A wise man once said, “I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.” Same, Derek, same.
Growing up, I never thought I was attractive, but that changed in middle school when I discovered hair gel. Suddenly, girls were noticing me and guys were giving me high fives. In college, I was known as that guy who dresses well. Before long, I would find myself agonizing over my daily clothing choices and spending countless hours in the bathroom fixing my hair in pursuit of validation from other people. One day on campus, a girl started a conversation that ended with her saying, “You’re really cute for an Asian guy. I didn’t know people in wheelchairs could be this funny.” I had heard many comments like this before, but this one was particularly annoying, so I got up and left. If you’re an ethnic minority and/or have a disability you will hear this at least once in your lifetime and more than likely continue to hear it for the foreseeable future.
A few years later, I moved back home and was faced with an issue: I wasn’t seeing people on a daily basis, so there was no need to wear nice clothes. The identity that I had clung to ever since I was young was fading. Thankfully, this was a blessing in disguise. With the help of friends and family I realized that my self-worth was not found in my appearance, but someone higher and greater than I could ever be. Even so, that girl’s words stuck with me. Why couldn’t I be good-looking, Asian AND disabled?
It was around this time when something I like to call “The New Asian Renaissance” began. People like Sung Kang, John Cho, Henry Golding, Eugene Lee Yang, Lewis Tan, Manny Jacinto, Simu Liu, Steven Yeun and Hasan Minhaj, were now recognizable names in mainstream media. I was asked about my opinions on K-pop, kimchi, and the Oldboy remake from non-Asians. I know there are more examples, I haven’t even mentioned any of the fabulous women. The same thing was happening in the disability world. People like Zack Anner, Daryl Mitchell, Micah Fowler, Steve Way, Toby Forrest, and RJ Mitte were making waves in the media as well. For the first time in a long time I was able to look up to people who weren’t Bruce Lee or Stephen Hawking.
Why did I want to become a Q Roll Model? To tell all the all kids with disabilities and ethnic minorities out there that they are beautifully and wonderfully made. Your differences make you unique and are all the more deserving of love. The free chair doesn’t hurt either. Finally, a word to my younger self:
Your appearance and body will fade, aim higher. If it helps, you’re a model now, which is proof that you can be good-looking, Asian, and disabled, so that girl sucks; but also, she probably didn’t want to date you because you’re still terribly awkward and your jokes are lame. Try to get on television.
About Tim Shin: Tim lives in River Vale, NJ, and works as a communications manager for AbleThrive, a nonprofit organization. He enjoys food, fashion, music and television. Click here to learn more about Tim.