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It’s Not Easy Being Green. It’s Not Easy Being Yellow Either!

Posted October 16th, 2009 by Peter · 14 Comments

Here’s a post by guest writer Vannie Sung about the the new beauty standards emerging in Asia as a result of western influences.

Ever wonder why you see those Asian grannies on the street holding umbrellas in the summer? Well, for Asians, umbrellas don’t just block rain, but sun too!

How did being light or fair skinned ever evolve to becoming the standard of beauty? Unlike Americans or Europeans who prefer a healthy tan, the opposite of a lack thereof is prevalent through almost other culture: light skinned girls are deemed “prettier” than darker-skinned girls. Especially in our Asian culture, as shallow as it may be, beauty is emphasized above all. I’ll be out with my mother on the street, and she’ll point out the “attractive” passerby. When meeting elders, the first thing they say isn’t “How are you?”. Instead, they’ll add the prefix of “Your daughter’s so pretty!” before asking how you actually are. One summer when I biked daily, she warned me not to get too tan or I’d get mistaken for an [african american] person.

Commercials for skin whitening creams and lotions run frequently on Asian channels, and the rate of eyelid surgery (a type of cosmetic surgery where eyelids are surgically edited to incorporate a “crease”, giving the patient a more Caucasian look) has skyrocketed. Just as skinny has become the new norm, so it is to be “white”. Caucasians want to be darker. Asians want to be lighter. Why can’t we be comfortable in our own skin?

As someone naturally born with double eyelid creases and fair skin, this obviously hasn’t affected my self-esteem. I know, what do I know? But, I find it funny how sometimes I’m mistakenly thought of as Korean or half-Caucasian (I’m pure Chinese) simply based on my physical appearance.  I’d love to hear from anyone offering insight into this peculiar insecurity based on skin tone, and whether you’re treated differently because of this.

For more information, you can check out #59 Pale Skin#41 Eye Enlargement, or the Full List of Stuff Asian People Like.

Thanks Vannie!

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14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gaurav Ahuja // Oct 17, 2009 at 2:09 am

    Light skin for women is something that is preferred for women throughout Asia and Europe. Women are lighter than men, on average, and you see this preference expressed in Hollywood movies. A lot of people blame White influence for this trend. However, the trend goes back much farther than people on this blog may realize, in the Orient. In Japan, before many Japanese knew about White people, Japanese geishas would try to make themselves appear as light as possible. The influence of eyelid surgery is definitely from the West. But, the desire for fair women is not a recent trend. People are going to be treated differently based on how they look and it is universal. It cannot ever be stopped.

  • 2 Nobody // Oct 17, 2009 at 5:24 am

    “People are going to be treated differently based on how they look and it is universal. It cannot ever be stopped.”

    I have to disagree with this. Once you become aware that you are treating people differently based on how they look, you will automatically stop doing it. The key is awareness.

    Of course, people who lack awareness will continue doing it. If you look at footage of crowds from, say, Afghanistan and look at their eyes it looks like something is missing. They look like cavemen. IMO, they’re lacking awareness.

  • 3 Nobody // Oct 17, 2009 at 5:35 am

    In Asia, most poor people worked outside, so most people took having light skin as a sign of being wealthy. It has nothing to do with Western/Caucasian influence.

    In America, everybody works indoors, so having a tan is also a sign of wealth. You could afford to take time away from school/work and go outside and be active.

    In a lot of parts of the the Middle East and Asia where food is scarce, being fat was a sign of wealth because it meant you had the money to buy food.

    In the West where food is abundant and anybody could get fat off of cheap McDonalds hamburgers, being thin was a sign of wealth and intelligence.

    That’s all it is folks. Nothing more and nothing less. Light skins is not better than dark skin and thick is not better than thin and vice versa… Unless you want it to be.

  • 4 sam // Oct 17, 2009 at 7:39 am

    Nobody above has it right. Looks are about differentiation. Women in the US are eating and exercising to get the bodies Asian women have naturally (a trend I hope grows) while Asians try to acquire Caucasian features.

    Americans love people with British accents.

    An Asian guy with an American accent will clean up in a British bar (especially a small-town one) while getting ignored in a Chinese-American neighborhood

  • 5 Eurasian Sensation // Oct 18, 2009 at 4:31 am

    While Gaurav has a point, I tend to agree with Nobody: ” Once you become aware that you are treating people differently based on how they look, you will automatically stop doing it. The key is awareness.”

    There will always be people with unshakeable prejudices. However, prejudice against dark skin is so ingrained into many cultures that many people just absorb it without questioning – they think it is just normal. The more people are made aware, the more they will look critically at their views.

    This colour prejudice occurs for different reasons in different cultures. Throughout Asia is is predominantly due to the association of dark skin with being a peasant who works outside. In India it is additionally reinforced by the caste system – the lighter-skinned people who conquered India from the north set themselves up as the upper castes. Among black Americans, it is largely the result of centuries of brainwashing by white folks.

  • 6 Alpha Asian // Oct 18, 2009 at 5:54 am

    Sam: “An Asian guy with an American accent will clean up in a British bar (especially a small-town one) while getting ignored in a Chinese-American neighborhood.”

    Has that been your experience Sam? When I went to London, I noticed a lot more responsiveness from British women and European women in general.

  • 7 Eddy // Oct 19, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Sam: “An Asian guy with an American accent will clean up in a British bar (especially a small-town one) while getting ignored in a Chinese-American neighborhood.”

    Where did you stay, I spent alot of time in London although I did spend just over a month in wolverhampton and didn’t see anything like this.

    Alpha Asian: The women from Europe and Britain will in general be more polite than your average american woman.

    My experience in Britain was as follows, still the same white guy with asian girl couples everywhere, although they were definately outnumbered by all the british people going out with indians and blacks.

    Chavs were far more likely to interracially date.
    People from small towns BY FAR the least likely (sam thats why I find your example very hard to believe)

    Anyway just what I noticed while I was over there. Britain basically came up with the chinky chinaman sterotype that exists in the world now so its not different for Asian or (Oriental) guys as they call them over there yet black guys and to a lesser extent black girls do well with the chavs. Which I think is odd considering the history of slavery and how poorly black girls do in dating in America.

  • 8 JC // Oct 22, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Pale Skins – many Northern Asians are closer to actual white than those pinkish people we call “whites”. The numerous blemishes common to European skins like freckles also prevent them to have that porcelain white skin which many Japanese, Korean, and Norther Han Chinese posses. Like other have said, this preference has
    nothing to do with the pink people – it has been in place for thousand of years, even when Europe is considered the backward armpit of the Asian continent. In Tang China, really fat women with white skin and long, slanty eyes are the top beauties of the day, because their big ass and white skin denote that they came from rich and powerful families.

    Asians in Europe – European women are exposed to less negative stereotyping than American women – thanks, Hollywood – so they tend to focus on the positive stereotypes about Asians – smart, hard-working, sensitive. Asian media featuring beautiful Asian men are often more accepted by mainstream European societies. Mainstream popularity of Anime and Manga also increases Asian men’s acceptability with younger European women. This does’s apply to Briton as they pretty much share the same racist culture as the US.

  • 9 Cami // Oct 29, 2009 at 2:45 am

    Let’s admit it, historically all races and ethnicity’s of whatever culture prefer/prefered lighter skin when given the chance. However that didn’t mean it was European white skin. As we E.Asians all know, pale skin was admired before we were ever in contact with European people. White skin being of our own kind. The skin color of Europeans were deemed to be like that of ghost or ruddy when they were first seen, and not prized. Even now many people will say that white people’s skin is not silky like that of E. Asian’s.
    But I have to say, growing up in America, I was conflicted about my skin color. I have very pale skin and always felt self-conscious in the summer because on the one hand my mom didn’t like me to tan (being Chinese), yet my white friends would always compliment the darker Asian girls on what great tans they got (even though it was natural). Go figure.
    Do have to say, white legs in the summer do not look healthy or sexy. : O
    Ah well, at least I unfailingly get compliments about my skin from the Asians. ^_^

  • 10 polka_dots35 // Nov 2, 2009 at 3:36 am

    I agree with Nobody that “In Asia, most poor people worked outside, so most people took having light skin as a sign of being wealthy. It has nothing to do with Western/Caucasian influence.” That’s what my parents told me.
    I remembered how shocked my caucasian friends were when they watched a commercial that promoted the “whitening” qualities of the moisturising cream, during our trip to India. It’s kinda hard to buy a beauty product in Asia, without it also providing you with fairer skin.
    In contrast, the Western world has moisturisers that give you a subtle tan. How ironic!

  • 11 Peter // Nov 9, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    I mostly agree with the first post.

    Personally, I like even colored skin (not splotchy) and it does not matter to me what the skin tone is. But to each his own.

  • 12 JJ // Jan 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    East Asians are light yellow to pale black in skin color. They are NOT white. When East Asians tan their skin color turns brown. That’s a major reason they stay away from the sun. White skin is exclusive to people of European descent. When white skin TANS it turns a golden color.

  • 13 Anonymous // Feb 3, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Well tradition has something with the skin… In Asia, dark skin usually goes with peasant girls who had to work whole day under the sun, while rich princesses in higher positions were quite sealed way from the sun so they usually had pale, white skin. The rich the better, and the difference in social hierarchy thus formed the concept of the beauty: the whiter the better.

  • 14 Didy ( a french girl) // Oct 24, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Sorry, but you’ve got it wrong on one precise point:

    NOT ALL Europeans want a tan, you know. In summer, yes, some of them do but not all (we are afraid of skin cancer!), and in winter, this fashion is completly forgotten.
    I live in France, and when I look at French women magazines, NO ONE right now promotes having a tan (which is more a seasonable fashion). Most models are merely natural: neither pale, not tanned.

    It is often said that people want what they don’t have, just like in your article: “colored” people would be eager to buy creams to look paler whereas white people would regared a tan as a sign of beauty.
    Sound nice to explain it all but this NOT the truth.

    Just take a look at the famouse Eureopan actresses: very few have a tan, most are merely natural. On the other hand, more and more Asians (and others) are trying to look whiter. So this counterweight just doesn’t work here, sorry! :)

    Of course, not ALL asians follow this weird fashion, (thanks God!) but is is far more promoted in the medias and magazines that I see than the tan-beauty in western countries.

    I can speak of an example I saw in Thailand: at a local beauty contest, ALL the girls , in swimming suit, had to put a pale, slightly pinkish cream on their body. Even a woman who follwed some of the girls said “xxx (i don’t remember the name) is likely to win, she is the most fair-skinned of all”. In European beauty contest, you would never heat that, nor the opposite: the winner is not just the most tanned girl (or the paler).

    As you can see, I find it all wrong with this weird fashion. People should realize that beauty is not linked to skin, hair of eyes color. :)

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