From ugly duckling to Chinese princess to “aging unemployed” bread-winner: a fairy tale

By Catherine Li, ASIA

September 12, 2004 – I never played with a Barbie doll as I was growing up because I didn’t like its plastic feel or the painted eyes that showed no sign of life. And yet, as a teen-ager I wished that I was blond, blue-eyed, busty, and long legged. Unfortunately, nature gave me brown eyes, a flat face as if a steam roller had gone over it and yellow skin that turns into a muddy brown under the sunlight. No matter how many tissues I tucked under my blouse, it just didn’t look the same. And then, my legs are sturdy and strong that are meant to walk great distances. Whenever I had the opportunity I would enviously eye the long stem beauties in the high school gym. To my great disappointment, I did not measure up to Barbie. So, how can I hope to capture the heart of Ken?

But then, I went to college in New York City, the great melting pot, where any young nubile maid who was non-WASP or Jewish princess was considered mysterious and alluring. In one semester, I was transformed from an ugly duckling to a beauty queen at the university in a traditional cheongsam with the slits up the thighs in the days of miniskirts while walking down the runway with a preppie escort in my arm. Overnight I shed the role of a scullery maid and stepped onto a stage where I held court. And a princess I vowed to remain.

Since I was not a Barbie doll, I studied to be a Chinese princess who is thin and waiflike with long, glossy black hair, and demure. In the old days, a Chinese princess never laughs out loud and when she smiles, she does not show her teeth, but covers her mouth. It was really not difficult to look like one. I just had to eat less, just a small container of yogurt for lunch. And then after all, I was born with well-shaped feet. All I had to remember in those days was to wear shoes a size smaller. Truly blessed by nature.

As the years passed by, I began to notice the drooping eyelids and the slack under the chin ever so lightly. It became alarming when the waiflike quality slowly turned into pleasingly plumpness. Whereas in the early princess years, I look into the camera with studied seductive eyes, in my middle years, I tilt my head up slightly to avoid the double chin.

But when an aging princess becomes unemployed, then difficulty arises, especially in the hip twenty-first century when anything goes. The women’s movement has traded in male superiority for equality. It’s not enough to love, honor, and obey or is it to cherish …in sickness or health, for richer or poorer…until death do us part?

Now an aging unemployed Chinese princess has to have many more skills and qualifications, otherwise she will be a scullery maid once more. Not only does she have to be nurturing and supportive, she has to bring home the bacon also. The bigger the piece, the greater is her value. In the old days before woman’s liberation, once you had sampled the ware, you bought the goods, but now men like to test drive the car before purchase to see whether the car has power, pick up speed, style and good looks, and of course whether it provides one-upmanship. At this point, maintenance is not an issue. If the gas tank is empty it is not his problem.


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