We ordered fried chicken, papaya salad, and sticky rice.
I picked up the tray of food and followed my wife toward the food court. She pushed our baby in the stroller with one hand and towed our three year old with the other. As we navigated the tight cafeteria on the ground floor of Paradise Park, the eyes of eaters oscillated toward us.
“So cute,” a girl said as she threw smiles at my daughters.
“Look at the little kid. Look at the little kid,” a mother told her son.
We sat down at a table to eat. I unwrapped the rubber band from a bag of nam-jim and a big-haired lady came over to have a closer look at my daughters.
“They should be actresses or models,” she said as she inspected my daughter’s face and stroked my daughter’s arm.
My daughters are beautiful human beings. But I’m a realist and the truth is, if we still lived in America people would consider them average. Because we live in Thailand though, they embody the standards of Thai beauty: light skin and prominent noses.
My wife forced a smile. And although I smiled too, on the inside I wanted to tell the lady to piss off. But over the last two years I’ve become efficient at disguising my frustrations behind a smile.
If this was a one-off comment it wouldn’t have ruined my lunch. But more often than not people wonder when we’re going to put our daughters into acting or modeling.
If I had 5 baht for every time someone asked us this question, I could afford that $60 tub of Legos from Mega Bangna.
It makes me wonder why anyone—not just Thais—would think it’s okay to push kids into something they have no interest in, for purely selfish reasons.
Last month, I watched a girl squirm and cry while her mother forced a brush of makeup across the girl’s face in preparation for a beauty contest at the mall. The mother put up a fight of her own, insisting her daughter obey. The mother’s head clicked back and forth between the stage and her daughter’s face in anticipation of her daughter’s on-stage appearance.
Her eyes said it all. Her daughter, in the mother’s mind, was her token to fortune. But that wasn’t the worst part.
The young girls who wanted to participate in the event concerned me more. Somewhere along the way society convinced them that their looks will carry them through life. And maybe for a few of them that might be true, at least until nature does its thing. But at these crucial stages of development children need to learn life skills. Because after looks fade, what will they have to fall back on? Aside from plastic surgery, I guess.
Maybe I’m passionate about this because I watched my aunt force my cousins to become actors, and in turn destroy a family.
Maybe Thailand isn’t like America. Perhaps child actors in Thailand don’t go from Disney to drugs to death. Maybe Thailand’s entertainment industry doesn’t swallow children whole and regurgitate them broken.
Or maybe it does.
And why would I want my daughters playing some subservient role in a slap/kiss Thai lakorn? I’m trying to raise two independent and strong girls. But most of the female drama stars perpetuate this idea that women are powerless. They’re abused and raped and smacked around all because of their own “wrongdoing.”
I’m not a feminist or anything. And I’ve done my fair share of objectifying women. But having daughters changes a thinking man. It’s different when they’re your own. Hypocritical? Sure. But different nonetheless. I’d rather my daughters empower people, not enslave them.
And who has the power over an actress’s life anyway? The media? The entertainment industry? The corporate sponsors? The gossip columnists? To think that my daughters would be at the mercy of these merchants of chaos makes me mad. As actresses, my daughters would be relevant only for as long as their looks are profitable. And never mind the self-indulgence.
We live in a world with billions of people. What does it benefit a person to think the world revolves around them? I’d like my daughters to cultivate an interest in other people and places, to learn new things from those people and places, and to apply the insight they learned to their own lives. But when the cameras are always focused on you, how much interest in the outside world would you have?
In a strange way, the reason I’m able to write this now is because my mother let me chose my own path in life. She gave me the freedom to find myself and carve my own legacy. Her influence, or lack of it, is a big reason I live in Thailand. My wife’s mother was just the opposite. She never gave my wife the freedom to do what she wanted. And then after university my wife boarded a plane for America and didn’t return to Thailand for 10 years. Between my childhood and my wife’s, we both agree that our daughters should choose what they want to do.
This also means I can’t force my daughters not to become actresses or models. If it’s something they want to be when they’re of sound mind, then I’ll support them. But building up their personal character will always take precedence over building up some on-screen character.
Because just as I don’t want their arms stroked now, I don’t want their egos stroked later.
Featured image is by Null0 (CC BY 2.0 licence)