Before June 25th my kids never heard of Michael Jackson. And why would they? He hasn’t put out an album in years, and he’s been mostly out of the public view for their entire lives.
They didn’t hear about his death from me. While I was aware of it from close to the moment it was confirmed publicly (since I live on the Internet, pretty much), it wasn’t something I even thought to mention to them. But they heard about it at camp and seemed to pick up on the enormous public interest and media frenzy right away. They wanted to know who he was and why he was famous.
So I pulled up Thriller on YouTube (I thought they’d be scared, but they understood it was a “movie”). They had a hard time reconciling the Michael Jackson in the Thriller video with the current version of him. Belle kept asking why he looks like a woman now. Krystal was curious about the changing color of his skin and shape of his nose.
My kids are Asian, living in a mostly Caucasian world. Even at their tender ages they’ve been targets of kids pulling their eyes into slits to make themselves look like them (News Flash: When you pull your eyes into slits you just look like you pulled your eyes into slits – you do not look Asian in the slightest. Also, you look ridiculous. And racist). Krystal in particular has said more than once that she wishes she looked like me. When she says this, she means she wishes she were not Asian. “I don’t want to be Chinese and American. I just want to be American.” This makes me sad to hear, and I hurt for her. Obviously I think she is beautiful just the way she is. I happen to think she is physically beautiful, but she is also pretty gorgeous on the inside too. But kids never want to hear that and she has dismissed my praise as “Of course you think that, you’re my mom!”
And so when they see someone like Michael Jackson deliberately changing his looks so drastically, I cringe. I cannot speak to his claim that he had a skin lightening disease. I’m not a doctor and frankly it’s not really any of my business. Regardless, his features have been radically changed through plastic surgery, and he no longer looks like the same person he was in the 80’s. I wish he had been happy with his looks. I wish that for him, since I have to think he must have had a lot of self-hatred to make the changes he did, but I also wish it selfishly, for my kids. For my kids whose looks do not fit the “norm” and who already sometimes wish they looked different. Krystal and Belle have both said about MJ that “he should just be happy with how he looks”, and I’m glad they can say that. It’s the longer term message that might seep in when no one is looking that conerns me.