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Change My Race (ATOM Study Guide)

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Chinese–Australian actress, TV presenter and new mum Anna Choy takes a personal and highly confronting journey uncovering the growing trend of deracialisation cosmetic surgery in Australia. This is no simple case of nip and tuck; procedures include extreme facial contouring, double eyelid surgery, nose jobs, skin-whitening and calf reductions.

Anna's journey begins in Australia, where the iconic Australian beauty is the blonde beach babe. For Anna and other mixed-race Australians like her, this is the unattainable ideal of beauty.

But if you aren't born with a white face, can you buy one? Anna's journey takes her to the global capital of cosmetic surgery: Seoul. There in the Gangnam district, she discovers over 500 cosmetic surgery clinics, where people are being transformed from top to toe. She discovers that the desired look here is for the western-influenced 'baby face' – big eyes, high-bridged nose, pointed chin and V-lined face.

Anna returns home to Australia, a one Anglo-dominant society that is today a tolerant melting pot. Or is it?

She meets three young Asian–Australian women all considering surgery. First is sixteen-year-old Kathy of Vietnamese heritage. For Kathy, the decision to fix her face is coming not from her but from her parents, who are keen for her to make the most of herself. Meeting Kathy is confronting for Anna, as she struggles to understand how a parent would ever want to alter their child's face.

The next girl Anna meets Is Thuy, a confident 23-year-old of Vietnamese descent. She too is having double eyelid surgery for what she refers to as 'less Asian' eyes. The next step for Thuy is botox. It's injected into the jaw to relax the muscle and give her a slimmer and more 'beautiful' face.

Anna also meets Noi, a young Aussie of Thai descent. She is preparing to journey to the country of her birth, which has now become a booming centre for cosmetic tourism. Despite her Asian body type, Noi is seeking the curvy figure of a western body ideal, and for Noi that means bigger breasts.

Anna discovers the most obvious racial marker is also a target for change – skin. On the high street, African hair salons sell a host of creams and potions that claim to lighten even the darkest skins. Many of these creams have harmful side-effects on the skin and body. Some have high levels of steroids and prolonged usage can be dangerous, even fatal.

Anna meets Sri Lankan–Australian Dominique, for whom lightening skin dominated her teenage years. She grew up between Sri Lanka and a small town in Queensland. For Dominique, her skin colour defined her life in both places. In Sri Lanka her skin was lighter than most and she was treated like a princess, but back in Australia she was teased and bullied. Even though the creams didn't work, they gave Dominique a sense of confidence and an ability to cope.

A major power driver in the desire for 'white' is the fashion industry. Anna visits the Perth Modelling Academy, teaching women to be models. 95 per cent of the models on the books in Australia are white. For the young aspiring ethnic models Anna meets, their work prospects will be limited at best.

Feminist writer and commentator Ruby Harnad explains what the underlying message is from so many of the images from the beauty and fashion industries: 'To be human is to be white; to be black or Asian is a variation of being human.'

Anna admits that the journey is making her feel more different and more conspicuous than she's ever felt in Australia. It's stirred up uncomfortable feelings about her own face and she begins to question whether her face belongs here.

For Anna, the journey has rattled her sense of identity and shaken what it means to look and feel like an Australian. As a mum, she is worried about her own little girl of mixed heritage. What future will she face? And what does this mean for the future of multicultural Australia?

Curriculum Links:

The curriculum areas that Change My Race can be related to include English and History.

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