One of the first things you will notice when you come to Thailand is how beautiful Thai women are. They are petite and skinny, with long dark hair, doe eyes and beautiful smiles. They are graceful and polite but, most importantly, they are light skinned. Or as near to it as is possible to get. But what does a Thai girl do if she isn’t born with light enough skin? She bleaches it, of course.
Beauty products that also whiten are everywhere in Thailand. A good Thai girl worth her weight in gold wouldn’t even consider buying a beauty product that won’t lighten her skin. Thus, everything from hand cream to body lotion, from facial scrubs to face masks, from foot cream to, yes indeed, deodorant – everything comes with a whitening agent.
In fact, you can guarantee that beautiful Thai woman you see ahead of you in line at the grocery store is whitened from head to toes. She’s spent a fortune on creams and beauty treatments, then hours at home every week applying them. If she doesn’t have time, then she’ll head to the beauty salon and have one of Thailand’s many skin whitening treatments. In Thailand, the drug stores and the beauty salons are laughing all the way to the bank.
Why though is it so important for Thai women to be light skinned? Does it denote just beauty or being sexy, or is there something beneath the idea of white for beauty’s sake?
Thai friends have told me it’s often for several reasons. First, Thai women don’t want to be confused with laborers who work in the rice fields, migrant workers who build many of Thailand’s buildings, or street food sellers. All of these groups spend a lot of time outdoors and are usually dark skinned and often wrinkled. They are also poor.
Thai women think that having dark skin could quite possibly get them confused with a laborer or a maid and that would be a terrible thing to happen.
Another reason why white is beautiful is because Thais admire the Japanese and the Koreans very much. They love Japanese cartoons and music and they adore Korean soap operas and movie stars. Therefore, because both the Japanese and Koreans are usually white skinned, Thai women want to look like them.
Thirdly, another emerging popular group in Thailand is the ‘luk kreung’. These are men and women who are often actors or models and are half-Thai and half-Western. Stereotypically, they tend to have whiter skin, more Western style noses, and lighter hair. The ‘luk kreung’ are now the ‘in thing’ in Thailand and are considered to be very beautiful, so of course everybody wants to look like them.
Its not only make up though that Thai people use to avoid being dark. They will also go to extremes in the way they dress and behave to avoid getting brown. If they go to the beach with friends, they sit under umbrellas all day. If they go into the ocean at all, which a lot of them won’t, they only swim in shorts and t shirts, never a swimsuit or bikini, and they make sure they are covered from head to toe in sun screen.
When a Thai woman goes outside on a sunny day, which is almost every day in Thailand, she walks down the street with an umbrella over her head. If she forgets her umbrella, she will hold a school book, a magazine, or even a shirt over her head to shade her from the sun.
You will rarely see a Thai girl walking down the street on a sunny day, without also seeing her doing contortions to make sure the sun doesn’t hit her. She’s not however likely to wear a hat. Hats mess up your hair and make you sweaty, that’s why umbrellas are so popular.
So, the next time you come to Thailand, take a quick browse down the drug store aisles and check out how many products have a whitening agent.
Being Western, I’m already white, yet most of my creams and lotions also whiten my skin. Now I don’t really want my skin lightening but, honestly, I don’t have much of a choice. Unless I want to spend six times the normal money I would spend on a cream or lotion and shop at a high-end department store, all my beauty products will have a whitening agent. Nivea, Oil of Olay, Garnier, Yves Rocher, Victoria’s Secret, The Body Shop – they’re all available here, and all their products are loaded with skin whiteners.
Bright white skin is just one of the inconveniences I have to put up with if I want to live in Thailand. But hey, I’m considered beautiful.