By birth, I am the darker shade of Asian, even though my parents are fairly fair when out of the sun [or maybe I’m the same skin tone as them but I’m just delusional – I can’t tell]. When I go back to the Philippines, I guess I’m probably the average skin tone in Manila but the sun hits my skin (especially my arms, face and feet) and I’m instantly dark. This is seen as a gift by my Caucasian friends, but for Asians…. not so much.
For reasons stemming from social class, we all want to be lighter. If you are dark, it shows you spend a lot of time outside, namely working in the fields, rather than an office job or something similar located inside. And from this bizarre social categorisation based on skin colour, the lighter skin tone has become an icon of beauty.
My biggest problem with being in Asia is the mocking skin tone. I have witnessed it time and time again, and although nobody would dare do it to me to my face (apparently I’m a scary English girl – how is this possible?) I see elders call the youth ‘black’ or ‘dark’ and start cackling as if its their own private joke. [NB. the use of the word ‘black’ as a term for skin tone in Asia is not a reference to race, its purely a descriptive differentiation from ‘brown’]. It is my biggest concern about my application to study in Korea, I just don’t want to be made to feel like being darker is a negative thing and I don’t want to feel like I am not beautiful.Idols, not just in Korea, feel pressured to hide their natural skin tone and use lighter make up or lightening products. Just the other day, I was reading an article about Seolhyun from AOA using lightening make-up on her face, causing her face to be a different colour to the rest of her body (cue netizens calling her out and her embarrassed apology). This drive to be lighter is causing a vicious cycle in Asia where youth want to be exactly like their idols, thus perpetuating the ‘lighter is more beautiful’ rubric. I acknowledge that we should love and embrace our natural skin tone, which is why I constantly look to Jessi, Yoon Mirae and Cha Hakyeon (N from VIXX) for inspiration when I’m feeling low.
And it was in one of these moments that I found the following quote from Hakyeon about his skin tone and his demons and I think its one of the most honest things I have read in a long time (apologies for the English – this is translated directly from Korean):
(Hakyeon comforting a radio listener about wanting to have a lighter skin tone) Well, I personally like my dark skin. So I think it’s one of my charming points, and rather, I think of it as a point that makes me stand out on stage. But I understand your worry, because I think before I was twenty I had these worries too. Wanting to have light skin so I washed my face with rice water, searched in the green box on how to have lighter skin. And I have used a lot of whitening products, but if I use whitening make-up I break out. By birth being a person born with the melanin pigments, rather than trying to change it, to adorn it well and to use it as a charming point, would be faster, I think.
We need more idols like this who are proud to admit that they have had similar concerns, who represent many of us, and who love themselves. We need to acknowledge that the teasing is still present but if we stand up to it and don’t hide our skin tone, we will one day change popular opinion.
I will be the first to put my hand up and say that I have used skin brightening products (note, I say brightening, not whitening) so I cannot be an advocate for natural skin tone girls yet, but maybe one day I’ll feel like I can be.
P.S. I really want my Western friends to not be surprised that I use brightening products. I know lots of people have a negative outlook on this collection of cosmetics. Note – these are not bleaching/permanent products. I like to think of the desire to lighten/brighten in the same way as the desire to apply fake tan…. but the opposite outcome.