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WHITE POWER! Thailand and its white skin fixation.

Hey teeruk (“sweetheart” in Thai), we need to talk. Yes, you heard that right. We need to talk. In fact, you actually have to listen since this is an INTERVENTION.

In our case though, it’s not a funny one (even though imitating a British accent also isn’t funny, Lilly!) though. What we need to talk about is the immense fascination with “WHITE” skin in Thailand. There are actually several issues that I would like to address and funny enough none of them tackles actually racism – since we did that in another Nazi related post already. With the sheer amount of ‘white suppliers and supporters’ the KKK would feel right at home here though. “It ain’t right if it ain’t white…”

White Foreigners = rich, colored foreigners = nope

Let’s talk about the least pressing issue first since this ‘only’ affects us foreign people in Thailand. We’re being judged upon our skin color a lot. All the time. 24/7. If you are white, you’re the walking ATM. The guy (girl) who can easily afford to pay more in the cab, restaurant, or wherever. Even the cleaning service will charge you more because, well, you’re white. That’s nothing new though and we all know that and, somehow, accept that.

If you are not white though you will likely face other prejudices. If your skin is black you are automatically dangerous and not trustworthy and shouldn’t be here anyways, if you are from the Arab world you’re allowed to leave money but are considered ‘dirty’ and so on. Sure, stereotypes like this are existent in every country and culture but not to such an extend. Thailand is unique in the way those skin color based stereotypes are being played out and affect every day life here. In a country where nobody actually has ‘real’ white skin.This now leads to the following two concerns.

Thais with white skin = attractive, wealthy

Welcome to the 18th century where white skin indicates ones wealth and status in society. You don’t go out into the sun and if you do it only equipped with a big umbrella (preferably carried by one of your servants) and, in order to maintain your white skin you take weird creams made of different, unknown plants.

Fast Forward. 2015. White skin in Thailand indicates ones wealth and status and shows that you have the money to get ‘proper’ skin treatment in order to look ‘clean’. Poor people can’t afford this treatment and, god forbid, even have to do hard labor out in the sun. By the way: Associating white skin with being clean and superior would make the Fuhrer happy. Taking into account that blue colored contact lenses are also quite hip…but let’s not go down that road again. When we stick to the skin issue it is simply put ridiculous. Lots of my (former) students would go to skin clinics and through skin treatments during their weekends or holidays just to match the white look. Those treatments go from basic creams over to whitening drinks (yes, really) and injections! “Whitening shots”. If you’re done thinking “WTF”, please shift your attention to this super racist whitening commercial.

Laughing or crying about such commercials? At first I tried to laugh about it until I realized how many, mostly young, girls actually go through A LOT just to get their white skin. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead and I’m actually a big fan of MJ’s music but one can’t simply feel like thinking Thailand would be heaven for him with all the plastic surgery and whitening hype. On second thought, I actually think I saw him at 7-11 last week.

whiteningthailand

If you dig deeper into the whitening craze and actually check some numbers (great article over there at the Asian Correspondent!) you will easily understand why there’s no campaign advocating a more healthy look. The whitening industry in Asia and the Middle East is supposed to be worth $23 BILLION (!!!) by 2020. So it’s no wonder that we continue seeing whitening advertising. And it seems as if they can not get too idiotic. The craving for white skin can’t be satisfied. Why? Because it’s beautiful, clean and an indication of your superior status compared to the ‘poor’ dark skinned look.

KKK or Whitening Commercial in Thailand?
KKK or Whitening Commercial in Thailand?

Role Models from Japan & Korea

As it is so often one of the reasons why people fall for a ‘trend’ it is the superstars and celebrities that are being copied. This starts with stars from Japan and Korea that are widely adored in The Land Of Smile. K-Pop bands or actors are on the list of almost every teenager when it comes to the most liked stars. Similar thing goes for Japanese girl bands or movie stars. What do they all have in common? Right, white skin.

The fact that even those stars have to go through a lot to make this look happen (also treatments or injections) is often not being mentioned of course. They are simply attractive and sexy and there worth adoring and copying.

When turning to our local stars you will see that here also most of the adored soap opera (“lakorn”) stars often carry the white look. Many of them are “Luk Kreung” which means they have a foreign parent (mom or dad from a western country) and therefore an “advantage” when it comes to the paleness of their skin. In fact chances are quite high you make it on TV as soon as you are a Luk Kreung. Congratulations to your superiority. All hail white skin. Even if the celebrities aren’t blessed with white skin by default they, again, will go to great length to fit the image of the ‘beautiful and good’ looking star.

Selfies as motor

The amount of selfies that are being taken here in Thailand is insane. But everybody needs to be a bit narcissistic at times. Unfortunately this selfie obsession also leads to a motivation to imitate celebrities or successful accounts on instagram which, now that’s not a surprise anymore, also copy the white beauty image.

When asking Thais (no matter whether girl or boy) to show them a picture of a beautiful person or their favorite superstar you will, quite likely, see someone with white skin who fits the local picture of how beautiful is supposed to look like.

Having a friend who is going to participate in the Miss Thailand Universe competition in 2016 I am quite certain the ‘advisors’ there will also suggest her to try to get whiter skin until the competition will kick off next year (since they already suggested her to get braces, even though she doesn’t need any).

Thailand, we’ve got a problem.

Some updates:

January 2016, another whitening ad scandal.

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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