Peruse the magazines littering the checkout at the grocery store. Skim the comment section of an article about a Hollywood actress. Consider most advertisements. What these activities (and many more) might have in common that it would take little time to deduce we live in a culture where a woman’s worth is ultimately defined by her physical appearance. Seriously, the message is fucking everywhere.
In “Ching Chong Chang” we see the inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary are not immune to the pressure to be considered aesthetically pleasing, whatever that definition may be, and the pain that goes along with it.
The Invisible Woman
Who is Mei Chang? She runs the commissary, can sleep standing up, likes a good dick joke, and doesn’t take any shit. Alex and Piper may laugh at her odd oral health care practices like a couple of high school mean girls, but “Ching Chong Chang” gives us insight into a character who has mainly stayed in the periphery from the very first season.
She’s a solitary figure who smuggles food out of the cafeteria in order to make Frito chip and pea delicacies, and eats fresh oranges while watching Chinese drama, “Legacy of Mixed Emotions” on a hidden cell phone. Unlike her bunkmate Soso who yearns for a “big Asian prison family,” Chang seems to be more than happy to be on her own.
We’re shown a flashback from her past where the young Mei sits with a matchmaker and her dipshit brother awaiting a potential suitor. The man harshly rejects her for not being beautiful and for smelling like “sheep shit.” Her brother berates her for not having the appropriate assets for marriage putting her lack of physical beauty into economical terms, “You owe me 800 dollars.” Mei offers to work in his store in order to repay her debt. Her brother volunteers her to smuggle in illegal contraband with supplier Fu. “She’s invisible” he says, something that makes her perfect for the job.
“Looks are superficial” Piper Chapman
Although Piper describes it as, “basically slavery” (a term that Warren quickly warns the affluent white New Yorker to be careful about throwing around, and Cindy corrects as technical “indentured servitude”) the new work detail at Whispers has the inmates making lingerie for a dollar and hour for a company that sells bras for 90 bucks a pop. Flipping through the pages of the catalogue, we see a very relatable psychological impact that viewing “perfect” bodies has on the inmates. Flaca wonders if she should start running or something. Cindy and Warren scan for the “token black girl” (who has great abs) in the roster of models. This spurs a conversation about the all-powerful, “unachievable beauty standard.” Cindy calls bullshit on the whole construct, “I’m a strong black woman. We got a different standard of beauty.”
Flaca goes after Beyonce claiming that she’s playing, “ a white girl’s game” Warren snaps not go after Queen B, and that she’s winning at said game. The wispy Piper walks by “white bitches just got to be skinny” whispers Cindy. Piper denies she’s the “hot girl” in a scene where we are introduced to Stella (played by model Ruby Rose, who’s had the Internet aflutter with talk about her sexual appeal). Stella calls out Piper on feeling sorry for herself because of perfect genetics; therefore, everyone assumes she’s stupid. “Then don’t be stupid,” the confident Aussie retorts.
Morello masquerades as a gun enthusiast, anime fan girl, and avid bird watcher when meeting with several of her new male pen pals. For each gentleman, she alters her appearance in order to play the part. A compulsive liar from the start, she weaves tales about the reason for her incarceration: whether it’s that she pulled off the biggest jewel heist in Chandler Arizona, or was the top contact killer in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Her plan to woo potential suitors into depositing money in to her commissary has her juggling a few balls in the air.
Morello’s not the only one employing feminine wiles to persuade a man into getting what she wants. Healy boo-hoos about Red’s attempt to “capitalize” on his “sensitivities” and claims “I’m a person. We’re people.” Red aptly schools Healy on the reality of their situation. She’s a prisoner with no freedom, purpose, family, or currency. So what she flirted a little to persuade him to get her old job in the kitchen back? As she puts it she has, “one coin” that may be “tawdry and demeaning” but if she has to, she will spend it.
“But you’re right. You’re feelings count too.” She brushes away some hair from his face, in a moment communicating that there are some real feelings on her part. Healy plasters Caputo with fanfare and platitudes about loyalty (not so different than Red’s manipulation—albeit missing the sexual component) before getting him to sign a form that gets Red back into the kitchen.
Sitting in Burset’s beauty chair for a neck shave, Gloria asks how the transgender inmate can go “full Mac counter” everyday, and that Gloria prefers to go unnoticed. Burset explains that it’s taken a long time to get where she is. Gloria tells Burset if she really were a “real woman” she would let herself go and get bags under her eyes. In a statement ripe with foreshadowing Gloria says, “sass is what lands you in Seg.” The two leave the conversation about “realness” there when Gloria discovers Burset’s family might be able to help her out by driving her wayward son Benny to come visit.
All By Myself
“This place is beatin’ me down.” Poussey Washington
Caught in a lie by one a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fan, “It’s delicious!” Morello breaks down in tears. She’s sad because Nicky, the only person that cared about her, was sent to Max. Her letter writing isn’t all about the money after all—she’s lonesome. The pen pal sitting across from her seems to get that.
After Poussey captures the fabled booze stealing “squacoon” which turns out to just be a regular innocent squirrel, Taystee has to admit she was the one pouring out her hooch. Taystee asks Poussey to stop drinking and go to AA, but it’s the only thing that makes her feel good. Prison life is wearing Poussey down and she comes to the realization that she needs a girlfriend, a real one.
Between Soso, Morello, and Soso one’s loneliness in a place filled with people is an ever-present theme.
Pain Is Beauty
Young Mei saves Fu’s life when a deal over turtle eggs goes sour. To return his debt, Fu offers her anything she wants—and she knows exactly what that is.
Chang writes a scene for Berdie’s drama class where Rice plays the man who rejected her. He’s brought beaten to her feet and begs for forgiveness for having treated her so poorly before stabbing himself. Sister Ingalls plays Chang and reading from the script orders the man’s gallbladder removed, “And now I eat his…” The ex-nun can’t go on. Looking around at the horrified faces of her fellow inmates, Chang claims that it’s fake and chalks it up to “showbiz.” However, when we’re shown what really happened, we see the only thing fictional about this scene is the man’s willingness to apologize, “You will always be an ugly girl who no one wants.” You can see the young Mei believes him, and she enacts her revenge by having his gallbladder cut out and then I guess eats… something?
Piper uses extra fabric to sew herself a pair of bright pink panties. Chang catches her looking at herself in the mirror, “You like Bo Derrick. Tarzan 1981.” Piper covers herself in shame claiming she just wanted to feel beautiful—perhaps something Chang can relate to? Piper apologizes about her and Alex’s snickering at Chang’s expense.
Feel The Power
“Men are dumb.” Mei Chang
Like “the coin” Red has to spend, the men who buy snake’s blood and penis soup to boost their virility, or the rationalization for Piper’s lingerie wearing, Caputo is in need of a sense of power. The guards have had their hours and benefits slashed and now MCC is hiring new (and less expensive) guards. It’s a horrifying prospect that all you need to apply is a GED and no prior convictions, and Caputo tries—once again—to level with Danny. Even though he’s “not happy about it either” doofus ringleader Danny Paget convinces Caputo to just roll with the punches, giving him the illusion of choice and power over the situation by giving him the option to interview and hire all the new guards.
The first hire is O’Neill’s donut slinging nemesis. Red velvet may not be a thing, but a new rooster of under qualified Federal Correction Officers is.
Out In The Yard
Double standards come into play when Morello sits across from an over-weight admirer who claims the last girl he wrote to was bigger and that she has a good BMI and symmetrical face. Also, when Mei’s victim is rolled out on the floor Fu claims, “It’s not like he’s God’s gift to women.”
Lolly’s a new inmate at the prison (Lori Petty!), someone Piper has a brief history with when she was sent to Chicago. After remarking about how the “walls are so clean” at Litchfield she introduces the idea of kosher meals to Cindy, who quickly accepts the religion after realizing how much better the food is, “Shabbot Shalom bitch!”
After trying to smuggle food back to her bunk Rice explains, “My dreams make me hungry.” This line killed me.