by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson
Billing itself as the complete Asian-American lifestyle magazine, East West runs the gamut from business advice to romance. East West (formerly East West Woman) is also the only magazine that regularly features Desi contributors as well as Desi cover girls.
In terms of articles, East West has a wide range of fare to satisfy all sorts of palates. From global news coverage to an in-depth analysis Asian-American roles on televisions to a Sake 101 primer and tips for bargaining at Asian markets, this publication aims to keeps its readers informed and connected to both of their cultures.
East West also features first person perspectives, like “Growing Up ABCD” by Farah Z. Khalid. In the article, Khalid explains the concept of being an American Born Confused Desi and pulls us into her childhood with tales of trading soccer for Islamic school and annual pilgrimages back to visit relatives, laden with gifts.
The fashion spreads are also cute and wearable, but East West feels like it skews a bit older, made for the professionally settled woman in her thirties to forties. While there is plenty of content for younger readers, East West occupies the same sphere as Essence – a publication designed to reach their demographic in all walks of life. It is a great challenge, but the East West editors handle it well.
“A Bicultural Asian-American Magazine.”
I must admit it was the tagline that caught my eye on the newsstand, even while accompanied by a very striking cover image.
Thirteen Minutes distinguishes itself with truly gorgeous and distinctive fashion, buoyed by excellent photography. The spreads are so engaging, I literally caught my breath a few times just looking at striking images that leaped off the page demanding my attention. The magazine manages to walk the line between high fashion and wearable with aplomb. I used some of my purloined Yes/No/Maybe stickers from a Lucky Magazine to mark up the pages – and it is one of the few times where a fashion magazine has inspired me enough to track down a designer and pay for an item displayed in spread, rather than using the spread as inspiration for my own budget conscious finds.
The articles are also useful, if a little boring. All the standard women’s interest fare is in here, with a distinctly Asian twist: “How to Lose 10 Pounds by Lunar New Year,” “Finding Your Inner Feng Shui,” and “This Isn’t Your Mother’s Plastic Surgery.” There are also excellent articles on Asians and Asian Americans in the media, featuring everyone from Anna May Wong to Alex Thuy. Thirteen Minutes even manages to cover international pop stars and local acts. It’s a music lover’s dream.
However, one thing kept nagging me as I paged through a few issues of Thirteen Minutes. The magazine employs Asian models and white models, but no other ethnicities. I had asked Hae and her friends if the use of white models in Asian American magazines was normal and they all said no.* This was more than a little strange to me – after all, most specialty magazines tend to stick to their demographic as a focus. After all, Essence and Latina don’t use white models in their spreads. Neither do East West or Audrey, even though they use hapa models. I wondered briefly about the magazine enforcing both Asian and white standards of beauty, but quickly pushed that out of my mind. After all, I thought to myself, aren’t I being a little too critical of a fashion magazine? I still read all the majors, and they act like they are allergic to PoCs.
I shuttled this off to the back of my mind, but was rudely reminded of my apprehensions in the current issue. In the article “Who Is Prince Charming,” the authors decide to take “a look at the different aspects of masculinity in the American and Asian cultures.” Fair enough. I scanned down the page to the chart. The page is divided into two: The Caucasian-American Guy and the Asian Guy. I flip the page. Nothing. Well, damn. I guess unless you are American white, you don’t factor. All of the Asian-American men fit the general pop star mold. I thought it was interesting that while Kal Penn was featured as an actor to watch in an earlier article, no Desi men – or darker skinned Asian men – managed to make the dream guy cut. Then I noticed this line:
“Skin Tone: His skin is enviably white and smooth. How does he do it when we can’t?”
Oh – I guess you have to pass the paper bag test to be featured in this magazine.
I have had a few Asian friends of mine school me about colorism and how it plays out in their communities. Two Desi-Americans, two Vietnamese-Americans, one Cambodian-American, and one Korean-American all told me about how people doubt their attractiveness (and occassionally, the “purity” of their ethnicity) because they are considered dark by the standards of other Asian Americans.
It’s another thing to be confronted with that in print though.
The uneasy feeling became too much to ignore. So while the fashion spreads make me weak – and manage to magically free my credit card from my wallet – I am going to have to leave the next issue of Thirteen Minutes on the shelf.
Scanning the shelves of a local bookstore, I noticed one small copy of Audrey peering out from behind the dozens of Women’s Interest magazines crowding the shelf. I snatched it up excitedly – after hearing about it in the comments for my post lamenting the loss of Vibe Vixen (thanks joyous!), I wanted to see what Audrey was all about.
After reading the last few issues, I can tell you this: The woman who reads Audrey is a woman I need in my friends circle.
Completely enjoyable, Audrey blends the perfect amount of intelligence and frivolity. For example, Audrey affords ample front-of-the-book space to the latest in pop culture, including art, fashion, books, film releases and DVDs. In addition to their Upstarts column – which focuses on Asian/Asian-American activists – Audrey also features profiles of Asian-Americans wherever they are found: in the boxing ring, at an entrepreneurial gala, behind a movie camera, or on stage.
Audrey was also the only magazine that people frequently commented on. With their au courant cover models featured prominently, I found myself involved in a few dozen checkout line conversations.
“Oh, you like her?” The Asian cashier at Barnes and Noble cafe started paging through the magazine, leaving my iced chai tea to melt on the back counter. “Did you see the movie?”
It took me a moment to place what she was talking about, as the cover was Tang Wei – and I had not yet seen the advertisements for Lust, Caution.
The next issue I purchased had the same effect. The smiling face of Lindsay Price prompted many people to ask me if I was going to watch Lipstick Jungle.
Audrey also features he said/she said feature, along with fashion and make-up trends. There is also an amusing “Cultural Collage” section on the back page which covers trials, tribulations, and Asian-Americana with a humorous gloss. Overall, the magazine was solid. (And, I must fully disclose that the magazine did a feature on hottie DJ Hapa which means I will love them 4eva.)
But my favorite part of the magazine was it’s overall tone of inclusiveness. A recent first person perspective piece explored the realities of being bi-racial and the quest for identity, with the author taking the last paragraph to openly muse about the identity issues that surface if she were to have a child with another bi-racial partner.
Audrey’s movie and media picks reflect the best of culture period, from African-American fronted movies like This Christmas to the soundtrack for the indie film Dedication to novels about Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu “rudeboys” in London. Audrey also featured a letter from an African-American woman who had married into a Japanese family and is now fielding very targeted questions from her mother in law about how she is going to raise her child. I adore the multicultural perspective in Audrey because I feel like this is a glaring flaw on the part of targeted magazines. Why don’t we – as minorities – see each other?
In sum, the new crop of magazines is promising, but fighting for shelf space. While all three publications add a valuable new voice to the cacophony of recycled images and material in mainstream mags, their survival is not guaranteed. As with most PoC targeted magazines, their advertising revenue never quite reaches the same level as comparable titles from the larger publishing houses. Without ad revenues, it is difficult for fledgling magazines to thrive in an already oversaturated market. And if the publication happens to fail, both the industry and advertisers will assume that consumers have no use for Asian-American targeted magazines.
It is my sincere hope – regardless of how I personally feel about each title – that I still see all of these glossies available on the newsstand next year. We cannot continue to have one token magazine for each demographic of color.
And we must let the industry know that our voices, our ideas, and our thoughts matter.
*No, this isn’t normal. I read a lot of Japanese fashion magazines (and a few Korean ones) and while there may be white people featured in advertisements, very rarely do they use white models in their spreads. I must admit, my import magazines have an Onee-Kei bias, but I can only remember one magazine (Ginza) that featured predominantly white models in their fashion spreads. Ceci (S. Korea), S Cawaii (Japan), Kera (Japan), CanCan (Japan), JJ (Japan), Egg (Japan), and ViVi (Japan) all feature Korean, Japanese, or hapa models. I’ve also skimmed the Gothi-Loli bible, Cawaii, Fruits and a few others and the leads are generally Japanese, with a few mixed people modeling.
When I first starting researching this article (back in late December), I asked the attendees at Hae’s birthday party – 22 or so generation 1.5 or 2.0 Asian-Americans, all in the target demographic of 20 – 30 years old. No one could think of why white models would be used in a magazine targeting Asian-Americans.