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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Friday, July 22, 2005

The whitest of them all

Indians are obsessed with skin colour, according to blogger Vislumbers. A fascinating insight into Indian ideas of beauty, fashion and avoiding the sun.

4 Comments:

Blogger Vasco Pyjama said...

So are Anglos. Except they want to be tanned. And the lengths they go to to achieve the golden tan! Including skin cancer!

But interesting link. When I worked in the Philippines, my colleagues were mortified every time I returned from the beach with a tan. :)

Friday, July 22, 2005 11:07:00 am  
Blogger theswanker said...

You can add Burmese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Japanese and Filipinos to that list.

Friday, July 22, 2005 12:14:00 pm  
Blogger Shay said...

Yep theswanker... it's pretty much a pan-Asian phenomenon (i'm assuming you stopped the list their to keep from boring us silly with a list of every country in Asia). All to do with the fact that the working classes are always out in the sun, and therefore dark-skinned, while the upper classes let the working classes do their outdoorsy stuff for them. If you have dark skin, then you must be low class.

My wife is Chinese, and I remember the first time she met any members of my family before we were married. My grandmother, aunt and uncle were in Bangkok, where we were living at the time, and we had just finished a week staying in a bungalow on one of the Thai islands, and both came back with a tan (I thought she looked fantastic). When she mentioned this to her mother, she went nuts, telling her that my family would think that she was some skanky low-class farm girl which, I'm told, is a bad thing.

So stay inside during the day, carry an umbrella if you must go outside for more than a quick dash. And lather yourself in whitening skin-care products. Just try buying a sunscreen here that isn't whitening!

And good point Vasco... I would postulate that us whiteys like to be brown for similar reasons. While the Asians were, and still are, predominantly rural, we have been locked up inside offices or factories for so long, that it is only in our leisure time that we can get near the sun. Over time this seeps into the culture, so deep down a tan is a sign of a leisurely life, just like whiteness is a sign of the same here in Asia.

My daughter has my skin colour.... there's no way I'm letting the Chinese boys near her until I can't legally stop her!!

Friday, July 22, 2005 12:32:00 pm  
Blogger Iqbal Khaldun said...

I agree with everything everyone else has said. But I also think it has something to do with revering the 'caucasion' physical ideal. The dominant images of prosperity and enlightenment (whether real or imagined) are white ones. Many Asians therefore have a reverence for it.

I've been to a lot of South Asian weddings/social functions. It saddens me actually to see all these 'powder-faced' girls who have clearly had the notion drummed into them that fair is, well, lovely.

Re the Western notion of tanned beauty, I think that can be traced back to the first half of the 20th century. Prior to that, the dominant notion, as far as I've read, was that being fair was the ideal in beauty terms. Like other societies, this was because it implied you were not out in the sun working all day like most other people. If you look at painting from Europe pre 1900s, especially of women, you might notice that the subject often looks almost sickly white. Around the 1920s, when the modern Western 'cult' of hedonism was arguably born, being tanned very quickly became associated with having an exciting, outdoor life of leisure and entertainment.

I think there are overt reflections of class structures in dominant notions of beauty.

Friday, July 22, 2005 3:24:00 pm  

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