Asian Girl Problem #28: Skinlightened

Seeing as my days are currently filled with house hunting, job hunting and no socialization, I’m resorting to a fall-back AGP: skin lightening. However, I’m realizing I have very few personal experiences and that it’s not just an Asian problem. Skin-color alteration happens in all developed communities and the definition of the “perfect tone” changes so much from one to another, it’s impossible to take it seriously. But lots do–Americans go tan, and everyone else in the world goes the other direction.

When I went to China as a kid, I would go into “consumer” mode, buying everything I could get my hands on, including beauty and hygiene items like lotions, shampoos and sprays. I bought them mostly for the cute packaging. And I quickly saw that there was not a single skin product that didn’t claim to lighten it. Want to look sun-kissed? Too bad, you could only attempt to look like a delicate pink invalid. Or a pampered wife who never had to leave the house unless it was in a car.

I bought lotions, soaps and toner-like liquids. Most of them made some reference to “milk” one way or another, because that’s how the Chinese like to describe skin perfection. I’d take them home, excitedly try them once, and never use them again. A couple immediately made me break out. It’s probably a good thing that I can never stick with a beauty regime more complicated than applying daily sunscreen. My mother would tell me horror stories about skin bleaching and over-the-counter medication. Lucky for me, kids in Ohio would’ve killed for my tan.

All photos sourced from this article.

People bring up a lot of underlying political and socioeconomic issues when it comes to this topic. It’s heinous to use skin tone to measure a person’s class or integrity, as is often the case. (I wish I knew more to write about that.) But people with severe acne, scars or wrinkles have an even harder time in their own way, yet we don’t read any outraged articles about that. And god knows there are a billion products out there to target those as well.

Glorify whiteness, darkness, Nicole Kidman, Kim Kardashian–that’s how the industry works. I think this is one case that we’re all in it together. Clearly, I’m grappling with this topic and need someone to further inform me.


3 thoughts on “Asian Girl Problem #28: Skinlightened

  1. It took me a really long time to get over my skin inferiority complex and I still have to shake it off a little some days. The idea that being white is better and beautiful was something that lots of adults around me talked about. My dad would even make racist jokes about my sister all the time, who’s a few shades darker than me.

    When I went to Thailand years ago it was kind of astounding how prevalent whiteness was in the media and how it was portrayed. It was even worse there than here! America has a similar and different set of problems, but I’m glad to be here any day.

    • I was hoping you’d weigh in–have you ever taken measures against tanning? I imagine everyone in Portland would kill to have your complexion. I remember an Asian high school classmate of ours always being called “the dark one” by her family–her sister was “the smart one” and her bro was “the boy.”

  2. Nah, I kept playing or swimming outside anyway and the end result was always feeling guilty about getting darker… which is super messed up. What about you? I’ve never heard anyone say they envied my skin color before, but I can imagine the kind of person who might say that. I want to be skin-tone neutral myself, though it’s hard to be without having this context in my head.

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