Wednesday, June 25, 2008

White Beauty

I saw a disturbing advertisement for Pond’s White Beauty products when I went to see Iron Man a while ago. Not only was it disturbing, the ad was SO lame, pretty much your generic ad: girl uses White Beauty product, girl walks by café, all men turn and stare because she’s beautiful now! Pond’s (Unilever) is not the only company offering such products; there is also White Radiance from Olay. I meant to write about this after I took some pictures but security here is very strict, even at the supermarket. I was told I was not allowed to take pictures! Supposedly, it's easier to find pictures on the internet!

White Beauty and White Radiance beauty products.

I have to stay that I would describe myself as a person who doesn't push her opinions on others. I believe that people can do whatever they want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. So my dismay at this product surprised me. I dislike that the term "white beauty" implies that beauty stems from being white! What if you're not white? What's more infuriating is that there is a market for this in Asia which means people agree with this and are willing to buy a product to whiten their skin. I don't think beauty should be driven by a Caucasian standard!

A bit of internet research revealed that Pond’s White Beauty is a line of skin lightening products. My knowledge of beauty products is not very extensive so I’m not sure if this is a product only offered in Asia. However, I couldn't imagine such a product being sold in Canada without an uproar! I couldn’t find much information on the product in Vietnam. Most of the information came from India. This product line was launched in India last fall. There's an Indian commercial where most people don’t even look Indian and the girl who uses the product looks Caucasian. Finally, here's another blog post on this topic.

I had a relative (my mother's cousin's granddaughter, I think... only Vietnamese people would keep up with such relatives!) over this week. She saw my white bottle of extra strength moisturizer (I live in Canada!) and asked whether it worked at whitening. From my stay here, I have learned that Vietnamese are obsessed with keeping their skin white. Motorbike riders cover themselves rigorously to not get dark skin. A salesgirl once commented when I told her that I was from Canada “Why aren’t you whiter?”. Well, I’ve been here for a few months and the sun rays are very strong!

Entirely covered up motorbike females riders are not a rare sight in Vietnam.

Here's a vendor selling long gloves for motorbike riders.

The term for being tanned in Vietnamese is đen, which translates to black. There is a term for brown but that is not used. Again, I'm not sure if it’s just the negative perception of having dark skin. If only they knew how many people go to sun tanning salons in North America! Here's a Vietnamese point of view on this issue.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating to stop using sunscreen. I try to use sunscreen regulary because I don’t want to burn. The potential of skin cancer is very serious although I think Asians have a lower risk due to the higher pigmentation in their skin. I just don't like being encouraged to look white to be beautiful.
On a sort of side note, growing up, my mother referred to her numerous freckles using a Vietnamese term, which translates to "bird shit" (pardon my language!). I have noticed an increased amount of freckles on my face and I have decided they're cute! It seems having pale white skin is ingrained at an early age!

Aside from all of my issues with “white beauty”, you also have to wonder what is in this product? Is there a bleaching agent? The commercial mentions detox vitamins. I have never heard of such vitamins, but I’m not sure I would want it on my skin!


Wandering Chopsticks said...

It's not so much about trying to look white as in Caucasian. Paler skin meant you weren't laboring in the sun, signifying wealth and upper class.

Those lightening products can have uneven effects. I remember reading an article where women had paler patches on their face after using that stuff.

BTW, it's southern Indians who are dark. Northern Indians, especially the ones near the Persian border are pale with blue and green eyes.

Linda said...

They actually do sell similar products here but they are called lightening, mom just got some (from Lancome) for her freckles and Ana is looking for something too b/c she gets more and more freckles this season... I was thinking of looking into it...

Miss.Adventure said...

WS: Thanks for the input. I think some, not all, Vietnamese though do want to look Caucasian with their eye and nose surgeries!

As for Indians, it's rather discriminatory that most of their Bollywood stars are of lighter skin colour.

Linda: How can you think that after what I wrote? And you barely have any freckles! Mom and Ana look fine too! Jeebus!

Anonymous said...

Hi Miss. The Vnese woman would like to have light colore skin because they get dark easy and usually their dark skin it's not look nice like the western people get tan .Wandering chopsticks is right the VNese say"white skin, long hair"in VNese it's mean you're the wealthy family's daughter .

Anonymous said...

I prefer golden coloured skin myself, but long ago gave up the fight against whitening with Madame Lirelou. If uou want to know the Vietnamese standard for beauty, read the Truyen Kieu (Kim Van Kieu). The preference for large eyes, etc, has nothing to do with trying to look Caucasian, and may have been picked up from earlier races such as the Cham, who were heavily influenced by Indian civilization.
Skin whitening is also the rage in Korea, and Korean cinema and videos are highly popular all over Asia.

Mai said...

thanks for having me for lunch today!

when i came in 2001, i was called fat and dark. it seems a losing battle to bleach out what environment has bestowed on you. though, i too am a proponent of sunscreen, this is a step further. many steps further.

viva la freckles!

Anonymous said...

More evidence that the Asian preoccupation with white skin is not related to any fixation with Caucausians can be found in Yu Yonghe's Memorial on his official trip to Taiwan, written in 1696:
"From Zhulao to (Banxian) all the aboriginal women have beautiful white skin. They are all very pretty" (Macabe Keliher, "Out of China - or Yu Yonghe's Tales of Formosa", SMC Publishing, Taipei, 2003, p.91)
The Aborigines he refers to are the then Malayo-Polynesian peoples of Taiwan, who were racially and culturally related to the Rhade and Jarai of the then "Champa Highlands".
Of note, Yu Yonghe found that "their was nothing pretty to look at below their hemlines" in that they did not practice the Han Chinese custom of female foot binding (which, interestingly enough, was not followed by many Manchu ladies)
One must beware of one's biases.
s/Lirelou ;=)

Miss.Adventure said...

Lirelou, Mai,
Thanks for your comments. Interesting topic!

Bernadette said...

As Wandering Chopsticks said, I believe it is more about having pale skin than in looking Caucasian. I'm Thai and my family owned rice fields which they have since sold off. Having pale skin means you don't work in the fields under the sun, that you are wealthy or educated and a professional. About 10 years ago, my sister went back to Thailand (we live in Canada) for some travelling and visiting the relatives. By the time she saw them, she was quite dark, not that she wasn't dark to begin with before going there. Our relatives were horrified.