Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Who's the Fairest of them All?

Sunny beaches and tropical breezes. That's Penang for you. For most Westerners, one of the best souvenirs of a stay on the island is a bronze glow, a golden tan, and the potential for skin cancer. Not so for the locals. In Malaysia, as well as much of Asia, being fair and white is the preferred complexion.

It's as if a culture's beauty standards purposely mess with people's minds by idealizing the hardest attribute to attain. Most Malays and Indians have medium to dark skin. Beauty ads here tempt them to make it fairer. Most white people are...well... white. The beauty ideal for them in the West is tan.

I first noticed the difference in standards when I went to Tesco to buy lotion.

Healthy White with Triple Lightening!

The majority of the lotions available in Malaysia have skin lightening chemicals in them. This Vaseline brand even offers triple lightening... whatever that means.

Compare this to the USA where celebrities like the entire cast of Dancing with the Stars gets a strangely orange spray tan to mimic the sun's effect on the skin. Regular folks in search of a golden bronze use artificial tanning lotions instead. The only place where I've ever seen some available in Penang is at Sephora. There is definitely not very much demand here.

In the USA, artificial tanner is the way to get Sun-kissed Radiance without increasing your skin cancer odds.

Personally, I'm happy with my skin color just the way it is. I've never been one to go for bronzer in the USA, and I didn't want to start using lighteners in Asia. My Chinese grandmother, on the other hand, wished that I was fairer and had plans to fatten me up, thereby stretching out my skin to lighten it up.

I'm sure that the Malaysians that see this poster at the pharmacy realize that the model is naturally white.
Her fair complexion has nothing to do with Whitegen.

Of course, the face is the first thing that people notice, so that is where you really need to concentrate on "fixing" your color.

In the USA, you don't want to be sickly pale. You want a "healthy glow."

In Malaysia, this product doesn't only make you fair, it makes you pinkish fair.
Keep in mind that most people here have a yellowish undertone to their skin.

It's been hard for me to find inexpensive moisturizers at the pharmacy that don't claim to have a lightening agent in it. I recently bought a product for my extremely pale hubby that came with a bonus whitening face scrub. He was wondering how much whiter he could actually get.

Asia or the USA? I bet you can guess where these are sold.

People can even whiten their underarms.

Mirror, mirror on the wall.
Who's the fairest of them all.

The Evil Queen in Snow White should have just skipped the poison apple plan and headed to a Malaysian pharmacy for lotion instead.


  1. It's pretty funny that your grandmother thought fattening you up will make you whiter.

    I'm half-Filipino and tan somewhat easy in sun. I'm like you, though, and just go with the flow. The exception is I did use whitening underarm soap. TMI?

  2. I love stories that cross cultures. I never would have known that you can buy underarm lighteners. Thanks for sharing this; I found it thought-provoking.

  3. What a funny and very true story. Everyone wants what they don't have or can't get. Michael Jackson seemed to be the epitome' of wanting to have a pointy nose and white skin, yet he was so handsome without the facial changes.

    My blonde daughter was in Spain for a college tour and people came up to her to touch her hair.

  4. This was so interesting! I had no idea that whitening products even existed! I'm still chuckling about being fattened up to make you whiter!

  5. What an interesting post. I had no idea there were skin creams that promote lightening the skin. We all live in such a diverse world and really have no clue as to how others live, that's the great thing about traveling!

  6. Being fair in Asia is a class symbol. Back in the days it was an indication that you are wealthy and weren't working the fields all day under a scorching sun. Not everyone does that type of work now, but the idea carries over. It kinda works that way too, with folks in the West wanting to be tanned. The class aspect probably doesn't factor in nearly as much in the US. But being bronzed means you've been on a beach sipping pina coladas, or laying poolside at the very least -- a nice and relaxing activity that I'd like to be able to do all day if I could. How it makes you look healthier though, I have no idea...

    Thanks for the tip on Ampang Grocer's by the way! I look forward to reading your posts on your future adventures!

  7. Very interesting post. I wish that people could just be happy with the way God made them. All of our complexions and differences make us so beautiful, and it would be nice if more people could learn to love the skin they're in.


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