It is widely known that Asia has a preference for lighter skin. According to a recent report by WHO, half of Filipinos, Koreans, and Malaysians are using some type of skin whitening treatment, while in India, over 60% of their population does. In Thailand, it is also common knowledge that lighter-skinned people are more represented.
Despite the current era’s diversified beauty standards, this trend in Asia isn’t seen to subside yet. In fact, it is projected that by 2027, the skin-whitening industry will reach over $24 billion in worth.
But where did this obsession for lighter skin really come from? Should Asians be discouraged to use whitening products, or should they be left with a choice?
A Brief History of Skin Whitening
The hype over skin-whitening can be traced back to the 1500s. Skin bleaching, in particular, started in those years. It is the process of reducing the skin’s melanin concentration to lighten it, through the form of soaps, creams, pills, and injectables.
In terms of the traction it gained in Asia, it can be attributed from the deeply rooted cultural norm that dark-skinned people are usually field workers, and therefore, rural poor. On the other hand, light skin indicates a comfortable, cosmopolitan, and sheltered life, and thus, wealthier.
Colorism in the Philippines is similar as well, but other than those factors, colonialism is also seen to play a role. In the times of Spanish, American, and Japanese invasions, indigenous Filipinos would be compared to lighter-skinned Chinese businessmen, who have money and capital.
Simply put, skin color tends to be associated with social class in many Asian countries, including the Philippines. But in the recent years, the stigma seems to be wearing off.
The Growing Representation for Dark-skinned Asians
In 2014, Nonthawan Thongleng was crowned Miss World in Thailand. Being tan, the pageant’s commentators hailed her victory as a chance to redefine beauty standards.
Nonthawan, or simply “Maeya”, stated that her hard-earned achievement, and becoming a future role model for the younger generation of Asians meant a great deal for her. She wanted to show young Asians, from all ethnic backgrounds, with darker skins, that they can also achieve their dreams.
As a result, many Thais saw Maeya as an inspiration, especially since dark-skinned women are under-represented in their country.
India is also beginning to embrace their natural skin colors. They started a media campaign called “Dark is Beautiful”, which aims to confront discrimination. Thailand and many other Asian countries have yet to adopt such a movement, but with the growing representation for dark-skinned people, it may not take long for them to follow suit.
Should Asians Still Whiten Their Skin Then?
If darker skins are now being regarded as beautiful, why is the skin-whitening industry still thriving?
One reason can be the higher likelihood of light-skinned immigrants in the U.S. obtaining employment. According to survey in 2003, darker-skinned male immigrants, regardless of their race, are less likely to be employed than lighter-skinned ones. This could stem from the prejudice against blacks, who were associated with criminality and aggression.
But this is a survey conducted a long time ago, and obviously, trends have changed now, with inclusivity being encouraged in all countries.
So if you’re an Asian who wants to use a gentle and effective whitening body lotion, do it for the right reasons. Love your skin regardless of its color, and even if you wish to lighten it, don’t forget to empower your tan and dark peers. While we should be free to decide what we should do with our skins, we must still be careful of what we’re promoting. It’s not wrong to have a preference for white skin, but being biased and prejudiced are.