Why White is Right in Asia

Since moving to Thailand I have become obsessed with the reason behind the demand and supply for skin whitening products across Asia. It is so intense that I find it largely impossible to buy a day or night cream (or deodorant for the matter) that doesn’t contain whitening agents.

The answer is neither simple nor singular.

Most foreigners assume Thai women want to be more ‘western’ because Caucasian skin represents success, power and money. After much conversation, observation and reading of Asian and international blogs, this view point only skims the surface as to why white is right.

Colonisation: People with lighter skin are considered elite as a result of hundreds of years of colonization by the Europeans. North Atlantic powers are considered ‘winners’ and therefore emulated.

Rural vs. Urban – Dark skin in Thailand is attributed to manual labour, essentially defining those who work outdoors in the direct sun (i.e. farming on a rice paddy) as lower caste in comparison to city dwellers who ‘can afford’ to stay indoors and therefore are paler in complexion. So the colour of your skin is the easiest way to judge a person’s social standing.

Japanese Woman are admired for their pale complexions in Asia. This may come from the secretive and respected Geisha class of women whose white faces and necks are viewed as highly attractive, innocent, pure and virginal.

Two thirds of men in Hong Kong said they preferred women with whiter skin while half the women wanted the same for men. The male whitening beauty sector is on the rise across Asia.

Ancient China & Japan: The saying ‘one white covers up three ugliness’ has been passed on through generations. White skin symbolizes aristocratic heritage and class allegiance and said to have spanned as far back as the Han Dynasty in China where nobility were whiter than most.

Genetics: Our concepts of beauty are rooted in good breeding genes. For example, flawless skin and symmetrical features are health indicators. Skin colour is seen as a social status indicator. Whether on a conscious level or not we are all looking for the perfect, healthy mate, and skin colour plays a role.

An American Born Chinese (self titled as an ‘ABC’) says he went through years of ‘self racism’ about his skin tone living in America. It’s strange to think of racism as an inward mental state isn’t it?

A women’s rights group in Taipei named ‘Chao-van Tsen’ talks candidly about how the pressure to be white is damaging to the self confidence and empowerment of women and are openly against the unrealistic pressures driven by the media.

Stacy Malcolm, is the author of ‘Not just a pretty face: The ugly side of the beauty industry’

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