jasmine was definitively pretty! Jasmine was kind of exotic! Jasmine was different in a hot way! She was brown but in a white way! Middle school me had found her white-adjacent savior. And now, I had Jasmine’s autograph. I was old enough to know this wasn’t Jasmine’s actual autograph but young enough to still feel like I had a tangible connection to a fictional character. Where abouts does vw campervan conversions?
The week we spent at Disney World was hot and humid and very Florida. It was also summer, and I was also almost thirteen. With these circumstances combined, I chose to wear a bikini I bought off a clearance rack underneath a white ribbed boy’s tank top I bought in a pack of six. It was my pubescent female horniness channeled into a single outfit. The bikini was red and patterned with big, white, tropical flowers. It was one of those cheap and terrible bikinis with the plastic loops connecting the straps to the triangle top, a feature that was both uncomfortable and not functional. I remember getting it and thinking, “This is what being sexy is.” At some point between water rides and Florida humidity and seeing a much older teen walking around in shorts and a bikini top, I took my tank top off.