MICHELLE KWAN is a Chinese-American figure skater born in Torrance, California on July 7, 1980. She attended UCLA for one quarter in 1999 but left early as a result of her career. Her interest in figure skating began at five years-old.
She is a two-time Olympic medalist—one Silver in 1998, and another Bronze in 2002. She is also a five-time world champion (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2003). She is the recipient of the Jamese E. Sullivan Award that is awarded to America’s best amateur athlete. In 2003, she was named the U.S. Olympic Commiitee “Sportswoman of the Year,” and in 2009 was appointed a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports by George W. Bush.
Apart from her awards, Kwan also wrote two books, The Winning Attitude: What It Takes to be a Champion and Heart of a Champion. She guest stars in a variety of TV shows, including The Simpsons, Family Guy, Arthur, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and also appeared in a number of endorsement commercials, including Campell’s Soup, VISA, Coca-Cola, and Caress.
What is so notable about Kwan’s appearance in media is the lack of attention to her race. In this way, Kwan has arguably transcended race as a seemingly important factor of her figure skating abilities. In her advertisement endorsements, she is noted as “America’s finest.” Further, in her TV shows, the only features that characterize her as Asian are very visible and physical appearances, like her smaller eyes and perhaps flatter face; indeed, she is always represented as the figure skater, with the skates (or roller blades) and mini skirts.
As such, we argue that Michelle Kwan is only racialized and stereotyped via the portrayal of her physical appearance. Otherwise, her public identity and representations of her in popular culture are very much defined by her professional career and success as a figure skater.
But with Michelle—and every minority-American celebrity out there, we ask two questions. First, has she really transcended her Asian identity and is she thus “chipping away” the stereotypes associated with ‘Asianness’? Or, second, is Michelle deemed the exception to the Asian stereotype while this stereotype is still extremely prevalent among Asian-Americans?