Intro to Women's Studies 2010

etsu: 2011-2014

When I Was Growing Up by Nellie Wong


The poem is about a woman looking back at wishing she were white skinned in her youth. It talks about white movie stars and lighter skin sisters all being desired more than her. Being white to this woman seems to be the epitome of beauty. It shows how society puts white people in the spotlight and all diversities to the shadows. This woman lived her life filled with jealousy of white women. She resents herself for not being white.

This is not a poem I relate to. Nellie wants to be white because that is the social norm. I am white and as a child I felt my skin color and appearance were boring. I was white and had blue eyes and blonde hair. I just felt so typical. As a child I longed to have curves and darker skin. I hated that the words most often used to describe my skin were “milky” and “porcelain.” Milky just sounds gross and has this connotation to me that at any second it could go rotten. Porcelain is something that is breakable and delicate; fragile. The stereotypes for Asian women were “intelligent.” Well, who wouldn’t want that? The stereotypes for Latina and Black women were words like “fiery and sassy.” That fit me much better than the white blonde girl stereotypes of dumb and air headed. I wanted to feel exotic; like I belonged far away. Reading this poem is weird for me because I can’t help, but wonder, “Why would you trade your skin in for the social norm?”


2 thoughts on “When I Was Growing Up by Nellie Wong

  1. Wow! Just a different point of view. Thank you!

  2. It’s nice to hear your point of view. Your question, “Why would you trade your skin in for the social norm?” can be easily asked, but can never really be understood unless you have gone through it yourself. It’s easy to wonder why someone would want to fit the social norm, but that is because of society. Especially growing up, you are categorized and labeled even if you don’t want to, forcing you to unconsciously want to be white. Then you grow up, become an adult and wonder why you put yourself through all of this in the first place.

    I have gone through this myself, and while I do have lighter skin as as Asian American, I still longed to be White (Caucasian). Not only because of skin, but because of big, round American eyes and what media portrayed as beauty. The beautiful girls that I saw growing up were Caucasian women, fair skin, big beautiful hair, and big round eyes. This idea of beauty was then confirmed when I went to college when I was asked to a fraterntity formal simply because I was Asian. For the first time, I really wished to be White and hated my ethnic background for putting me through something like that.

    So, why do people want to trade parts of themselves to fit in, because people choose to look at what you don’t have and growing up you don’t have the strength and courage to believe in yourself. Then you grow up.

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