Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Beauty and the Bleach

Thanks to electroman for emailing me this disturbing, disturbing, disturbing article; the LA Times reports what has been a consistent trend in Asia: skin-bleaching for Asian women. Contrary to one's immediate reaction, this is not about turning oneself into a white woman. This is a trend for older Asian women who are culturally Asian rather than Asian American. In many Asian cultures, lighter skin is associated with higher classes and demure feminity, much like the French practice of powdered faces. Asian women who strive for light skin are of the belief that darker skin is associated with farm work and hard labour, and believe that woman should represent a more ethereal and dainty look. It's a similar reasoning that fueled foot-binding, overly-long pinky nails, and lavish hair styles. Take a look at women considered beautiful in Asia, such as Zhang Ziyi or Gong Li, and you'll get a sense of what is considered attractive in Asian women: more than a symmetrical face, Asian women are considered more comely if they act demure and soft-spoken, are thin and wispy, and above all, have pale, heart-shaped faces. Nowadays, all but the skin-whitening practice has fallen by the wayside as people realized the impracticality of it all. Asian American youths have begun buying into the American/Caucasian ideal of beauty that demands a "healthy tan" and many APIA girls are going to tanning salons to achieve that golden crisp. Meanwhile, the article above cites how middle-aged women (like my mom) prefer pale skin. The obvious problem here is the sexism -- after all, the Asian women are striving for an ideal of beauty that would have them be little more than porcelain dolls come to life. But what really bothers me about this trend is the lack of appreciation of the body one was born in. I am half-Cantonese, half-Shanghainese; my mother was extremely attractive by Asian standards when she was young, and my sister inheirited a lot of those features: thinness, dainty joints and bones, long legs, large eyes and pale skin. Meanwhile, my father's Cantonese-ness reared its "ugly" head in me: I inherited the traditionally Cantonese dark skin (also often prone to freckles), and coarse hair. Add that with the genetic anomaly that is my "endomorphic" body type and thick bone structure, and... well, let's just say I've never had to beat back the Asian male suitors with a stick. It's a funny, funny joke when I shop at Asian clothing stores. But, I've also never been terribly concerned with my skin colour. Sure, I worry about my figure, just like anybody, but I find it disconcerting that women of all colours (not just Asian) would turn to tanning or bleaching to change the colour they were born with. More than an attempt at transracial passing or identification, there's a fundamental problem when women cannot accept their own beauty, be it their facial figures, their skin colour or, yes, even their figure. As long as we women are willing to let impossible standards of beauty dictate so much of our thoughts, let alone our buying power, we're always going to be finding ourselves inferior to men in this patriarchial society. Striving to be beautiful is not antithetical to being a feminist, so long as we do so to make ourselves feel better and more empowered. But we must be careful not to let it own us, make us hate ourselves, or preoccupy us from all that is much more important than the way we look.


Anonymous Kim said...

Heehee, we can go shopping sometime together, and turn our noses up at the Asian boutiques.

I guess I can't comment on the costmetics/sexism issue, as I am the sort to talk freely about my vanity and whore myself out to every beauty product on the market. I had a fliration with bleaching creams, but only for my freckles.

Funnily enough, while I can admit that at least half of it was to appear attractive to the opposite sex (which never worked, but I have lots of personality! Promise!), a large chunk of my desire for a glasslike, flawless complexion comes from wanting to be perfect in the eyes of ALL, both men and women. I dunno, I'm not going anywhere with this. Good luck with school! ^^

Kim la cracker de rice

7/26/2005 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

hey kim! no, i think there's nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful to make yourself feel better about yourself. i was never all that girly so i'm like "bleaching cremes"?!?

being pretty takes waaay too much self-discipline and willpower.

and screw the asian clothing stores!!!! in HK, they wouldn't even let me in the stores.

7/27/2005 10:56:00 AM  

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