Why I'm Raising My Daughter To Break The Materialistic Asian Stereotype (And How I'm Doing It) (5 minute read)

Have you ever been to a Coach outlet? Or an Aritzia sale? Who do you see? What are stereotypical Asians obsessed about? Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton...Purses, sunglasses, clothes, shoes, cars...stuff, stuff and more stuff.

Materialism is rampant across all cultures; however, Asians have been stereotyped as being extremely materialisticThis perception is blatantly demonstrated in Kevin Lee's web show Ultra Rich Asian Girls. 

My non-materialistic beginning...

As someone who was born and raised in Vancouver, where the web show is based, I've not only witnessed this stereotype, but I'll confess that I've also taken part. 

I've never been a materialistic kid. As the youngest of 3, 
I rarely got to choose my stuff. Most of my clothes and toys were hand me downs. 

My fashion sense was irrelevant since my style was pre-selected. Once in a while, my sisters would throw me a bone like a coveted pair of Mavi jeans and I'd wear them till holes formed in the crotch. 

Because my parents were always transparent about their financial situation, stressing that "money doesn't grow on trees," I didn't complain much about not having new stuff. 

Reusing things was just part of life (you should see the tattered old car seat they used to prop me in).

Then it started...

When I was in University, I started making some real part-time money (not the minimum wage crap I got from working 2 shifts a week in high school). 

I barely had any bills to pay and I was living at home. After putting 10% in my savings, there was still "so much" disposable income! 

What did I do? Like a typical 18-year-old, I went out and spent frivolously, buying stuff, specifically clothes, bags, make-up, shoes and dining out. 

I had this obsession with purses where I would judge strangers based on the purse they had as though my $300 Coach was better than her $50 Guess. I'm SMH as I write.

A humbling experience...

Fortunately, that phase didn't last long enough for me to get into serious debt because, during my fourth year, I spent 8 months working in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, supporting female survival sex workers.

As a research assistant, I entered data collected from questionnaires and support meetings for HIV positive women. I scheduled interviews and managed the pay-out to the participant after the interview. I did outreach, worked with the peer workers to prepare sandwiches, and gave out condoms and clean needles to women on the street.

Putting things into perspective...

I listened to these women's stories, their moments of courage, strength, and vulnerability. They shared with me their histories of why and how they came to be, the circumstances they were in and the heart-wrenching decisions they've had to make. They were honest and raw, no filter, just telling it like it is. 

I was inspired by their perspective in life. They had lost so much that they had nothing else to lose; the little things were what mattered like the camaraderie they felt with one another and the free cookies they ate during the support meetings. Despite their situation, there was also a lot of laughter and joy in our conversations.

Joan* was one of the peer workers I went on outreach with. Joan’s a petite Aboriginal woman with an eccentric type of humour and loved laughing at her own jokes.

One day, I had to stay back at the office to organize the interviews and couldn't do my outreach. Joan came back, hands me a toy house and says, “We found this. We thought we should give it to you. This is so you’ll never be homeless.” She laughed her usual laugh and walked away.

*Name Changed

For those interested, check out the chapter I co-wrote 'Voices from the street: sex workers' experiences in community-based HIV research' in the book: Feminist Community Research: Case Studies and Methodologies

I matured quickly in those 8 months, realizing that life isn't about stuff but rather it's about the people in it and the relationships that are formed. 

And that experience reminded me of my parents' lessons about money, bringing me back to my roots. It's shaped me throughout my twenties, re-evaluating how I value my stuff, and now influencing how I am as a mom. 

As we know, a high level of materialism is associated with a lower level of life satisfaction, poor self-esteem, anxiety depression etc. 

The belief that our identities are tied to our accumulation of goods and how that defines our happiness is something Millenials are currently trying to manage. Just look at how popular minimalism has become!
So how am I going to raise my daughter so she breaks that materialistic Asian stereotype?

I think the first step is understanding why this stereotype exists. Why Asians? 

Yes, there are socialenvironmental, economic factors that play into this stereotype but I'm most interested in the ones I have influence as a parent. 

Comparing Culture and Perception of Success 

I've talked about how Asian parents often compare their children, using a "better" kid to motivate their own to be better than others. And how is 'better' perceived as? More successful, leading to the following:

More Success = More Money 

More Money = Increased Purchasing Power 

Increased Purchasing Power = More Stuff 

More Stuff = Appear More Successful Compared To Someone With Less Stuff

Appear More Successful Compared To Someone With Less Stuff = More Happiness?? More Life Fulfillment? 

Rather, it just makes Asian kids grow up associating their self-worth with their possessions.
See related: How I'm Changing Asian Stereotype Parent Career Expectations

Asian Languages of Love

If you look at all 5 languages of love, which ones do you think stereotypical Asian parents are most likely to show?

Physical Touch
Quality Time
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
Receiving Gifts

They didn't hug or kiss. They barely cried. 

See related: Why I Show Physical Affection As An Asian Parent

They didn't have time for connection; they're busy working, making money to put food on the table.

They didn't know how to use words to express how much they cared for us. 

So what does that leave?

Doing things and buying things.

They cooked for us, paid the mortgage for the home we lived in and put us in extracurricular activities.

From red pockets to that stack of Ferrero Rocher boxes wrapped and ready to go whenever you're visiting someone, giving gifts and money is huge in Asian culture.

When a child grows up only receiving love through these two languages, they'll grow up loving themselves and others the same way, with the belief that the more stuff they have and the more things they do means the more loved they are. 

Leading By Example 

As parents, we are our kids' first role models and if we talk the talk, we must also walk the walk.

I don't care about brands. I wear clothes that over a decade old (whatever still fits after my hips have permanently widened). I appreciate my Toyota. I'll take hand-me-downs any day. I don't have cable. I don't keep up with the latest and greatest products, gadgets and thingamabobs.   

Whenever I decide to buy something that's frivolous (not like groceries, diapers or pads), I'll ask myself:

Why do I want it?
Is the thing expensive? If yes, is the amount of stress to have this thing outweigh the amount of joy I will feel owning it? 

If not, how long will that joy last? More than a year? If yes, then buy it.

Changing Family Conversations

Family conversations shouldn't involve adults talking about how one kid compares to another. Instead, we should empower our kids to be the ones talking about their own struggles and accomplishments. 

When others share their stories, we should speak up against those who start to compare, emphasizing the detrimental effect it has on our kids.  

See related: 3 Asian Stereotype Parenting Practices You Should Never Follow

Talking About Money and Appreciating Our Past

My parents were transparent about money and taught us how to budget and save. We should teach our kids about how we earn a living and how much things cost so they have the life skills to do the same when they are older

Achieving success shouldn't be externally motivated (ie. money), rather it should be about life fulfillment, serving others and contributing to society

See related: 3 Asian Stereotype Parenting Practices You Should Follow and How I'm Changing Asian Stereotype Parent Career Expectations

To foster gratitude, I want my daughter to understand where she came from, sharing the struggles that her grandparents experienced when they came to Canada and my own stories growing up with humble beginnings. 

Giving Quality Time

One of my primary love languages is Quality Time so I'm excited to show my love through playing board games, going for walks, maybe even starting our own mother-daughter book club? Hey...a mom can dream.

Rewarding and Disciplining Without Things

I'm taking a lesson from my parents about rewards and discipline. I never got money or gifts for getting good grades or doing something well; in addition, stuff was never taken away when I misbehaved. 

Rewards should be about experiences, words of appreciation, more autonomy, and opportunities to learn and grow. 

Discipline should be consistent, with lengthy conversations, less autonomy, more accountability, fewer privileges, encouraging the child to self-reflect and to take responsibility for their wrongdoing. 

So Readers, how materialistic are you? What influences did you have growing up that affected your views on materialism? Do you think Asians are materialistic?

Let's Socialize...C'mon, You Know You Wanna



  1. I love this and totally agree! I'm Chinese-Canadian too and I hate the stereotype. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Sally, Thanks so much for your feedback. I'm glad my post resonated with you. Yes let's get rid of stereotypes :)


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