My Ex Cyberbullied Me

When my ex and I broke up after a tumultuous relationship, I was seventeen and navigating my first weeks of college. Despite being continents apart and distracted from my new life, he was inescapable: photos plagued my phone, memories were strewn all over social media.

Images can be removed and messages can be deleted, yet his online presence haunted me as I was doing my utmost to move on.

It started with rather typical posts featuring depressing captions that someone would publish when they feel the hardship that comes with a break-up. However, things quickly escalated and I had no control over the impulsive sentimental narratives he was crafting to gain sympathy from others.

Scrolling, I felt helpless as a stained image of me was designed. I was painted as the evil ex in the eyes of anyone from his university who had never met me and was willing to believe his version of events.

The hardest part of it all was that these words were typed by someone I trusted, someone I thought would never intentionally try to hurt me. I suddenly didn’t know who the person I’d dated for the last year was. The way everything ensued after the break-up was beginning to taint the good memories I had of us.

While I don’t tend to spend a lot of time worrying about strangers’ opinions of me, this phenomenon forced me to experience firsthand the scary extent to which anyone can spread unverified facts through social media.

As he was blaming me for his panic attacks on his Instagram, he was also regularly sending me countless derogatory texts, saying he hoped that I’d “rot in hell”, and other harsh or death-related messages. While blocking was an option, that still didn’t stop his frenzied posts — posts that often got deleted as quickly as they were published.

I unfollowed him, but my friends still often notified me whenever something alluding to me was posted.

This lack of closure made me write dozens of letters I ultimately never sent him, many back-and-forths on whether the things he’d said about me were worth confronting. There was a petty part of my brain that fantasized about posting all the ‘receipts’ of the toxicity I went through with him — instead, I poured my emotions into my personal growth.

Then, suddenly, his online chronicles stopped.

He reached out to me, apologized, and we talked things through. After everything he put me through online, I wish I could say that I hated speaking to him, but I didn’t. I still felt affection for him even after it all. He made me understand that he was going through really hard times, and I understood that his posts served as (unhealthy) coping mechanisms. I even invested a couple of days helping him with his breakdowns. After the conversation, I thought we were on good terms. I thought the agitation would stop — that is, until I saw on my birthday, a few weeks later a post reading: “Happy birthday bitch hope it’s your last.”

This is when my brain finally understood how manipulative he was. Just like the way he put rose-colored glasses on me throughout our relationship, he was never going to stop caring about his pride and fabricating whatever story he wanted others to believe for his own sake.

However, there is an upside to all of this.

Seeing this side of him magnified reassured me of the path I was on in my own life. While I could not honestly say that I have completely forgiven him for his toxic behavior, I know that I am halfway there, and I still wish the best for him. The experience reminded me that the judgment of people who do not know me, doesn’t matter.

A tip to anyone who is currently in the middle of a break-up: as tempting as it may be, avoid publicizing your relationship or break-up online. Focus on your own mental wellbeing instead.



Gif by Barbara Pozzi. Photos (in order of appearance) by Kama Snow and Isabelle Abbott. 


What Happens When The Beauty Standard Is White


Whenever I go to the south of France in summertime, I find myself surrounded by thousands of beach-goers who bask in some long-awaited sunlight far from the city gloom. Sitting on their towels, I see swimsuited women accentuate their bronzed skin with tanning products that would never be as popular in Asia; “美白 (mei bai),” which directly translates to “beautiful white,” is a key phrase I have often heard in Chinese skin-care commercials. There, pearly skin is held to be glamorous, a sign of cultural refinement.

This paradigm has been deeply rooted in Chinese history. Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), one’s social class can been defined by the tone of their skin: the peasantry is known to work long hours in agricultural fields under the blazing sun, giving them a tan that distinguishes them from higher-class citizens.

Elevation of pale skin is widespread on the Asian continent for reasons that often link back to Western colonialism. In Japan, the arrival of Commodore Perry and his American ships in 1853 was succeeded by the Meiji Restoration in which Japanese men and women began imitating Western fashion and appearances. Similarly, Korea was introduced to Western beauty standards after opening its ports to foreign powers in 1876.

Nowadays, white skin is so desirable in China that many invest in skin whitening products, never forget to carry umbrellas on sunny days, and use Asian photo-editing apps that are automated to lighten their complexions. Representation of the wide range of pigmentations that exist is scarce for a country with a population of more than 1.3 billion and 56 ethnic groups. Most famous actors and singers in the nation have light skin tones, and that is no coincidence.

Clearly, some major aspects of Chinese culture send a strong and hostile message in terms of what skin tones are desirable, and even acceptable. While this is bad enough, these prejudiced standards have also seeped into China’s perceptions of other cultures and, in turn, encourage anti-blackness. A recent example of this is the eruption of the discriminatory reactions in China to the release of Black Panther — a movie that was celebrated on other continents for its almost all-black cast. One online reviewer called it “almost a torture for the eyes” for the “dark color of the movie.” Another reproached the movie for its “political correctness” and blamed the “group of black shadows fighting” for his urge to leave the movie theater early.

The “beautiful white” that is so desperately sought after by the Chinese quickly and dangerously translates to a resentment of other skin colors. And yet, this sentiment is often vastly overlooked — normalized even. An example of the normalization of this hatred could be observed when Chinese actors were put in blackface to appear African on a television skit, and the government brushed off accusations that this was problematic, even after facing widespread criticism.

My French-Congolese friend has been one to experience the blurred lines of cultural discrimination and curiosity in Shanghai; his hair is shamelessly touched on the subway, parents pull their children away from him, and he’s even been subjected to tense confrontations where he’s been told to “go back to his country.” As Asian territories are globalizing, it has become evident that skin preference isn’t an issue that limits itself to mere beauty standards; it is becoming a cultural hurdle. While this kind of clash may be initially uncomfortable for everyone involved, I do believe that progress can and must come from it.

Studies have shown that media representation of different ethnic groups is essential for these communities’ social presence as well as for the education of viewers about their lived experiences. It’s also noteworthy to remember that these representations, if derogatory (such as the aforementioned Chinese blackface), can seriously impact and subsequently skew audiences’ perceptions of other ethnicities.

Undoing beliefs that have been instilled for centuries is an obvious challenge, but it is significant to remember that our society has never been more exposed than it is now to a media that is challenging the parameters of beauty worldwide. In the case of China, a place currently considered a job hotspot for expats, I believe that the positive media representation and physical growth of different ethnic groups will allow for a substantial increase in representation. However, this alone is not enough. Ensuring that this representation is both empowering and ethical is the crucial next step in order to achieve a world with not only tolerance, but admiration for the countless skin tones that do, in fact, exist under the sun.


Photos (in order of appearance) by Takeshi Takagi, @Rosey-Ballerina, Ren Hang, and Fumi Nagasaka.



The Effects Of My Father’s Alcoholism


It was routine to walk past the front door after school and see my dad postured in the living room, the same way as when I’d left the house that morning. He would invariably be found sitting sunken and absorbed by the black leather cushion, laptop on his lap, with a few devoted beer-bottled companions by his feet.

To this day, my father is one of the smartest and hardest-working people I know. However, his actions throughout my childhood didn’t reflect these qualities and paved the way for especially brutal attributes. It doesn’t matter how exceptional of a person you are, a grave mental illness has the power to overshadow your identity. It also has the power to make your own loved-ones question themselves.

As a child, I could never decipher how his character could be so contradictory. How could one flip between the extremities of caring and heartless, open-minded and judgmental, kind and brutal so easily? How could I explain this kind of behavior to others and myself — was I just being oversensitive? And how could I make his (oh-so-precious) “happy moments” last longer? These questions trotted around my head for years, and it took me a long time to realize these weren’t thoughts a child is supposed to have in the first place.

The environment we grow up in is bound to affect our mentality and it goes without saying that being raised under his roof impacted mine. I spent years struggling to comprehend the difference between normal and irrational behaviors, learning to trust other adults, and developing healthy coping skills. Little did I know, I wasn’t alone in this situation: in fact, 68% and 57% of mentally ill women and men are parents. It is common that their children, in turn, adopt various hazardous habits and symptoms such as feelings of guilt, disorientation, inability to communicate, and isolation.

I was surprised to find that children of alcoholics tend to share distinct traits (14 are listed on the Adult Children of Alcoholics Organization’s website), to name a few: attraction to compulsive personalities, feelings of guilt when standing up for ourselves, confusion between love and pity, developing dependent personalities, living life from a victim’s standpoint, and having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. While I do not condone systematic self-diagnosis and radical labeling, it was extremely helpful for me to find where many of my own mental habits stemmed from. From there, I have been able to make tremendous mental growth in recent years.

No matter where I’ve lived, whether it be in Asia or Europe, mental illnesses have been attributed to myths and stigmas because many people don’t have the chance to learn about them properly. For most of my life, I couldn’t reason my father’s behavior and wasn’t until years after his recovery that, through fragments of resources, I could make sense of his illness. If I were to go back in time, I would give my younger self countless pieces of advice and information. I would’ve explained to young Irène that nothing about the situation was her fault, that it was abnormal, that the presence of trusted adults in her life was essential, and most importantly that her father’s dependency didn’t define him as a person.

My dad returned home from his emergency rehabilitation treatment by the time I was in middle school. It was then I discovered an entirely new side of him — a side that had been buried under the weight of his addiction for the last decade. His soberness caused him to lose weight, giving him a sudden physical sprout of energy. Mentally, he had a more balanced mindset and personality. Some of the best memories I have of him come from our walks around in Paris after he gained his health back, in which he’d point at every little corner of the city and spew out historical facts like a walking encyclopedia.

This is why I believe that being able to gain an accurate understanding of mental illnesses starting from a young age is vital. It is an issue that no one should have to shoulder alone, including those who are affected by a loved one’s disorder.

Although mental health is still overlooked in many schools and communities, it is a blessing that a range of external resources (especially online ones) are becoming increasingly available for people with internet access. I look forward to seeing our society grow from grass-root awareness to one that actively defeats the taboo associated with mental illnesses as a whole.


Below are some online resources that you can use to learn more about mental illness:


Stop Calling People “Exotic”



Some have said I “look more Asian” while others have noted that I “look pretty white.” I look like both and I am both! My mother is Chinese, my father mostly German; and I’ve received my fair share of reactions to that my whole life.

As the phenomenon of Eurasian children is relatively new — or at least mixes with Chinese genes are, since my country only globalized in the 70s — culturally insensitive remarks don’t always get to me. While more often than not, these remarks are well-intentioned; we should be aware of how we treat people’s identities. I’m sure that future generations will habituate and react properly to mixed cultures, as they’re becoming increasingly mainstream, but for me today, this is still an issue. 

I moved back to Europe from Asia a couple of months ago and have since become all too familiar with “yellow fever,” or the fetishizing of Asians. White people have also been throwing an interesting term at me a lot more often: exotic. It provokes a little churn in my stomach and feels different than being called “interesting” or “beautiful,” though that is generally what is meant or implied.

In the dictionary “exotic” is either a noun that points to “a plant or animal,” or an adjective that signifies “attractive or striking because colorful or out of the ordinary.” Let’s set this straight from the get-go: the only way in which I fit this definition is that I am an uncommon embodiment of two particular cultures, and as a result, have an unconventional and interesting set of physical features. Being biracial may be “out of the ordinary,” but not in the way some white people interpret it. 

For them, it seems that I am “out of the ordinary” simply because I’m not entirely white. Which suggests that whiteness is the default race and defines what’s “normal.” To them, what makes me “exotic” isn’t the fact that I’m biracial, but the fact that I’m something other than Caucasian. Being held to a Western standard makes me feel like a perpetual foreigner.

As this is my first time dating outside of Asia, I’ve had to ask myself quite a few times whether someone was interested in me for the anticipated “exoticism,” or for me in my entirety. Am I “exotic” because I have an awesome heritage and an interesting phenotype? Or are you simply looking at me like a fetishizing colonialist who’s going to swaddle me back to his homeland and show me off like a parrot? No, really — seeing a white guy grin and exclaim, “Fuck yeah!” when he found out about my origins made me shudder.

Preference of certain physical aspects over others is completely normal, but having a thing for blondes is a different matter than othering entire ethnic groups. There are colonialist elements deeply rooted in history that make “exotic” coming out of a white male’s mouth sound a wee-bit sketchy, to say the least.

The word “exotic” itself was used by colonists to describe new territory, animals, and plants. They hyper-sexualized and exploited indigenous Asians’ (among other ethnic groups) “exotic-ness” in human zoos,  in which audiences were made up of white men and women. The word is historically charged, but most people aren’t aware of that and use it with innocuous intent.

I remember being called “exotic” by my Latino and Black friends in the past, but honestly didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t feel linked to any kind of stereotype or alienation, and I knew the word was being used as a way to describe my mixed background. From their mouths, it took on a different connotation; one that embraced both my unique features and my awesome culture.

This doesn’t change the fact that the word has a problematic past that makes using it today uncomfortable for everyone involved. Context does affect how the word makes myself and others feel, and we should be more mindful of how we regard others’ identities. 

When My Mother Found My Sex Toys


I’ve only ever seen my parents kiss, let alone hug, a handful of times. In a relatively stoical household where vulnerability is discouraged and sensitivity much condescended, it is needless to say that talking about sex wasn’t ever in the picture.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience proper sex-ed at school either. Instead, I have had to learn some lessons the hard way. I felt the privilege of being born in the digital age the first time I got a UTI. Answers to crucial questions — the same ones deemed “taboo” by my family — at my fingertips. Like many kids who were brought up with parents of different cultural backgrounds and/or in difficult homes, I’ve hidden (among other things) my relationships from my family.

Starting on the eve of my high school years, I always went underwear shopping alone. My mom’s skeptical eye watched as thongs and bras began integrating my closet. The first time I ordered a G-string online, the delivery box reached my mother before I got home from school but my nervousness completely dissipated once she’d asked, “How do you put this pollution mask on?”

My mom grew up in 1960s communist China where teenage relationships were unfathomable. And lingerie…? What lingerie?

By the time I turned 16, I was in my first serious relationship. Like my other flings, I didn’t tell my parents about it for almost an entire year. They eventually found out, would confront me about it in waves, and my discomfort with them knowing only grew. I almost felt like I was under a microscope. Rather than fading back into my natural skin tone, any hickeys I acquired turned into opportunities for my parents to condemn my sexual preferences, including my boyfriend. It didn’t matter that the love bites felt good to me, or that I really cared for my boyfriend;  I was heavily scolded and told to have “normal” sex.

Then, the fateful day came where my mom found our BDSM toys.

Having my room snooped through wasn’t anything new, but these findings were. By then, my stance on my parents’ skeptical views of my relationship had become more frustrated than anxious. Predictably, my mom told my boyfriend and me off, and threw the toys along with a dozen of our unrelated belongings in a trash bag. The latter was done out of spite.

I know there was an element of cultural clash in this frustration, but I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the anger came from my parents’ own controlling tendencies. “There are limits to these things,” they said, as they consistently pressured me to view the relationship from the same negative perspective they did. In their mind, the only ‘solution’ was for the two of us to break up. I’ve tried to be open to their opinions, but without fail, these opinions are narrow-minded and refuse to take my perspective seriously.

My side of the conversation never had the opportunity to get any consideration; if everything I do with my partner is 100 percent consensual and non-invasive of any other party, why are the limits anyone else’s but ours to set? If the way we feel about each other is healthy, why did we need to end things?

It is disheartening that these are the only real conversations about sex and relationships I’ve ever had with my parents, and I strongly believe that these kinds of family dynamics are what often discourage children to speak to their parents about different personal issues. Why would I ever opt to open up to my parents about these things if I knew this is the response I would receive? I wish things could have been different, but without working to normalize a culture of safe and informative sex positivity, too often, the result will be individuals getting shamed for owning their sexualities.

Last month, I packed my suitcases in which I hid the remainder of my toys and lingerie in between my jeans and hoodies. For the first time, I feel the freedom of not being told how to act and what to think. I feel the freedom of exploring sex and relationships on my own terms. And I feel good.