Equating skin color to power, success and beauty has been a continuous issue for many cultures. However, while most other cultures have been able to move with the times and find other traits to value, some Asian countries, especially in the Southeast , still have challenges accepting the new norms that come with complexion. To many people in Asian cultures, lighter skin is symbolic of a better life including wealth, higher social statuses and more media attention. At the other end of the spectrum, people with a darker complexion in these societies are associated with poverty and the working class. In countries such as the Philippines, the social divide between people with tan skin and fair skin is very clear, as most celebrities in the media have fair skin.
The danger of cosmetics
‘Deformation not transformation’
As a child who was born and raised in a tropical U. At 7 years old, I started using papaya soap — a famous Filipino skin-lightening product that is vastly advertised in the Philippines, which I visited frequently. And while it never did work, I also often scrubbed my body with calamansi, a tiny limelike fruit in the Philippines, because rumor has it that it makes the skin lighter. I tried almost every skin-lightening product out there. Nothing worked. As a child, I had mixed feelings every time I visited the Philippines. I hated being brown or dark-skinned, especially when everyone around me had a lighter complexion than mine.
My caramel skin — sometimes mocha in the summer — is generally considered dark for a Filipino. The only thing I understood from all this was that I was different. In an effort to make myself feel comfortable with my otherness, around the age of 12 I started to deviate from my own culture and avoided the other three or four Asians in my school.
I recall a recent instance where my friend noticed and asked me why my foundation shade was lighter than my natural skin tone. I wasn't sure how to answer. I knew that this friend, a non-Asian male who was completely unfamiliar with the cultural and beauty standards that Asian-American women subconsciously feel compelled to live up to, meant no harm when asking this question, but it incidentally provoked a lot thought and feelings from me nonetheless. There was no simple way to explain. What was I supposed to say? For so long, I had believed the lie that a lighter complexion was more worthy and signified greater beauty for most of my adolescence. As someone who grew up as a darker-skinned Asian girl, I knew I did not fall into that category. This is a depressing but unsurprising reality for me as an Asian American. For centuries, skin tone preferences have been linked to and used to identify social class across Asia. Darker skin was associated with being in a lower class, because it usually meant that they spent more time outside working, while those of higher class had lighter skin.