26. The Light Skin Paradox

india06nw1When you visit a country of colored people colonized by Europeans (i.e. any country outside of Europe, North America and in most cases, Russia), you quickly realize that locals do not want to look like locals. They want to look like their former masters, their former invaders and slave masters: white people.

A recent Globe and Mail article about this desire among Indian men should be poignant to backpackers, who flock by the millions to developing-world countries.

In these dark-skinned countries, where people’s skin is dark because of a genetic adaptation to increased exposure to sunlight, backpackers (most often white) notice that the predominant image of beauty is a colonial one.

It’s a lot like Chris Rock’s recent movie, Good Hair, which explores the head-scratching (pun intended) phenomenon in which African American women prefer having white women’s hair: The grass is always greener. It’s human nature to want what you can’t have. Curly-haired people women want straight hair, and vice-versa. Big titted-women want smaller tits, and vice-versa. Fair-skinned people want to be tanned.

The post-colonial ideal of a light-skinned, European-looking halfbreed exists all over the world. Television ads, fashion mags and billboards  promote uncommon specimens of beauty, unrepresentative of the greater population. Consider models in Brazil, Bollywood stars in India or celebrities in West Africa, Mexico, Cuba, the Caribbean (Sosa, see below, is Dominican), Colombia or the Philippines. Whether these countries were colonized by Spain, Portugal, France, Britain, Holland — whomever, the mulatto or mestizo is on TV. 

The paradoxical desire for dark-skinned people to have fair skin, while white people fry themselves in tanning beds, is something that I — as a Filipino-Canadian — am all too familiar with. Like many Asian women, my mom carries an umbrella on sunny days, so not to get a tan and, God forbid, be mistaken for the poorer, more indigenous classes of Filipinos who slave away in the rice paddies and plantations all fucking day. My mom has a bottle of Eskinol in the medicine cabinet. Granted, I’ve never seen her use it, but she has it.

Skin lighteners and bleaches are commonly used by females in places like the Philippines and India, but the Globe and Mail‘s Diana Coulter reports that a growing number of Indian men, both urban and rural, have recently adopted the practice “in the belief that a pale complexion brings sucess in life, love and business.”

This isn’t some either-Michael-Jackson-bleaches-his-skin-or-he’s-got-vitiligo type bullshit. This is real. (Nov. 12, 11:00 p.m: My ESP is kickin’ in again. As my buddy Rhett just informed me, Sammy Sosa is apparently the new King of Pop.)

My brother has lighter skin than I do. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for a local Canadian newspaper about my brother’s mercurial rise to stardom in Southeast Asia. He was first discovered as a model in the Philippines and eventually became a VJ on an international music station. When I asked one of his producers what about his audition convinced her that he would make a good VJ, she listed his bubbly personality, his genuine demeanor and his “pan Asian look.” As the music station’s lineup of VJs indicates, “pan Asian” can be translated as “half Asian.”

So to be or look half Asian is to be better looking, right? Apparently not in South Korea. Two days ago, I came across a NY Times article about how Hines Ward was reaching out to fellow point-five Korean kids who’d been bullied or discriminated against by their full-blooded Korean counterparts. I guess the Tiger Woods look doesn’t fly over there. (My buddy Mike points out, though, Ward and Woods are half black and darker. Big difference.) Then you come to North America where biracial, dark-skinned models are sought after, sometimes to the point where being weird-looking or “exotic” is celebrated. Like I said, the whole light skin/dark skin thing is a perplexing phenomenon.

Nov. 28 – Here’s another NY Times article, about the integration of point-five children in South Korea.

Share Button

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses to “26. The Light Skin Paradox”

  1. mike says:

    but…. Heinz Ward is half black… Half white Korean kids are super stars. There’s a lot of racism here towards half Korean/half darker skinned people. A lot of it’s because the mom is often from a poorer Asian country, or the dad was possibly a US soldier, which makes the mom look whorish. Daniel Henning is a popular half white/Korean celebrity here, but granted, there aren’t as many as in other Asian countries. btw… my Filipina wife rubs her skin with lemons (to make it whiter?), slightly favors our second baby who is whiter like me than our first, and was teased and called “mega-black” when growing up because her skin was darker. She’s convinced if we moved to Canada people would also look down on her there, even though I tell her they wouldn’t.

  2. mike says:

    but great article again… i was gonna email you and ask when the next one was coming out!

  3. Poon says:

    Thanks Mike. Yeah, been a while since I found time to put up a new post. Busy with work and house stuff… trying to be a grown up, haha. (And I don’t even have kids yet!)

  4. Ty'rone says:

    Okay but let’s be clear here. In the african context this idea of lighter = more attractive applies mostly to women. Light-skinned bros went out in the ’80s. Yes there are exceptions but by and large, the brothas aren’t putting on lightening cream anytime soon, and would strongly disparage anyone who would.

  5. Poon says:

    As a Filipino guy who often pretends to be black — thereby contradicting all notions that fairer is better — I have to agree with Ty’rone. Fo sho. Dass’ wassup.

Leave a Reply

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box