Monday, August 3, 2015

Thai Beauty

Snail White-The most numerously advertised
whitening-based skincare line in Thailand.
Photo credit:

 Something has intrigued me almost immediately since I’ve arrived in Thailand, and it started with these beauty clinics. They’re abundant in Thailand—at least the multitude of advertisements would make it seem that way. On our first day, we went to the nearest mall to do some shopping. On one floor, there were 5 different beauty clinics right next to each other, and others dispersed throughout the mall. Although most of the signs are in Thai, which leave them unreadable to me, the services that I can read always include Botox and Whitening treatments. I became rather curious as to the Thai ideal of beauty, and how the modern interpretation of beauty has been effected by other cultures through greater globalization.
In every convenience store there’s a section dedicated to skincare products. In malls and in markets, I’ve seen stalls selling all kinds of products, the majority of which include the word “Whitening.” It seems that one of the Thai ideals of beauty includes having fairer skin (click here or here for more information). This became increasingly more evident after noticing that in every commercial, on every advertisement, and in most TV shows, the models or actors always have a lighter skin tone. Personally, I have yet to see an advertisement for anything that has a model with the darker skin tone that I’m used to seeing on most Thai’s. It’s an interesting dichotomy between Western and Thai standards of beauty, where many women in America may pay hundreds of dollars a year to achieve tanner skin, while the Thai’s are paying similar amounts on products that promise to lighten the skin tone. It seems very much to be a case of wanting what you don’t have.

The concept of ‘colorism’ appears to be prevalent in Thailand, as it is in many other cultures across the globe. Colorism is defined as: “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” In many cultures, having a fairer complexion signified a higher social status and a better education, while those with darker skin tones were often lower class laborers who often worked in the sun. So the ideal of having a lighter skin tone might have been passed down through the generations (click here to read more about colorism).
I myself am very pale, and I’m usually the minority-even in Kansas. It’s never been pointed out as a bad thing though, just different. Whereas in Thailand, there appears to be a stigma against people, not just women, who are more tan. It all goes back to colorism, and how it’s an institution that’s been ingrained into cultures worldwide, and not usually in a positive way. Like it or not, racism still exists in America. Much of it can be unintentional, partially because we’re so used to these stereotypes being placed on people of different races. Frankly, there are negative stereotypes about every race, and some will make snap judgements against people who look different, regardless of skin tone.
Advertisements for whitening products
can be found anywhere from billboards,
to train stations, to the sides of cars and buses.
Photo credit:
Since America is generally more racially diverse than Thailand, I think colorism is a more accurate term to describe the situation here. Though I can’t honestly say whether there are strong prejudices against those who have darker complexions, with the amount of “whitening” based advertisement, there is that possibility. If having white skin really is that important, there might be some more serious repercussions to being tan. If the accepted standard is having white skin, could that affect a woman’s potential marriage partner? Or perhaps the jobs she’s able to get? What about how much she’s paid for a job? That might sound extreme, but not when you remember that just being a woman in America can affect the jobs you’re offered, or how much you’re paid. Because of Thailand’s past view of a fairer complexion being indicative of a higher social class, it’s a bit more understandable that woman and men would prefer to have whiter skin. If this is the case, then trying to lighten the skin color, even if it’s just with makeup, seems to the be obvious choice. Will this stereotype ever cease to exist? With the amount of money put into the business of “whitening,” it seems doubtful that this will change anytime soon. 

Rayna Goldsmith

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