Elephant’s Leg

Thai beauty

Thai beauty

Thai people have brown skin. Well, there are different ethnic groups within Thailand, but generally speaking, the average Thai person has light to medium brown skin. I state the obvious merely because it is seemingly something the Thai media likes to avoid.

If you had never been to Thailand and only watched the majority of Thai movies, TV shows or music videos, and look at the advertising at subway stations, in magazines, and so on, you’d be forgiven for thinking Thais were a light-skinned race. Creamy, white complexions, sometimes even with rosy cheeks, represent a tiny minority in real life, but the great majority of the media’s idea of what Thais (should) look like. Pale skin is absolutely considered to be – and promoted as – attractive, and in many cases is actually a prerequisite to success. It doesn’t need me to point out how unfair this is, when skin colour is entirely a matter of birth – and something that cannot be changed, regardless of what the enormous market for sinister skin-whitening lotions will tell you.

I’m not sure if “racism” is the correct word for this peculiar cultural prejudice, since it’s Thai-on-Thai – although race does “help”, as a Thai with dose of Caucasian, Chinese or East Asian blood to lighten the mix can count on using this as an advantage. But whatever you call it, it is at the very least highly ignorant and offensive – and I say that as someone with white skin.

I could write at length on the subject, but maybe I’ll save that for another time. A couple of examples for now: There was the article on cosmetics I edited in work which contained the line “As every Asian girl knows, the key to self-worth is a pale complexion”.

Self-worth? How about confidence in your natural self and what you were born with, and not allowing people you will never meet to dictate to you what is attractive? Suffice to say I changed that particular line.

And then there was the drunken Thai man who approached a fellow farang and myself in a bar, asked if he could practise his English with us, and then fired off his first question with a disgusted sneer: “Why European man like the black one?”

We told him it was because we looked far beyond such superficial concerns, and that while it is true that you often see farang men with darker-skinned Thai women, it’s not because we actively “like the black one”, it’s simply because we don’t allow her being “the black one” to disqualify her as a partner. He either didn’t understand or didn’t accept this, shaking his head with contempt – clearly “the black one” was beneath him, and therefore so were those who would date such types.

Moving on, and to a point that brought home this situation again yesterday – Miss Thailand 2009, which was broadcast on terrestrial TV.

Naturally, the line-up was amost exclusively pale-skinned. A couple could have been described as olive-skinned or perhaps of a light caramel complexion, but the rest were typically paper-pale. While, again, this is not representative of Thailand, after a year and a half here I am accustomed to it. This is the Thai idea of beauty, so of course that was what would the contestants would look like.

However this competition crossed the line. The pale skin fetish certainly exists, but like most forms of prejudice, not many people will actually admit it, and even fewer will actively promote it in a public forum. But the criteria for judging Miss Thailand actually included “Complexion”, and this was even worth more points than figure, comportment and intelligence. And of course the “complexion” score was taking into account more than just a lack of blemishes – although in much of Thai society, darker skin apparently is a blemish.


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