From being bullied as one of the few Asian students at her school, to struggling to meet her family's expectations, Selina Chhaur knows how significantly her cultural background has impacted her life thus far. Now at 33, the hairdresser made one of the most pivotal decisions of her life in the past year, choosing to put romance into the hands of three experts on Married At First Sight (MAFS). Dating can be challenging at the best of times, and Chhaur acknowledges the impact that being an Asian woman can have on finding a relationship when offensive stereotypes come into play.
The daughter of Cambodian and Chinese immigrants shares that she's been subject to Asian fetishization in the past, where she's been approached by men who have "yellow fever." "It's so cringe. Yellow fever should not be a thing," Chhaur tells Refinery29 Australia. "Sadly, it is a thing and a lot of my ex-partners [who were European or Caucasian], even though they wouldn't use that term, if you look at their past record of their exes, they were all Asian."
Yellow fever is a term referring to non-Asian people’s explicit sexual preference and desire for Asians, often describing white men's fetishes for Asian women. It infers offensive stereotypes such as Asian women being subservient and hyper-sexual and not viewed as ordinary citizens.
Chhaur says that the stereotype of all Asian women being obedient is extremely problematic and one that men have assumed of her in the past. "I think there's this thing of Asian women being submissive and really subdued and not really having much of an opinion," she says. "I know guys who go for Asian women because they think they're like that. But then they bump into someone like me and they're like, 'Holy shit!' [Because] I've got opinions."
The stereotyping of Asian people in the media over the years hasn't helped either. Chhaur recalls growing up watching actor Lucy Liu on the big screen. "To me, she was still quite sexualized, especially with Charlie's Angels," she reflects. She also refers to Ken Jeong's character, Mr Chow in The Hangover, as an example, which has been argued to be a "caricature" of Asian people.
Going onto a show like MAFS has been a daring leap of faith for Chhaur, especially because she has received limited support from her parents. She shares that the dynamic between them has sometimes been challenging. While they expected her to pursue a traditional, 'professional' career, she left school at the end of year 10 to become a hairdresser. "Growing up they expected that I had to go to school, get a degree, go to uni and become a doctor or a lawyer. And I went completely against that," she says.
I just basically have the attitude that if someone tells me no, I'm going to prove them wrong.
Chhaur's father came to Australia as an orphan and her mother as a refugee in the 1970s during the Khmer Rouge regime. Like many immigrant families, they worked hard to build a future for their children — a life they didn't have back home. Chhaur faced a battle that many second-generation Asian Australians do as she felt caught between two cultures, and choosing between submitting to parental pressure versus pursuing her own dreams. "I'm the black sheep of the family," she says. "I've never done anything the traditional way but I respect my culture and I'm very proud of my culture."
When Chhaur first told her mum about her plans to go into hairdressing, she says her reaction was one of disgust. "She was like, 'We sacrificed all of this for you to go and sweep hair.' Like they just couldn't wrap their head around that. They were so taken aback and obviously very disappointed."
But Chhaur still followed her heart. "I just basically have the attitude that if someone tells me no, I'm going to prove them wrong."
While she's thrived in her career for over a decade, the long hours and commitment to the job have meant that Chhaur's love life has seemingly taken a back seat. When she's gone on dating apps in the past, she's often been "ghosted." "The reason I did Married at First Sight was because I just realized I'm 33 now and I've spent half my life — I've literally been doing this since I was like 16 — trying to prove a point to my parents that they're never going to get," she explains.
"And because I did sacrifice a lot of my time drowning myself into work, it did affect my social life and my dating." She thought to herself, "I can either work on myself and my career, or I can keep going on these dates and waste my time and get ghosted and have no closure."
Chhaur says having the guidance of the three experts — clinical sexologist Alessandra Rampolla, relationship expert John Aiken, and dating and relationship expert Melissa Schilling — is a big advantage of the MAFS experience. "I just thought, you know you've got three amazing experts that will guide you and call you out really on your bullshit," she says. "No one's perfect and I just really wanted to go on to obviously find my soulmate, find the one and also learn about how to sustain healthy relationships."