Updated: May 28
Dear Asian Youth,
"You're so pretty! If only you were paler."
Sound familiar? One way or another, we’ve all heard our Asian grandmas claim that pale skin is superior. According to our aunties, dark skin is ugly and must be lightened.
For centuries, in the eyes of Asians, dark skin has been associated with working in the fields, indicating rural poverty. Contrarily, light skin has been considered sophisticated. It lets the public know that you’re rich enough to work indoors, shielded from the sun. Asia’s introduction to Western society only increased the desire for lighter skin, as European colonizers were viewed as wealthy and high class.
For Asian Americans, however, these traditional views are often conflicting. Living in a place so heavily influenced with Western beauty standards, we often struggle balancing our traditional beauty standards with those surrounding us on a daily basis. In America especially, tan skin is a valued symbol of wealth, signifying that you have the money and opportunity to enjoy leisure activities, such as going to the beach. Regardless of the dangers relating tanning to skin cancer, it is still extremely popular among Europeans as well, just as skin lightening is common within the Asian community.
In cities all over Asia, it’s completely normal to see people wrapping themselves in clothing, holding their sun umbrellas, and doing anything to stay out of the sun’s rays. And all this suffering for what? To fit into social norms. Not to mention, with the ever-rising presence and heavy influence of social media, pale skin has become increasingly popular within the past few years. It has reached such an extreme point that companies are making billions selling skin whitening products. Sadly, these kinds of products make up a major percentage of the Asian beauty industry. Many of these advertised beauty commodities contain dangerous chemicals. Among these is Admire My Skin’s Ultra-Potent Brightening Serum, which is a #1 Best Seller on Amazon. Regardless of its popularity, this product contains hydroquinone, a dangerous, potentially cancerous chemical. By using these kinds of products, consumers are purposefully sacrificing their health for beauty standards.
On YouTube, there are countless videos regarding lightening skin. Wishtrend TV’s video titled “How to Lighten Skin? Korean Skin Brightening Tips” has over 1.5 million views. Eunice, the Korean host, gives tips and tutorials for skin whitening, claiming that in order to achieve perfect, flawless skin, it’s “necessary” to lighten it. Well, this video is actually an advertisement for Wishtrend TV’s Skin Whitening Solution products, acting as an announcement for their Cyber Monday sale. Comments such as, “I wish my skin wasn’t as dark” and “Could you do a body lightening video too?” arose, proving that major companies, such as Wishtrend TV, take advantage of the severe beauty expectations placed on Asians. They imply that Asians must keep up with yet another social norm just to be seen as “regular.”
Thankfully, there are people like Nandita Das, an Indian film director and actress, who actively stand up against such expectations. In 2013, Das joined the “Dark is Beautiful” movement, a campaign for more representation of darker Indians in the media. This took off and led to the creation of her popular video “India’s Got Color,” showing Indian celebrities supporting this accepting movement.
Please remember, skin color means literally nothing when it comes to social norms. There is no need to alter your skin color to become lighter or darker, especially if you are hurting your body in the process. You don't need to be the fairest of them all to be beautiful :).