“I was called a beauty therapist.” I’ve been a doctor for 11 years and yet I am constantly ‘untitled’.

It was supposed to be fun – I was going to talk to a television crew about my new practice I’d set up as a cosmetic doctor.

I had recently joined a co-working share space called Salon Lane, where there are studios set up for hairdressers, nail, brow, and lash technicians, beauty therapists, and health professionals such as acupuncturists and cosmetic injectors such as myself. 

It was a wonderful discovery for me. I’ve been loving the autonomy and flexibility of working for myself. As someone who has burnt out in the past, my new work arrangement allows me to set firmer boundaries about my work hours, which I desperately needed to do. 

Read more‘No one else has had this problem before.’ How I burnt out while training to be a surgeon.

Moreover, the community has been very welcoming, and I’d even received referrals from a few of my new co-workers. It’s a dynamic and vibrant space that I’m thrilled to be a part of, so when I was asked to be involved in a feature story for the evening news, I was all in!

Whenever I do an interview or speak at an event, there are always a few things on my mind as a Japanese person living in an English-speaking world. 

Firstly: my name. 

Some people struggle with it, so I knew that they could potentially get my name wrong. So, when the journalist asked me to say my name out loud and spell it for the camera, I was relieved. At least they cared about spelling my name correctly. 

When it came to answering questions about how I came about setting up my own practice at Salon Lane, I had a few things that I’d prepared to say. 

As a young Asian woman in a male-dominated workplace, I am frequently assumed to be a nurse or a medical student. I was therefore very deliberate when I commenced my piece to camera, knowing that when people see my face, they won’t see a ‘doctor’. I began by saying “I’ve been a doctor for eleven years. Starting up my own practice felt like a natural evolution in my career…” 

There. I said it. I said the word ‘doctor’. Surely there won’t be any ambiguity now.

As the journalist was leaving, she asked for my business card. Again, this was a reassuring sign. My business card had my title and university qualifications. I left the filming feeling optimistic about the feature. As someone who has just started her own business, I felt grateful for the potential publicity this story might give me. 

I kept in touch with the journalist, who informed me when the piece was going to air. I wanted to share the excitement with my family in Japan, whom I FaceTimed. A few grabs from my interview were used, but not my introduction. As my name and caption came up, I felt my stomach drop. It said: Freelance Beauty Therapist. I looked at my family on my small iPad screen and felt embarrassed. Beauty therapist?

This feeling triggered memories of the many times in my career when my credentials had been undermined. As a woman (of colour) you spend so much time trying to prove to other people that you’re qualified to do your job. It gets tiring. And here I was again getting ‘untitled’ and mislabelled as a beauty therapist.

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“This happens to women (of colour) in Medicine ALL THE TIME,” writes Yumiko. @mindbodymiko. Image: Instagram/@mindbodymiko.

Untitling‘ is when we are not addressed by our correct professional titles. It happens to women in medicine and other professions on a day-to-day basis, as well as for notable occasions such as giving a presentation at a conference.

Even when our male counterparts are introduced as ‘Doctor’ or ‘Professor’, women with the equivalent qualifications get introduced by our first names. While this may seem harmless, it impacts the way our colleagues and patients perceive our credibility and authority. It affects not just the way people behave towards us but also our potential for career growth and promotion. 

Image: Instagram @mindbodymiko.

Unconscious biases affect the way others think and feel towards us, and they are formed based on social stereotypes.

Would a male doctor have been labelled a beauty therapist? Absolutely not. 

This was turning into an all too familiar scenario. As an Asian woman, I experience the intersections of gender and race, and I could feel that both were at play here. There are certain racist tropes about Asian women. Mukkamala and Suyemoto identify six of them:

1. Exotic: Asian women are hypersexualised, including reference to the ‘geishas’ of Japan.

2. Not a leader: there is a docility myth that Asian women are quiet and don’t aspire to be leaders.

3. Submissive: we are expected to be agreeable, and not stand up for ourselves.

4. Cute and small: there is a ‘kawaii’ culture (‘cute’ in Japanese) and an expectation for Asian women to look and behave this way.

5. Invisible: ignored, lacking in voice, agency or power

6. Service worker: assumptions that an Asian woman works at a ‘low-level gendered job’ such as being a maid, masseuse or working in a nail salon.

Listen to Dr Yumiko Kadota on No Filter speaking to Mia Freedman about the toxic truth about young doctors. Post continues below. 

I have experienced all six of these themes to varying degrees throughout my lifetime. 

In this instance, being labelled as a beauty therapist was a flagrant display of theme six: the assumption that I was a beauty therapist rather than a qualified medical doctor. 

Read more: For Dr Yumiko Kadota, there wasn’t just a glass ceiling to break through. There was a “bamboo” one.

The micro-aggressions that Asian women experience are closely linked to these stereotypes that people have of us and can be damaging to our careers. We continue to work disproportionately harder to prove ourselves in the workplace, and when others – albeit unconsciously – misrepresent our credentials, it makes this even more difficult.

Unless we identify and call out examples of inherent sexism and racism, women (of colour) will continue to suffer disadvantage.

Dr Yumiko Kadota is a medical doctor in Sydney, and author of Emotional Female. She was trained in Australia, graduating from UNSW Medicine with Honours. She has been working as a doctor for 11 years. You can follow her work as a cosmetic injector on Instagram @sydneyfacedoctor or @mindbodymiko.

Feature Image: Supplied/Instagram @mindbodymiko.