Friday, 21 March 2008

Social Class and White Skin in Thailand

Since my first trip to Thailand in 2003, it’s always fascinated me how the Thais seem to be fixated with white skin. In contrast to the UK where a tan is fashionable, the Thai population go to great lengths to make their skin whiter.

It’s always amused me and highlighted the craziness of the world we live in – where on one side of the world people lay in the sun, under sun beds, or invest in potions and lotions to make their skin darker – but on the other side of the world in Thailand (in fact most of Asia), the shops are full of beauty products designed to make the skin whiter.

Initially, in my western arrogance, I assumed it was because the Thai people wanted to be more like us. However I’ve since discovered that in fact, the appeal of white skin is an age old cultural inclination of the Thai social class system.

In Thailand white skin signifies that you don't need to spend much time out in the sun, and as the majority of lower paid jobs involve hard slog and physical labour outside in the soaring heat, having white skin indicates that you must work inside, and are therefore wealthier, probably more educated, and likely to be in a more affluent position.

More recently however there has been a growing trend among the entire Asian population, that white skin on women is more attractive. Mass marketing campaigns by cosmetic companies, targeted at the Asian female population, seem to lie at the stem of this burst of white blossom around the Asian world. The international film industry and advertisements of multi -national organisations, who support the trend by favouring women with pale, pure complexion, and thrusting them into the Asian spot lights also have a huge part to play in the desire for white skin.

Subconsciously affected by the advertising which cleverly reinforces the existing "white skin preference" of the social class system, many asian women are led to believe that if they douse themselves in skin whitening products they stand a better chance of wealth, love and happiness....


Simon said...

By the sounds of it, with my pale complexion, I'd be positively fashionable! ;)

malia said...

i've noticed this too! i'm half asian, so my complexion - especially after long hours outdoors getting myself lost in southeast asian cities - looks a lot like theirs. i'm normally pretty fair back home, so even with the tan on my skin, i'm still a bit lighter than most here. so i've been getting lots of compliments from the women here about it! it's just so odd to see everything with "whitening", i've even seen it on deodorant!!