Light Skin in Asian Culture

The following example essay on “Light Skin in Asian Culture” talks about how in Asian culture, lighter skin is socially construed with status, beauty and power.

Originated from ancient Asian dynasties,to be pale-skinned in an environment where the sun was harsh implied high social status for individuals who remained indoors while labourers toiled under the sun.Additionally,the legacies of British colonialism in India caused British officials favour light-skinned Indians for jobs over dark-skinned Indians.

Globalized modern Asia retained these biases, influenced by Westernized beauty ideals and media that equate whiteness with modern and urban wealth and success.

This essay will hence explore the effects of cultural colorism in society, by examining effects of colorism in gay male magazines on the male sex industry in Thailand, the implications of colorism in advertising on career opportunities and health in India.First,I unveil the extensiveness and influence of colorism in media,in the form of magazines,advertising while referencing cultural connotations of being light skinned in Asia and examining how the affect various countries

It has already been hypothesized that people with lighter skin experience institutional and individual privileges.

Canotal(2009) observed a segregation between dark skinned male sex workers, and light skinned sex workers caused by influx of colorism in gay Thai magazines, After the first generation of gay Thai magazines from 1982-1988,the media decreased images of the tall and dark Native Thai “Isan look,” to the tee style, used to describe someone who has fair skin,therefore looks half Chinese.

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Cultural implications of looking tee are, being from a wealthy family and being educated, whereas the Isan look is associated with being poor and uneducated. The magazine Thai Guys, aimed for a white audience while Max Magazine and Bangkok Variety, targeted upper-, middle-class Thai gay men and Asian tourists. This differentiation led upper-, middle-class Thai/Asian men to maintain their dominant socio economic status by patronizing lighter-skinned sex workers, not having to compete with the more wealthy farang patrons, who tended to seek out the more exotic, darker-skinned workers. For farang,tan skin is not accessible in their home countries. Hence, access to go sun-tanning is construed as being well-off.(Canotal 2009

)However,upper middle-class Thai patrons have felt that the tee look was much more dignifying than the lower-class Isan look.This segregation motivated many Isan men to migrate to Bangkok and found their look to be in demand in the European dominated Surawong area.Thus, gay commercial sex work became accesible income for Isan men .This mirrored studies done in North America and in Asia on the discrepancy of life outcomes found among people of different levels of attractiveness, in which respondents overwhelmingly deemed light-skinned people (especially women) more beautiful and handsome than darker-skinned people.

Furthermore, lighter-skinned people were found to have higher levels of educational attainment, better job opportunities, and higher levels of self-esteem (Thompson and Keith, 2001). This is also pertinent to the Isan sex worker population.An editor of Thai Guys shared in an interview that because Isan men are from a lower class, they are undesirable.(Suwatcharapinun, 2005).

This exemplified colorist standards which confined darker-skinned men to a low-class identity,while promoting lighter-skinned men’s social status.With the image of the Isan or dark-skinned man attracting the attention of gay farangs, magazine editors and venue owners exploit this foot-in-the-door by weaving in socio-economic and altruistic elements into the initially transaction-based dynamic,(Canotal ,2009)thus showing how colorism has allowed the Isan mens looks to be commodified,instead of allowing them to be viewed as individual human beings.

Meanwhile in South Asia,Unilever heavily relied on advertising to promote skin lightness both in television and print ads in Asia.A commercial in India showed a young, dark-skinned woman’s father laments he has no son to provide for him and his daughter’s salary is low. It implied she could neither get a better job nor marry because of her dark skin.The young woman then uses Fair & Lovely, becomes fair-skinned,and lands a job as an airline hostess, making her father happy.

A Malaysian television spot shows a college student who is dejected because she cannot get the attention of a classmate at the next desk. After using Pond’s lightening moisturizer, she appears in class brightly lit and several shades lighter, and the boy says, “Why didn’t I notice her before?” (BBC 2003).This,and roots of British colonialism reinforced rampant colorism in Indian society,ranging from marriageability and career aspirations and career opportunities in India.

Firstly, a womans dark skin can prevent her from entering positions such as news anchor,sales associate,flight attendant and even receptionist,because there jobs require exposure to and interaction with public,which will perceived her as unattractive,unworthy and incompetent.Fair skinned woman experience unearned privilege and power within organisations as a result.In Maharashtra, a group tribal girls trained to be flight crew through a government scholarship that aimed to empower women. The majority of girls were denied employment due to their darker skin tone. A few of those women obtained jobs, but only as out-of-sight ground crew.(Hiduyaraj and Sims 2015)

Colorism in media also endangers lives,as there has been reported many health effects to the chemicals used in skin lightening product:Fair and Lovely. Chemicals present in skin lightening products include hydroquinone,topical steroids and mercury.An example of

Philippines would be an example of where European colonialism reinforced having white skin was ideal. These effects are present in the Filipino film industry,where a large majority of actors have mixed European heritage and Spanish names,such as Kathryn Bernardo,James Reid. Similarly, Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray is half Filipina half Australian, and so is 2015 Miss Universe ,Pia Wurtzbach,who is half Filipina and half German,proving the association between beauty and whiteness is unfaltering.This is problematic in many ways, as the majority of Filipinos have darker skin, rounder faces, smaller eyes, and curly black hair,as opposed to features of celebrities Liza Soberano,Pia Wurtzbach and James Reid, who are all of half white descent and have slimmer faces,pale complexion,higher nose bridges and larger round eyes.

According to Adorable (2016),the representation of white complexion,pointed noses has implications the self-esteems of Filipino women who may come to notice the advertisements and programs, and these implications include increased feelings of anxiety and shame, reduced mindfulness of internal bodily cues, (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997)resulting to some health risks such as eating disorder, physical and sexual issues, and internalizing outcomes including negative feelings about the body and depression (Johnson, n.d.).

Apart from the social issues raised in this debate, human rights issues also play an important role.The consequences of colorism are heavy,on a deeper level,it created an underlying notion that lighter is superior within the Asian community.The reduction of the humanity of darker skinned people is comparable to how African slaves were traded for currencies,darker skinned people to an almost sub-human group.

This is a serious issue,as once people are viewed of devoid as humanity,abuse of them will be tolerated,An example would be domestic abuse of domestic help in nations like Singapore and Hong Kong.Most domestic East Asia has been antiblack for centuries, and the consequences of being anti black perpetuates the notion that lighter skinned people are superior,at the same time reduces the humanity of darker skinned people.

Colorism in media and culture has a significant effect on various aspects of society,being psychological and physical health, workplace bias,leading to income inequality,domestic abuse and unfair hiring practices.For Thai male sex workers, colorism produces assumptions about their socioeconomic and educational background, sets the standards for their desirability,and caused them to be objectified.

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Light Skin in Asian Culture. (2019, Dec 10). Retrieved from

Light Skin in Asian Culture
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