‘I wanted so badly to be hot’: Simu Liu talks the challenges of growing up as an Asian male

  • Simu Liu described growing up as an Asian male teenager as “very hard,” as he was “constantly aware of how I was being perceived.”

  • Liu said it was challenging as a teenager because the media portrayed Asian males as being “awkward, nerdy and completely undateable.”

  • When he worked at Abercrombie and Fitch, Liu said it made him feel “good” but he later realized he was hired to fill a racial quota.

  • The 33-year-old actor is now more confident with his looks and wants to be a role model for breaking Asian male stereotypes.

Actor Simu Liu described growing up as an Asian male teenager as challenging due to the media’s stereotypical portrayal of Asian men as being “awkward” and “nerdy.”

In his memoir “We Were Dreamers,” Liu described the experience of growing up as an Asian male as a “total mindf*ck” due to the media’s portrayal of Asian men as being “awkward, nerdy and completely undateable.”

Speaking with The Independent to promote his book, the 33-year-old Chinese Canadian actor shared his experiences growing up as an Asian male. Liu recalled feeling pressure to be admired by others and would often “say or do things to capture people’s attention.” 

“In my younger years, I was desperate for the admiration of others. Sometimes I would try to say or do things to capture people’s attention, but people would just roll their eyes. It would never work,” Liu told the British news outlet. “It’s like being cool in high school. You either have it or you don’t and I most definitely did not. None of the pieces were falling where they should and I hated it. I was a sad kid.”

As a teenager in the early 2000s, Liu took a job at Abercrombie and Fitch although he “both resented and admired [the] white bastion of beauty.” Shortly after he began working there, Liu realized that he was hired to fill a racial quota; however, he still felt “good” about being able to work at the fashion retailer.

“It’s very embarrassing, but I wanted so badly to be hot. I wanted so badly to be desired and loved and admired. I had an attention deficiency at home, but also I was probably just a dumb kid who wanted a girlfriend and to be thought of as attractive. I mean, who doesn’t?” Liu was quoted as saying.

Liu also talked about the disagreements he had with his immigrant parents during childhood and how he now wants to humanize them, as they are not “villains.” A large part of Liu’s book covers the relationship he had with his parents, who once described him as an “investment.” He writes about how they provided little emotional warmth despite getting good grades and would often hit him when he talked back. 

“If I got a bad mark, I was berated for being either stupid or some variation of a failure. If I talked back, they would smack me around a little,” Liu wrote in his book. “Our relationship was almost irreconcilable. Every single day was torture for me.”

Despite the troubling relationship he had with his parents growing up, Liu now understands that it is not entirely their fault and that they too have gone through tremendous struggles. 

“Ask any child of any immigrant family if they’ve had a heated argument with their parents that sometimes got physical.” Liu told The Independent. “That’s the immigrant mentality. That’s the panic that runs through all of our parents’ veins. So when you have a child that is threatening to undo all that you’ve worked hard for, you’d be pretty mad. I’m not trying to make excuses for their actions, but I am trying to contextualize them. My parents aren’t villains.”

After starring as the titular hero in the 2021 Marvel film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Liu now has more confidence in himself and aspires to be the role model that breaks the same Asian male stereotypes that affected him as a child. 

“I don’t feel like I’m the hottest man in the world,” Liu said. “But what I’m trying to be is a model of self-assuredness. The fun of being topless every once in a while is feeling like… yeah, I worked for this! I deserve to feel good in my skin! And if it happens to shatter a couple of stereotypes along the way, then sure, why not?”


Image: Time

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